Barrister Kazeem Debo Adeyemo is the sole candidate from Kwara contesting for the 2nd Vice President at the national level in the forthcoming election of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with ACTING EDITOR, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM in his office, he talks about reason for contesting, his chances and practice in his jurisdiction, among other sundry issues of interest. Excerpt:
As a top lawyer in Offa jurisdiction, can you tell us how it has been?
First is to thank Almighty God for bringing us this far. I was called to the bar in 2000 as one of the millennium set and started my practice in Ilorin before I moved to Offa in 2003. Since then, it’s been rough but God has always kept us moving.
Why did you decide to relocate from Ilorin?
Practice in Offa was not as good as this then when I was called to the bar and I think we had just about two lawyers in Offa then who we started together and were my friends but they later overtook me. So I needed to gather experience and Ilorin was naturally the next port of call. I started my practice with Abeni Muhammed (SAN) and did my chamber attachment with P.A.O Olorunishola (SAN). I later move to the chamber of Deji Gbadeyan & Co. from where I moved to Offa. But coming to Offa was coincidental. Although I was in Ilorin, I always spend my weekends in Offa because of my family. In 2002, the Imam issue with the Royal father then started and coincidentally, my office, Deji Gbedeyan was briefed and that was how I got entangled in the politics of the imamship, I was always going to court and the then Monarch advised that I relocate and set up my Office in Offa that life could be good here. That was how I moved down. In Ilorin, I was exposed to those things that a green wig like me will need to started practice, I was exposed to all the High Courts, judges and all the strata of the courts. The wealth of experience was what I armed myself with coupled with the practiced books I bought. So when I left Ilorin, after due consultations, I had something to fall back upon and before you know it, we started finding our feet.
Are you saying your movement was based on the advice of a traditional ruler singly, many would say that was a gamble and that you should have been concerned about practice generally in your new jurisdiction?
In legal practice, once you are not determined as a green wig, you can never go anywhere. It was because of my determination to succeed in the practice of law which I have invested so much of time and resources in that kept me on. It got to a point before my relocation, I was frustrated, disenchanted and wanted to leave legal practice for business which I am I bit grounded about. But a friend now based in Abuja, Muhammed Salau and a former registrar Court of Appeal, one Ajiboye advised against it that with time, things will be okay. But it was rough, my 6-10,000 salary was not coming as at when due and it has accumulated to about six months, what do you expect as a family man. So I decided with my own office and esteemed interpersonal relation with people, I will be able to perfect some bails, endorse agreements and stand before judges. Take anything away from me but definitely not humility, I am very humble to a fault. All these things helped me at the end of the day.
How challenging was it for you than?
Challenging and very interesting because I had to be coming from home and my wife never liked the idea. She complained that why will I leave certainty for uncertainty. I queried that what is certain about it when the peanuts I am been pain is not even regular and has accumulated to six months. But God surprised us or let me say my lovely wife rather because before I clocked one year in Offa, I was already a household name. Offa is a busy place and you can make it here if one is very serious and with encouragement from seniors lawyers and other colleagues in Ilorin who I also consulted on any issue I found bordering like KK Eleja, Adimula and Hakeem Shittu who is now late.
So far, any regret coming to Offa?
Not at all! If I had been in Ilorin, my rise through the NBA will not be as fast as I have it now. It has afforded me the opportunity of showcasing the type of person I am as a bar man. I was Assistant Secretary of the newly inaugurated branch when I came and rose to secretary, branch chairman and then representatives of the National Executive Council (NEC) and now aspiring. I cannot be in big branches and still have these achievements. My being here has helped me and people like Rabana (SAN) has really encouraged me by exposing me to several places when he was contesting. My progress here is not because I am from Offa because we have a lot of lawyers here who are from here but not as committed to bar activities as I am.
How can you compare both jurisdictions you have served, Ilorin and Offa?
Ilorin is Mini-Nigeria. Here in Offa, we own out thing. We have over 900 lawyers in Ilorin compare to about 50 that we have here. But Offa is still a branch. Ilorin is global but the problem may be having cases and you may have non for a long time just hanging around the courts unlike here where you will be forced to be busy and you can go to Ilorin to learn from colleagues to come and grow here and it is faster.
What do you think a green wig can look up to in Offa to excel?
For those who want to specialise in properties, we have lots of it here and with the assistance or employment of few clerks to handle it, one can make his money, same with litigation. Although ligation may not be as profitable as we have in Ilorin. Here, we know ourselves and instead of you collecting nine figures, at times you are just given token and it can be complemented with goodwill and good public relations. It could also work for you if you are lucky to go into politics but the fact that one is working in his community is a good point. I was having a recent discussion with a Judge who said he told some junior lawyers in Ilorin to come to Offa instead of complaining of lack of briefs.
What informed your coming out to seek for the seat of NBA 2nd Vice President?
The NBA has three Vice Presidents. The first will come from where the president comes from, second North and then from the East. I have been on NEC for the past 17 years and I consider myself as one of the luckiest juniors who have the opportunity to play such role nationally and credit must go to God and all my bosses. For those periods, I have crisscrossed the length and breadth of the country attending meetings. There are times at the national level where I have been opportune to be member different committees and my past position in the branch has afforded me the opportunity of mingling with the very bests. At a time, I felt it’s time for me to leave the bar and take a break from constant travels. But at a meeting in Ibadan, my friends in southwest and at NEC in Abuja encouraged me to contest having paid my dues. A committee was set up which identified the post of 2nd Vice President. This thing has been on for about 6 years now and I came back home to inform my chairman and other executives that this is what people are saying all over Nigeria. We have got the reach but charity they say begins at home. I later consult all my leaders in Kwara from Yusuf Olaolu Ali, Salman Adelodun, John Baiyeshia, Abeni Mohammed, Rabana, Egbewole, KK Eleja, Olatoke all SANs who all blessed my aspiration. In Offa, I also informed Oba Mufutau Gbadamosi Esuwoye II and since then, no going back. I have sponsored candidates before who have won. I was not desperate to contest; my aspiration was a call to serve by my colleagues and bosses who felt I have something to offer. I am also close to most of the NBA presidential aspirants. My spread is across board and I have made wilder consultations. So I am the candidate of Kwara and the North. My colleagues back home gave me the opportunity to contest.
If elected, how do you think you can impact your local environment?
If my aspiration succeeds, it’s going to be a glory to the bar nationwide and a pride to my community. My responsibilities and duties will be to serve in any capacity that the constitution allows me. This is call to service. My success is going to inspire a lot of folks back home and exposed them to the fact that coming from the rural bar does not mean you cannot aspire for anything in Nigeria in the NBA and that is why my slogan is “Be Inspired”. But then, you must have done your homework and paid your dues. Today at the national level, my name is synonymous with my local jurisdiction. Everybody call me Debo Offa.
Your take on the pandemic, how do you think lawyers should react?
It has been a terrible thing but we have to think about what can be done beyond law. I saw this vision 14 years ago when I had an accident on our way to Port Harcourt with the Doyen of the bar in Offa, BF Lawal and Dr AbdulRasheed Yusuf. After the accident that almost claimed our lives, I asked my colleagues how are we going to feed if we have had spinal cord injury? We brainstormed on what to do beside law. Lawal being a farmer said he would go into farming and I thought about properties. We agreed to come back and compare notes after 10 years. Although we have not been able to do that, this period has taught us lawyers that there is no difference between us and most areas boys. Beside the court and cases, we are nobody; it has really reduced us to joblessness. There are no courts, nobody is indulging in activity that will warrant you to come in and mediate and cash in to make your money. The little we had has been exhausted but we believe God is ever on the throne.
What is your massage?
Well, for me, I don’t have supporters but friends and colleagues and I have them all over Nigeria. The other day, I called my opponent after we both made the first screening. My take is that whatever you do, do it well, it is not people that reward but God who uses people to reward you. God does not forget anybody; we should be good, honest and sincere in whatever we are doing. The Glorious Qur’an said the only reward for good is good and if you are the type that snub people, they will also snub you too when you need them and vice versa. I have enjoyed that goodwill and thank God for giving me the opportunity to be Chief Debo Adeyemo.