|Dr. Gabriel Olusoga Onagoruwa, former Nigerian Minister of Justice|
Onagoruwa, a former minister of Justice and
Attorney General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (between 1994 and 1996)
died last July, 21st at the ripe age of 80. He born on November 13,
1936 and lived in Odogbolu (his home town in Ogun State) where he sojourns to
Lagos three times every week before his demise. The former Justice minister and
special adviser to the Ethiopian Government of constitutional matters suffered
and recovered from stroke at several moments of his later years and built a new
passion for agriculture-apart from law which he practiced since the late 60s. Unperturbed
by criticisms for serving in the regime of Gen.
Sani Abacha (who died on June 8, 1998), Onagoruwa in one of his famous interviews on earth said he is happy
about his feat as a public officer. Your Africa’s Number 1 Celebrity Encounter
blog, Asabeafrika brings back
memories of the interview this Saturday morning. Enjoy the excerpts.
|Late Chief Onagoruwa|
was educated at St. Cyprian’s School,
Port Harcourt (Rivers State). Then I
came to Lagos and I attended Eko Boys High School, Mushin. By 1958, I had passed my London matriculation. In 1960, I passed
my advanced level and then, attended London
University from 1961 to 1968. That is where I got my LLB, LLM. I am a Nigerian lawyer. That is me in brief.
Port Harcourt in the Eastern region
in those days. I grew up with my uncle, Christopher
Onagoruwa. We lived in Port Harcourt,
I enjoyed Port Harcourt life. It was
a nice environment and then I attended school there.
married in 1967
very long story. I was living at Herbert
Macaulay Road, not far from here. 132
Herbert Macaulay Way. Then, I was living with my brother. And that night,
this lady came in to see another lady who was living next door to us. We
normally share the same kitchen, and she came in and sat down and that lady was
attending to her. I looked at her and said ‘this
is a very pretty girl’. And I told that lady that this is my future wife,
and she was very angry with me. And that was my first time of meeting her. This
was around 1956. And she went away. So, I was asking the lady living in my
house that ‘who is this lady’, and she said ‘she is the daughter of Oba Nle Aro from Odogbolu, Ogun State’. I
said ‘from Odogbolu?’ I had just returned from the Eastern region and I did not
know much about anybody living at Odogbolu.
I met her maybe once or twice later, and she agreed to my love proposal in
1958. So, we started a relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend, until I went
to London in 1961. And then I went again
to London in 1964, and we really
became lovers. I love her very much. That is her first son, sitting down. Her
full names are Lillian Titilola Onagoruwa,
nee Odunaiya Oba Nle Aro. They are very good business people.
they died early?
|Onagoruwa: Fell out with Abacha over his stern principles on law and order|
was called Folake, my father was Adeneye. I did not actually know my
parents. My mother died when I was around four, and my father died thereabout.
So, I rarely knew them. But the Onagoruwa family brought me up. They gave me
everything I needed to become a good child. And I thank God that I grew up
desire to study law because I knew that with law, you can help people. You can
fight for people’s right and their liberty. My mother was arrested because she
purchased a chicken at Ikenne, and
she was accused of stealing the chicken. And my uncle was a lawyer (Chief
Onagoruwa). He came all the way from Ibadan.
And when he got to the Police Station, the police paid attention to him—and
they gave my mother bail. So, I followed my uncle to Odogbolu, and then I was very impressed with the way he threatened
the police, and that was how my mother gained her freedom. I then made up my
mind that I was going to become a lawyer. I studied law and I graduated in
1968. I got my LLB in 1964, my
masters in 1966 and my doctorate in 1968.
General, Federal Republic of Nigeria? What prompted you to accept the offer?
Especially when the Abacha regime was likened to many uncomfortable activities?
|General Sani Abacha, late Onagoruwa’s ex-boss|
whatever may be your position; government will always be manned by human
beings. When Babangida was there, we
had proposed to him a Constitutional Conference, and Babangida did not agree. He himself went and organized a
constitutional Conference which was a fake one. But when Abacha got to power, they got in touch with me. And I said the only
condition under which I will accept to become Attorney General is if he would
allow us to form a Constitutional Conference, and they agreed. So, that was my
main motivation. I know a lot of lies have been told about it, but I know that
was my own main motivation to become Attorney General. And the man gave me the
personality affected or at stake?
know. That is for my adversaries to judge. If you go to my adversaries, they
will tell you ‘oh yes, he finished him’.
I don’t think I was finished by anybody. I am still what I am.
work experiences—from when you graduated till you became the Attorney General
of the country?
|Abacha & his Jerry Boy|
the habit of writing articles for (news) papers. And one day, they phoned me
from the Daily Times, which was the
largest (news) paper in the country then that the chairman wanted to see me. He
said ‘look, we want you to become the
legal adviser of Daily Times’. And I told him I will do it if he will give
me the permission to be doing my legal practices. They said no problem. So,
that was how I got into the Daily Times.
The work was so much that I did not have time to go to the court any more. But
I was still keeping in touch with movements and events, and I wrote over 500
articles, if not more than that. I am trying to publish them, so that they will
know what I really did for Daily Times
and for this country. These articles focused on issues, issues of the day, if
we publish those articles into a book, and you read it, you know that events
are made to go up and down; because I covered almost every aspect. So, when I
left the Daily Times, I went into
private legal practice. I was the consultant to the Ethiopian Government on constitutional matters. I became a Fullbright scholar to America, where I spent three months at
various other institutions like that, and then in legal practice. I am grateful
to God that I am a success.
during your appointment as an Attorney General?
|Ogboru: His brother’s release caused Onagoruwa’s job and loyalty with Abacha|
achievement then was that I made the military government to obey the laws of
the land. I said nobody should be arrested in the country unless it was justly
done. Two, the 1995 Constitution was a product of my effort; Three, when Ogboru was released from detention, I
released him and Abacha called me and
said that I was not loyal to him. And I said, “What type of loyalty are you talking about?’. ‘As far as I am
concerned, my loyalty is to obey the laws of the land. And the court has said
this man should be released. I have
given instructions to the minister in charge and he has been released’.
That is where the quarrel between me and Abacha
|IBB & MKO @ June 12: Onagoruwa was seen to have played out against MKO’s wish and the larger Yoruba nation|
There was a lot of argument, there were a lot of fireworks between us
and he later told me that I should choose whatever ministry I wanted in the
whole spectrum of power. So that they will give me another ministry, that I
will leave the ministry of justice. I said ‘No,
I will not leave Ministry of Justice’. I can’t achieve what I want to
achieve in this country. What I want to achieve is that the Constitutional
Conference should finish, and I said I did not want any other position. So, I
did my best for this country. Rotational Presidency was introduced because I
urged it. The division of the country into six geo-political divisions was my
achievement, and revenue allocation was my achievement.
decision you took and sitting back now you regret such?
was none. All my decisions were well calculated and they were good decisions.
other parts of the world, will you say our judicial arm of government is worth
|Nigeria’s Minister of Justice, Mr. Malami|
can count on it. Except that the judiciary has gone aberrant, and many people
are misbehaving in the judiciary. It is very shameful because the judiciary
should be the solid rock of the nation, the society. But now you have many
judges misbehaving; really misbehaving on a very large scale. And it is very
sad. The society is not doing well because the judiciary is not doing well.
them, not all of them, many of the judges are very corrupt.
date, we find people being arrested and detained against what is stipulated in
the constitution. Why is this still happening, especially now that we are in a
have such situation, it is possible that the court has committed them. The
court has power to detain the person.
court; oh, you mean the police station? That is due to the corruption of the
police. What are you talking about, that is the corruption of the police. The
police is so rotten now. We have no police system in this country—they are just
too rotten. And it is a pity. So, that is the corruption in the police system.
It is too much. So, if you have the police detaining people for more than 24
hours, then, they are on their own, they are not following the constitution of
the land. It should not be so nice we are in a democracy. The purpose of
democracy is to make sure that people behave according to certain rules laid
down in the constitution. You cannot arrest somebody except he has committed an
offence. But the police now, they just detain you, which is wrong. So, that is
the fault of the executive branch of government because they are in control of
the police. The executive arm of government should endeavor to improve the
legal practice. You can see me in my office, Olu Onagoruwa & Co
names are Kola Olufon, she is now in America, but she comes around when she
has to do something, and we liaise regularly. I have Seun Onagoruwa, we have Mr. Adefioye, Mr. Gbadebo.
|General Babangida locked up Onagoruwa for supporting late Tunji Braithwate|
judge ordered that I should be arrested in Lagos
because of a publication about Dr.
(Nnamdi) Azikiwe and his refusal to pay tax. Then I wrote an article that
this man is not being victimized because he is an Igbo man, but because he refused to pay tax. I was in prison for
two weeks in Enugu.
|Late Zik of Africa & Owelle of Onitsha got Onagoruwa locked up over an article on his personality|
But I later won
the case in the court of appeal, that the judge was wrong. In 1991, Ibrahim Babangida imprisoned me. I don’t know for what. He said I was
defending Tunji Braithwaite, and then this man from Benue State. And they arrested me. I was there for about a week
because I was defending people in court, people who were arrested falsely.
young man now (laughs). I am just 67. I am a young boy. It is just that I was
sick—I had stroke that was why. But I have recovered. Don’t I look recovered? I
am a highly fulfilled person. Whether Nigerians acknowledge that I did
something for them, it is irrelevant. I know that I am a fulfilled person. I am
happy with my children and happy with my wife. I am a highly fulfilled person
with my family.
them is that they should face their law and read their law properly and fight
for justice; because a lawyer without an addiction for justice is not a lawyer.
We have a lot of senior lawyers in this country. They have made a lot of fame
and money, but they are not fighting for justice. They don’t believe in it.
When you sue the government, it is they who will go and defend the government.
There is no sense of mission. So, a lawyer should have a sense of mission to
fight for justice.
three times in a week. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I come from Odogbolu in Ogun State to the office three times in the week. If you come to my
compound in Odogbolu, you will see
how I get to relax. It is a very big compound. We do farming, me and my wife.
We do farming, we bring palm kernel, and we produce oil. We have a very big
farm. I also play drought and now I am trying my foot on football.