Yusuf Olaolu Ali (SAN) is a multiple award-winning legal luminary and the Principal Director of Ghalib Chambers. In this interview with ABDULHAFEEZ T. OYEWOLE, he speaks on his partnership with ANA, his book: “Anatomy of Corruption in Nigeria: Issues, Problems and Solutions” as well as the role of legal practitioners and writers in bringing about national development.
Could you give a brief on your background?
I was born over sixty years ago. I am from a humble family. I lost my father only last year. My mother is still alive. I had five other siblings but lost my immediate brother in 2003. The remaining two are men and three women.
I went to public primary school from 1960 to 1968 and then, went to modern school from 1969 to 1971. Then went to secondary school, and then to the then University of Ife for my first degree, which I finished with a Second Class Upper in 1982.
I also went to the Law School, which used to be in Lagos alone then and also made a Second Class Upper in 1983 and I was called to the Bar. After my NYSC, I have been in active legal practice since then.
I think a lot of things had contributed to what I am today. One, God is very central to whatever I have become, then my family background and my association with the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria.
What was the motivation for the ANA/Yusuf Ali Literary Awareness Campaign?
Well, I want to say that the programme started virtuously. I had a case I was doing in Ibadan. The former ANA President, Dr Wale Okediran, contested election to the Senate and lost. So, he challenged the election of the winner and I happened to represent the winner; and he was being represented by the present Governor of Ondo state, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN).
So, we got closer in the course of doing the case and then we got talking about ANA. I will say that my unintended relationship with Okediran was contributory to the decision to partner with ANA to raise literary awareness. But it’s quite interesting that I was on the other side defending the case he filed against my client.
How would you access ANA since your partnership?
I have seen that the association is blessed with quality members and very focused leaderships. I have related now with about three presidents and I have never been disappointed in any one of them. They have been very passionate about this programme.
I believe quite honestly that with the calibre of men and women who run ANA at different levels, the association will still go places and impact more on the society.
I am praying as long as God gives me life and gives me the wherewithal, the partnership will continue, because I have seen the impact.
Are you carried along for ANA’s engagements?
Unfortunately, because of the kind of work I do, I hardly find time. But they keep me abreast of developments. And I know that once in a year they come around to Ilorin to hold one seminar or the other and then they use the opportunity to present to me new works by members of ANA. So, I can say that the impact and feedback have been very engaging and very positive.
What is your take on the Art Endowment Bill?
I think it is very good, because everything we need to do to encourage scholarship and learning, we should all support it.
I have come to appreciate that the greatest contributor to the stunted growth of Nigeria and Nigerians development is corruption.
So, the motivation is that look o, if I am not in government to do anything about fighting corruption, at least, I can use intellect to contribute to the fight against corruption.
The book is quite incisive. It says: “Anatomy of Corruption in Nigeria: Issues, Problems and Solutions”. So, there are solutions suggested in the book.
Do you intend to publish any more literary works?
I wouldn’t mind. It may interest a lot of people that I started writing short plays while I was in the university. But my full engagement in legal practice has taken away that aspect, because law practice is more than 24 hours service.
Do you have any regret choosing the legal profession career?
To the glory of God, I can only be praising Allah for the path he has thrown me into. It has been quite rewarding.
How soon do you intend to retire from legal practice?
In Sha Allah, may be by the time I am 75 or 80, I will slow down properly.
What are the challenges in your profession?
The challenges in the profession are that, number one: it is very expensive to maintain a standard law office.
Number two, the quality of our colleagues who come out to join the profession is a bit challenging. People tend not to know as much as you think they would know even in terms of core areas of law. Number three, a lot of our colleagues are just interested in the good side of the job. They are not ready to take the bad and the ugly.
Number four, the society itself is a problem. Our society is a place where people, especially when they go to court, don’t think they can win clean and square.
People believe that there must be subterranean influence to influence the outcome of cases, which is not quite right. And of course, lastly, both the government and lots of Nigerians play lip service to the concept of rule of law and the observant of rule of law.
What motivates your acts of philanthropy generally?
Well, I think it’s God. God makes it easy for you whatever mission he wants to send you. I think God has made it easy for me to be able to dip my hand in the endowment he has bestowed me with. He has not given me the spirit of thinking that everything will finish once I assist.
I also believe that it’s a duty to give to the society, part of the things that God has used the society for you to attain. And also, because I believe that a successful person is somebody who has impacted on other people’s life; not necessarily members of his family.
Not necessarily family members?
Of course, you must be good to members of your family but you must do more than that.
What’s your favourite quote?
I like to quote the Qur’an. So, any portion of the Qur’an that I quote, I enjoy it.
Why the choice of Edmund Burke’s quote, “Bad laws are sort of tyranny” on your official website?
That quote is for the profession. I go for it because when a bad law is made for the society, the society is worse off than the way it is. It is good law that will propel the society to achieve and move on.
Is there any difference between Yusuf Ali as a bread winner, legal luminary, a Muslim, a boss and public figure?
I try to be the same person. I don’t have a double life. I try to be myself: the same Yusuf Ali as a lawyer, as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague and as religious person. I try to practise what I preach.
Do you have any role model in the profession?
All those who had achieved well, they are my role models. I look up to them, I learn from them and I pick nuggets of wisdom from all of them.
What do you do when you are not working?
I hardly have free time. That’s the truth. I try to use my brain at all times. If I am not talking to you, that is the interviewer now, and I am not having any serious work doing, I will be reading.
What’s your advice for the young and upcoming lawyers?
My advice is that the younger elements should buy into the concept of acquiring solid integrity. Money will come if it will come, but we must develop very strong characters. Characters that money cannot buy. Characters that nothing can destroy. Once you have character, you have integrity and once you have integrity, you have very little problem, if any.