On Tuesday, June 11, 2019, I received a call from a barrister living in Jos. Any time someone introduces himself or herself to me as a barrister, I am always tempted to ask whether the fellow is a barrister at law or a barrister at booze. This is because there exist two bars: a bar of honour peopled by lawyers and a bar of booze which harbours beer buffs!
The caller introduced himself as Barr. Omatsola and sought to know whether he was on to Mr. Clem, The Man From PPC. That moniker was the title of my humour column in the Sunday Standard newspaper based in Jos that I ran for close to eight years in the 80s. The humour column, just like this one, became so popular that my identity was lost to it. Everyone, including my colleagues, would rather call me The Man From PPC. Even Dan Agbese, a senior colleague at the Standard, preferred to call me that appellation when I visited him in Kaduna where he had gone back to edit the daily title of the New Nigerian Newspapers in the mid-80s. The PPC is a short cut to Plateau Publishing Company, publishers of the Standard newspapers.
I answered the caller in the affirmative. Then, he dropped a piece of news that sent my jaw dropping to the floor! The bad news was that Justice Abiodun Roy Soluade (retd) had passed on. I had just arrived at the office when the sad news hit me. As I always react to such news, if an abattoir was close to my office, a battle of green flies would have taken refuge in my mouth. It was when I felt some wetness on my chest that I realised that my mouth had been agape for a very long time from the shock!
The caller told me that he got my phone number from the back cover of the autobiography of Justice Soluade, entitled, ‘My Odyssey’ which was handled by my publishing outfit while in Jos in 2003. He told me that the Jurist’s family mandated him to contact me with the possibility of a reprint of the book to be represented at the burial slated for July 2, 2019.
It was the handling of the autobiography that brought the late justice and I closer. We knew each other by names by virtue of our professions for years but our paths never crossed until Mr. Richard Akinjide Shonekan, who was a family friend as director of sports, Plateau State Sports Council where I served as a board member in the late 70s, did the link. Richard Shonekan (now late) was a cousin of Chief Ernest Shonekan that headed the Interim Government put in place by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
Justice Soluade had put together his autobiography and was having difficulty getting a publisher to do the job. There were good printing outfits in Jos; notable among them at that time were the Ehindero Press (Nigeria) Limited and Fab Anih Ltd.
The Ehindero Press, I later discovered, had been approached to handle the printing but the managing director of the outfit, Chief Anjorin Ehindero, could not cope with the fastidiousness of the justice as the manuscript kept going back and forth. It was like an endless circle! I told Chief Ehindero that the script was living up to its title, Odyssey… a metaphor for tortuous voyage!
Eventually, the voyage began and I saw what scared Chief Ehindero. Ordinarily, after a finished manuscript has been submitted to a publisher, it should not take more than a month to roll out finished copies of the book, depending on the volume. Justice Soluade was a perfectionist par excellence. I was not surprised. His training as a lawyer and judge must have shaped his perfectionist nature. He was meticulous to a fault. Several times when we thought we were done with the finished manuscript and ready to go to press, he would call me first thing in the morning to notify me not to go a step further because, overnight, he had thought of what to add, what to take out, what to re-write, etc. I followed him patiently, doing as he pleased. As an author/writer myself, I hate to suffer from what I call ‘Writer’s Regret Syndrome (WRS)’ … an incurable disease that afflicts most authors after their works have been delivered.
Perfectionists, they say, die young. But Justice Soluade rubbished that axiom. He passed on at a ripe age of 94!
A widely travelled Nigerian, the diminutive jurist could as well be called Ajala Travel II. He crisscrossed all the continents of the world. Born of a British mother and a Nigerian father, an Egba man, who was also a London-trained lawyer, he served as justice of the High Court of Gambia and Tanzania, before he retired as a high court justice of Plateau State.
At long, long last, we got the job done and in his acknowledgments, he singled out me and my wife, who proofread the manuscript, as the most patient and understanding professional duo he had come across in his entire life.
The launch of the book in October, 2003 was graced by many dignitaries from all walks of life. The chairman of the occasion was a popular Lagos-based legal luminary, Chief Shola Rhodes. It was exciting meeting Chief Rhodes. When I was growing up, Chief Ebenezer Fabiyi Obey sang his praises in a record. I remember this line: ‘Shola Rhodes nle Barrister Lawyer. Board member, board member…’ he later became the sole administrator of the National Sports Commission at one time.
After the launch, I had an interesting encounter with Chief Rhodes. I told him that when I was appointed as a board member of the Plateau State Sports Council, the first and young Nigerian to be so appointed in the late 70s, I expected Chief Ebenezer Obey to search me out to be praise-sung… or King Sunday Adeniyi, popularly known as Sunny Ade. But none of them showed up at my doorstep! We both made excuses for the two praise-singers for ignoring me. I was not a barrister or a high profile business mogul with a deep pocket! No singers would croon your praises with empty mouths just because you a board member. We both had a good laugh.
A staunch Catholic, Justice Soluade devoted the latter part of his life to philanthropy. He had a large heart. Many indigent students were on his scholarship which he ran with proceeds from his pensions at both the state and federal levels. In order to sustain his legacy, his three beautiful daughters have decided to reprint his autobiography and the proceeds would be used to fund the scholarship scheme.
The legal community in Jos would miss his wise counsel. His ever accommodating Caribbean-born spouse, lvette Joyce, will miss him most. I will miss him too. Despite my relocation to Abuja about a decade ago, we were still in touch occasionally. He always asked of the ‘eagle eye’, which was the nickname he slammed on my wife because of her ability to catch errors in his manuscript that (unbelievably) escaped his eyes.
May God grant his gentle soul eternal rest and his wonderful family the fortitude to bear the huge loss, Amen.