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In this first interview with any national daily since the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and his appointment as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Ondo State, Dr Olukayode Ajulo speaks with Olakunle Olasanmi, head, Judiciary Desk, on constitutional issues, current hardships in the country.

Question: *You were conferred with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria at an elaborate ceremony in the Supreme Court last November, how does it feel being a SAN and what has changed professional-wise?*

The rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria is the highest professional recognition in Nigeria for lawyers and indeed, I submit, of any professional. This esteemed title is prescribed and it symbolises the pinnacle of personal desire, fulfilment, and professional achievement within the legal community. I must confess, the journey to attaining this honour was one I eagerly anticipated, prayed and hoped against hope for.

Now that it has been graciously bestowed upon me, I am humbled by the magnitude of the responsibilities it entails. While I still revel in the euphoria of this achievement, I am also keenly aware of the challenges that come with ascending to such a privileged realm within the legal profession. What has changed for me professionally is the heightened sense of duty and the determination to excel that accompanies this prestigious title. I upped my game!

Question: *In the last few months, it’s been from one elevation to the other, last November, you got the coveted SAN rank and now, an appointment as commissioner in Ondo State. Would you like to share some of the secrets of your successes?*

I offer my utmost praise and adoration to the Almighty God, for He has bestowed upon me countless blessings. His grace has unfailingly accompanied me throughout my journey, and the secret to my successes lies in unwavering faith in God coupled with diligent efforts.

Question: *Many Nigerians believe the judiciary is part of the problems we are facing in this country today, especially the controversial orders being issued from the courts. What would be your advice as it regards this view that is being held by Nigerians and also to the leadership of the judiciary in the country?*

While it is true that our judiciary, like any institution, faces challenges. It is essential to approach this issue with a balanced perspective- no institution should be insulated from this. Eighty per cent of the problems we face in Nigeria are internal. However, the judiciary sure plays a vital role in upholding the rule of law and ensuring justice for all. To address concerns about the judiciary, I would with respect recommend strengthening the rule of law, upholding integrity within the judiciary, improving judicial efficiency, promoting judicial education and training, and ensuring accountability and disciplinary measures.
Restoring public trust in the judiciary requires a collective effort from all stakeholders, including the judiciary itself, legal professionals, the government, civil society organizations, and the public.

Question: *It is believed that the Rule of Law is not well regarded by the FG. In your view as a senior lawyer, what is the implication of this on the country’s image and economy?*

As a lawyer, I would urge that we approach the subject of the federal government’s regard for the rule of law with a measured perspective. While criticisms have been voiced regarding the government’s commitment to upholding the rule of law, it is essential to acknowledge that the current government is an offshoot of constitutionalism, forming a foundation rooted in the principles of the rule of law.

Of course, it is within one’s prerogative to aspire for more improvements and reforms in this regard. Constructive discussions and efforts to strengthen the rule of law should be encouraged, as they contribute to the development and progress of any nation.

Despite varying political interpretations, court judgements continue to be honoured, signifying a recognition of the importance of respecting the judiciary’s decisions. However, challenges persist, and it is crucial to address them to prevent adverse implications on the country’s image and economy. Disregarding the rule of law can erode investor confidence, promote corruption, weaken legal frameworks, and foster social unrest, all of which can hinder economic progress and tarnish the country’s reputation.

In expanding these thoughts. The expected implication of disregard for the rule of law by any given government of a country to the economy is enormous, as said, firstly it will erode investor confidence and discourage both domestic and foreign investment. You know, investors typically seek legal protection for their investments and expect fair and transparent legal processes. If these expectations are not met, they may hesitate or even choose to invest in other countries with a more favourable legal framework.
Moreover, when the government fails to uphold the Rule of Law, corruption, favouritism, and arbitrary decision-making can become prevalent.

This can stifle economic growth, hinder entrepreneurship, and discourage innovation. It may also lead to a brain drain, as talented individuals and businesses may seek opportunities in countries with better legal systems. This can also weaken the overall legal framework, leading to inadequate protection of individual rights, weak law enforcement, and a culture of impunity.

Finally, when the government does not uphold the Rule of Law, it can lead to a breakdown of trust between citizens and the state. This may result in social unrest, protests, and conflicts, which can further impact the country’s stability and hinder economic progress.

It is important to note that these implications are general and can vary depending on the specific context and circumstances of a country. However, in general, a disregard for the Rule of Law can have far-reaching consequences for a country’s image and economy.

Question: *Apart from being a successful lawyer, you are also a top politician, with your recent appointment as Commissioner, what are your plans for the developmental agenda of your principal, Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa?*

I must confess that I have always been reluctant to accept the title of “politician” due to my trajectory, experience, training, and interests. I have always seen myself more as a social worker or social interventionist, and I want to emphasize that I did not take this distinction for granted.

Throughout my journey, my involvement in various capacities such as being a unionist, a student leader holding elective offices during my undergraduate years, running for a Senate seat in Abuja under the Labour Party, and eventually being elected and serving as National Secretary of the Party, and being a Board Chairman of a government Corporation, despite all these, I have never lost sight of my role as a lawyer, as I thrived with other committed noble Knights in establishing a top law firm, Kayode Ajulo & Co. with a unique brand, Castle of Law in Nigeria and four other countries.

My legal practice has always remained integral to my identity, which has helped me maintain an independent mindset. I recall that I voluntarily resigned from politics and stepped down as the National Secretary of the Labour Party in 2015, when I did that I publicly expressed my desire to focus on my law practice, humanity and charitable endeavours. In hindsight, I believe that decision has been vindicated. In subsequent years, I have been honoured with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate and bestowed with the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), one of the highest national honours in Nigeria.

When the unexpected offer of a commissionership came my way, I carefully considered it. It is a tough decision, a juggling between the prospect of being just a Commissioner and the potentiality of sacrificing to serve the people of my State. However, what ultimately swayed my decision is the latter and the personality, demeanour, and my belief as well as trust in the offeror, His Excellency, Honorable Lucky Orimisan Aiyedatiwa.

You will agree with me that he has emerged as a beacon of pragmatic leadership and has consistently demonstrated a pro-people approach, and when he shared his vision and mission for Ondo State, I found myself compelled to join him in his efforts to rescue the state and I’m not alone, the leadership of APC and the generality of the people of the State, old and young are firmly with him.

In conclusion, I wish to reiterate that while my path may have led me to the political realm, my core identity as a social worker, lawyer, and advocate for positive change remains steadfast and these remain my agenda while I am committed to working alongside His Excellency, Honourable Lucky Orimisan Aiyedatiwa, to serve the people of Ondo State and contribute to their well-being.

Question: *In your own view, what is the way out of the current hardship in the country and what is the government of Ondo state doing to ameliorate the hardship being faced by the people of the state?*

The current hardship in Nigeria is global but ours has multifaceted causes and requires a comprehensive approach to address it. While it is challenging to provide an exhaustive solution, it is important there’s the need for Implementation of economic reforms aimed at promoting sustainable growth, job creation, and diversification of the economy can help stimulate economic activity and reduce hardship. This may include measures such as improving the ease of doing business, attracting investments, promoting entrepreneurship, and providing support to key sectors  Also, implementing social welfare programmes targeted at the most vulnerable populations can provide immediate relief and assistance. This may include initiatives such as conditional cash transfers, food security programs, healthcare services, and education support.

Investing in infrastructural development, such as roads, transportation, power supply, and telecommunications, can improve access to basic services, enhance productivity, and attract investments. This can have a positive impact on the overall quality of life and economic opportunities for the people.

Promoting transparency, accountability, and good governance practices can help combat corruption, reduce the wastage of resources, and instil public trust. This can lead to more efficient service delivery and effective utilisation of public funds for the benefit of the people.

Question: *Do you have any plans for seeking elective positions in the future?*

Haba! Indeed, what an interesting question! However, I think we agreed that there won’t be any political questions, rather than focusing on future political aspirations, I believe it is more appropriate to channel my energies towards fulfilling my current responsibilities and support the Governor to serve the people to the best of my abilities.

Question: *There’s no way to avoid politics If you’re interested in good governance. With the current political realities within the State and considering all the political gladiators in the governorship race do you think your principal Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa will get the party’s ticket come April?*

Indeed! Absolutely. Allow me to make it clear that the current political circumstances you have just mentioned in Ondo State are advantageous to Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa, and this is self evident. First and foremost, it is a forensic truth that he is the most experienced among all the contenders. Yes, he is the most suitable candidate for the job. I am frivolous with my statements as a lawyer, please let anyone contradicting my above statement take a pen and list the names of the contenders, their achievements and stations in life to contradict me.

Let us not forget that he began his career as a teacher before becoming a management and financial expert. Among the competitors, he is the most experienced in the realm of governance in the State as we speak. He served as a Campaign Coordinator, Confidant, and Deputy Governor to my esteemed brother Silk, a vibrant, intelligent professional, and former governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, CON. May Aketi’s soul rest in peace. Today Lucky Aiyedatiwa is the Governor and Chief Executive officer of the State,  Governor Lucky is indeed lucky and possesses a thorough understanding of every aspect of governance. Additionally, let us not forget that he was entrusted and nominated by Aketi and appointed by the President to serve on the board of NDDC as the representative of Ondo State, and he performed exceptionally well.

In my humble opinion, only a political party that is not prepared for victory would take a risk with its best chance of winning in an election. Moreover, Governor Aiyedatiwa has demonstrated the ability to establish connections with leaders and the people, and I do not believe the party will trade certainty for uncertainty. Without sounding immodest, I have for years represented and consulted for the APC and other parties as an External Solicitor/Consultant majorly in constitutionalism, I am therefore aware that there is a convention and or an unwritten rule within the APC and, in fact, every political party, stating that any performing incumbent has the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) before being considered for replacement. I am acquainted with the prominent contenders, and I must say that most of them are my friends, for whom I have tremendous respect for their intelligence. Although it’s their sacred right to aspire for any political office in Nigeria, but as astute individuals, I expect them to comprehend that this is a closed market with no vacancy in Alagbaka Government House.

Without a doubt, the governor surpasses the skill level of the competitors. The APC party is fortunate to have him as a governor at this particular moment, as other political parties are aligning with the APC to support him as their candidate. Therefore, it would be unreasonable for the political organization or structure to exchange certainty for uncertainty in a politically sophisticated state like Ondo State.

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