Chief Ladi Williams (SAN), son of late legal luminary- Chief Rotimi Williams (SAB) has revealed that there was no water closet when his late father first brought his family to Ibadan, the old western region capital.
Williams, who has been in the legal profession for over four decades and a member of the inner chambers for over 20 years explained that they had to make use of pit latrine popular called salanga.
He said living in the ancient city made him see poverty at its worst but added that the people were reasonably happy and coped one way or the other.
According to Williams whose father and him were the first father and son to become Senior Advocates of Nigeria, explained that “When we got to Ibadan in 1954, the town did not have a lot of proper building; infact, there was no water closet so if we needed to relieve ourselves, we had to use what the Ibadan people call, the Shalanga, also known as a pit latrine. In those days, we had a popular saying in Yoruba that ‘whoever says any evil thing about me behind my back will enter Shalanga.’ When we moved to Ibadan, I saw poverty in motion; I saw poverty at its worst and it was bad. Nevertheless, the people were reasonably happy and coped one way or the other. Bad as it was then, they were very honest people. You would not believe that if you forgot your bag in a taxi, the driver would return to where you alighted, try his best to locate you and hand your bag over to you without removing a dime. In Nigeria today, not only will they steal your bag, the owner could also be kidnapped. I saw a lot of poverty growing up in Ibadan notwithstanding the fact that we grew up in a secluded environment.”
Asked if he was fulfilled being a son of late Rotimi Williams, he said: “I was called to the outer bar about 45 years ago and I have spent half of that time in the prestigious inner bar. I really don’t understand what you mean by being fulfilled.”
Saying that his passion for the underprivileged was as a result of the level of poverty he witnessed while growing up in Ibadan and that his profession demands compassion, he disclosed that ”Both suggestions are right and because I grew up in Ibadan, I have a soft spot for Oyo State. The Ibadan I grew up in was nothing like what we have today. The people were trained to be their brother’s keeper and until this day, I still relate with my classmates in primary school. These are people I have known since the 1950s.”
He said that he was happy with the way his life has panned out, noting that “I am not unhappy but there are some things I would like to do and I believe that with God, I can still do them. For example, I would like to help and encourage more people from indigent backgrounds; I mean people who have the brains but because of our system, they are unable to take advantage of the educational system. You would not believe that in Nigeria today, with all our noise about oil wells, there are still people who cannot afford one square meal a day. There are people who do not have a roof over their heads; they sleep under the bridge if the town has bridges. If there are non-governmental agencies helping these underprivileged persons, one can also help out with his widow’s mite. I think this can be done if we have people of like minds.”
He noted that he would have been either an English language or history lecturer “but with the environment where I was raised that was just impossible because I come from a lineage of lawyers. I was brought up to think that apart from law and medicine there was no other profession.”
He said he doesn’t have any regret growing up with such a mentality. “No, I have no regrets. The practice of law involves a lot of reading and studying. It also requires compassion whether you are prosecuting or defending a case. It can also be used as an instrument of change that could improve the lives of others.”
On how growing up in Ibadan was, he retorted: ”Whenever I saw someone with tribal marks it used to frighten me because while we were in Lagos, I never encountered people with tribal marks. I remember the first time I saw Chief Richard Akinjide, I was scared to death because of the marks on his face. But I eventually got accustomed to it. The impression I had of people with tribal marks was that they were ritualists till my father explained to me that in the old days of the Yoruba civil wars, tribal marks were given to people for them to know the village they come from. When they saw the marks, they could pinpoint the village the person was from. During the wars in those days, people were captured as slaves and when the wars were over, some of them were allowed to go home. With the tribal marks, it made it easy for them to locate their respective villages. That was how he explained it to me because I used to be very scared of people with tribal marks. In fact, I once thought that they could give me the mark. I was about six years old then.
“We went to school with an orderly then and because the other children’s parents did not have money to buy shoes for them, we would instruct our orderly to drop us off at a distance, take off our shoes and trek to school. We did this so that we could identify with the other children until one day; I stepped on a broken bottle and got injured so I had to resume wearing my shoes. I remember we wore Clarks or Bata shoes to school back.
“I was withdrawn from a fee-paying school, Children Home School, Ibadan, and I was enrolled in one of the schools that subscribed to the free education scheme introduced by the Late Chief Awolowo and my father did this so that the people of Ibadan would know that the children of the members of the government also attended those schools. Today in Nigeria, the children of members of the government and big businessmen are sent abroad to study. It was by intermingling with such people and visits to their homes that made us see the other side of life.”
He said he would have studied at either University of Ibadan of the University of Ife if not that the former didn’t have a law faculty at the time. “That is true but at the time I travelled to England to study law the there were very few law faculties in Nigeria; even the University of Ibadan did not have a law faculty. The University of Ile- Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University had one but they had just kicked off and there were only a few vacancies. It was the same thing with the University of Lagos. I travelled out of the country to go and acquire professional expertise which was not sufficiently available in Nigeria at the time. The important thing was the primary education which is the foundation.”
On why his family moved from Lagos to Ibadan, he revealed “My father practised law in Lagos and his partners were the late Chief Bode Thomas and Chief Fani Kayode, Femi Fani-Kayode’s father. Although it is not often acknowledged, my father was the first chairman of the then Lagos Town Council. When politics came and it was obvious that the British were sincere in allowing an internal home-grown government, my father met the late Chief Awolowo through the late Chief Alfred Rewane in Lagos and from there they struck a wonderful friendship. When the Action Group won the election in Western Nigeria, Chief Awolowo invited my father to be the minister of justice and local government and thereafter he became the first attorney-general of the Western Region. It was at that point we moved from Lagos to Ibadan. While in Lagos, we lived in my grandfather’s house at Idumagbo Avenue before we moved to Old Yaba Road and from there we went to Ibadan so that my father could take up the appointment.
“I felt that it was an accomplishment because it was the first time the child of a SAN was made a SAN. Yet, it was like climbing to the top of a very greasy pole because, at that time, some SANs did not have children of my age that had graduated from school not to talk about being made a SAN. I recall that there was a particular SAN, who was also an in-law, that bitterly opposed the idea of the son of a SAN being made a SAN at the time but as God would have it, two of his children are SANs today. When asked now, he says, if they merit it, why not give them but before then, he suggested that they should ban children of SANs from even attempting to become one. There were other people who were of a different view. Their argument was that if you are good enough you should be made a SAN; Chief Awolowo was one of such people.
“He told me that I should continue to congratulate my father because he had brought pride to them by making another history. I replied him saying that I was the one that made history and not my father but he jokingly told me to go and sit down somewhere because if my father did not give birth to me there was no way I would have become a SAN. But it was obvious that he was genuinely happy for me. There were some people who for reasons best known to them, did not like it. Today, it is no longer a big deal big deal if a SAN has a son who later becomes a SAN. We also have people in the judiciary whose children are also justices. An instance is Justice Idris Kutigi of the Federal High Court who has been promoted to the Court of Appeal, his father is a Chief Justice of Nigeria. Today, it is not even news worth mentioning. What we have not heard of yet is a situation whereby the father is a SAN and his daughter also becomes a SAN. That space is yet to be filled because I am a supporter of women. I believe that what a man can do, a woman can do much more. We are waiting for that vacuum to be filled.”
On what he missed about his father, he said: ”While growing up in Ibadan, I hardly saw my father because he was busy campaigning with the Premier. The two families grew very close and we used to spend some Saturdays in their house. When it was time for our common entrance examination, my father called me aside and told me that I had to do very well because it had a political undertone. It was one of the first examination that the children of the free education would compete at the national level with children from other schools from all over the country. He said we had to do very well. In my own case, I filled Bariga Grammar School as my first choice because that was the school he finished from. Then I also chose King’s College and St. Gregory’s College. I passed very well and gained admission to the three schools. As far as my father was concerned, I was going to attend Bariga Grammar School. Chief Enahoro who was a very close friend of my father, was in the house one day when he mentioned that he was going to Lagos. Travelling to Lagos was very stressful because of the roads. So the plan was that Chief Enahoro would drop me off at Chief T.O.S Benson’s house and he would take me to Bariga Grammar School. Chief Benson, and my father were classmates in secondary school so he was happy to oblige my father’s request.
“When Chief Enahoro found out that I gained admission to King’s College, he had other plans in mind because he went to King’s College. When we got to Lagos, instead of him to take me to Chief T.O.S Benson’s house, who would have taken me to the Grammar School the next day, he just took me straight to King’s College and escorted me to my dormitory because I had already been allocated a bed space. Even my father did not know about his intention. All I wanted was to go to school in Lagos. After a few days, my mother called Chief Benson informing him that she was going to send some foodstuff to me through him. He told her that he had not seen me and had no idea where I was. My mother called my grandmother and she also said that she did not know where I was. Chief Enahoro had gone to Uromi, his hometown, so it was difficult to get a hold of him. So my mother had to travel to Lagos. She went to Bariga Grammar School and St. Gregory’s College but did not find me. She later went to King’s College and that was where she found me. As of the time she found me, my father and Chief Enahoro had spoken. Since I had settled down in King’s College, there was no need for me to go to Bariga Grammar School. The first vacation that we had, Chief Enahoro was in Ibadan and they were talking about the incident he said, ‘Timi, how can I allow your son go to that inferior school called Bariga Grammar School.’ They debated it but at the end of the day, Chief Enahoro had already had his way and that was how I went to King’s College instead of Bariga Grammar School.”