‘I didn’t like Law, but I vowed not to disgrace my parents’

I AM Oyebanjo Olamide, an indigene of Ijebu North Local Government Area of Ogun State. I was born in Kano State, but my family had to relocate to the Southwest in 2000 due the religious/ethnic crises in the north. We are a family of five; I am the second son and the last child. My parents are lecturers. My father, Dr. O.O. Oyebanjo, is a Quantity Surveying lecturer at the Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu; and my mother, Prof. O.A. Oyebanjo is a physics lecturer at Tai Solarin University of Education, Ogun State. I am a legal practitioner, the first in a very long lineage. Most of my family members went into the field of science.

Childhood fantasies

My primary school was Tai Solarin College of Education Staff School and my secondary school was Tai Solarin University of Education Secondary School, Ijebu Ode, Ogun State. Life in that period, looking back, moved a little fast. I had no real career goals; just fantasies – fantasies that changed about a million times. I wanted to be a doctor; that changed and I wanted to become an astronaut. Reinhard Bonnke came around to our town once and I wanted to become a pastor. I listened to (Hip-hop rapper) MI (Mr Incredible) and I decided to be a rapper. It was a funny phase until in SS2 when I decided would become a lawyer. I sat for GCE (General Certificate of Education) and UTME (Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination) exams to study Law in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. That didn’t work out. I waited for a year and tried again in University of Ibadan and I got in.

How I made a First Class

Studying Law at the university was at first weird. The passion was not there in the beginning. I chose law by this thing called the bandwagon effect. I was in Art Class in secondary school and all art students wanted to study Law. We all filled our JAMB forms together the same day in class. Every one of us; and we all picked law. Only a girl got law, in University of Lagos. I got mine the next year, like I mentioned. So, I found myself doing what I did not really like at first. Fortunately, I was good at reading and reproducing facts, so I made up my mind that if I would be trapped in this confusing course, I would at least not disgrace my parents. In the first year, I read like a madman and I was on first class. That was enough motivation to give Law a chance in my affections. In 200 level, I was still in first class. I liked the course more and even started tutoring people. In 400 level, I was made the head of academic committee of the Law Students Society because I was always tutoring people. With God’s grace and hard work, I graduated with a first class.

‘I slept five hours per night, burned spare cash on food’

Law School, for those who are aiming for a very high grade, is as difficult as it is rumored to be. While you are still trying to read and understand yesterday’s extremely long and complicated topic, another one is dumped on you. If you are simply there to just get called to the Bar without anything spectacular, you don’t need the scary hustle. But like our lecturers told us, to be excellent requires a lot of sacrifice. Nevertheless, I took a lot of advice from my seniors at the bar. You have to first make sure you are not deprived of nutrients. You also need to keep your sanity by resting. At some point, I started losing weight and sleep; my friends noticed and warned me to slow down. It helped. I made sure I had nothing less than five hours of sleep. I would take some Saturdays to do nothing except watch movies and roam around aimlessly. I burned all the money I wasn’t saving on food. My motivation was first my personal culture of excellence. Secondly, I would think to myself, it’s just a year; deprive yourself as much as you can and laugh later. And, it was really worth it. This year, only five students finished with a First Class, contrary to the 100+ that finished last year. Just 76 had a 2.1 compared to the thousands that had it the previous year. My parents were at first disappointed that I finished with a 2.1 but when they heard that just 76 got it, my mother told me to kneel down and rained prayers of thanksgiving to God on my head for the next 10 minutes.

Law School grading system needs overhaul

This has been an ongoing issue for years. In my opinion, as shared by the majority, it is a system that does not really reflect “equity” as law itself strives to attain. The system is one where you graduate with your lowest score. So, if you have four A’s and 1 D, you are finishing with a Pass. The assessors ignore the reasoning that four A’s is evidence of excellence and they ignore the possibility of factors such as health, exhaustion, family problems etc. resulting in a D. If a bright student collapses in an exam and does not get to finish, he will definitely fail that course and will have to resit the bar exams, even if he passes other courses well. Only Nigeria uses this system. Harvard Law School does not; Oxford does not. Nigerian Law School, Bwari does. It is hard to reconcile it with logic and equity. It needs to be overhauled.

Marrying a lawyer?

Yes, I do not mind. Some law students say that they cannot; their reasons are “we are in the same profession.” I don’t get the point, but it’s their choice. I can marry a lawyer.

Wig, gown should be ceremonial outfits

I think it should be reduced to a ceremonial outfit. I am not sure if those who made it compulsory live in Nigeria, but Africa is hot. Most courts don’t have air-conditioning. Some don’t even have ceiling fans. If there is, there is no electricity.

SAN, Professor or a Judge?

Any other than a Judge. The role of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is prestigious and is proof of knowledge and excellence. I strive for excellence in everything I do so I would choose that. I also like the idea of being a professor; I like teaching law. I do not detest the academic sector.

Starting a foundation at Law School

While I was at the Law School, on one of those Saturdays when I chose to save my mind from exploding, I was asking my friend, Ayomide Akande,  about how her stay in University of Ibadan was. She said she literally taught herself everything and that the university seemed like a formality just to get the certificate. It was the same experience for me. Jokingly, we decided to start an organisation to try to improve the quality of Nigerian education. Day by day, we found ourselves talking more about it and making plans and before we knew it, we were already executing. I was initially scared because I had the bar exams to study for. But I just knew I had to start the foundation. I was already sucked in; I couldn’t stop. I think I have that problem – an obsessive feeling to get things done and to make sure it comes out top notch no matter what it takes. And I became passionate about what we were doing; it gave me a sense of purpose. That was when I started losing sleep. Because I had to work on the foundation as well as study hard, I was reading from 1 am to 6 am. I was only having about two-three hours of sleep and occasional naps. This continued for close to two months. I broke down at a point and became as thin as broomstick. We had another person, Olajesu Lordsfavour, join the team and her and Ayomide took over to allow me focus on my exams and regain my strength. Today, what we try to do is to come up with initiatives to improve education. For instance, we had an outreach to Local Government Primary School 1 in Sagamu and with the help of a fellow of Teach For Nigeria, we were able to publicise the artworks done by those students to educate primary school teachers on how to use art to train their students.

The future

By God’s grace, we, at the Oyemaja Foundation, intend to expand the organisation to national and global significance; we do not just want to create an organisation, put it on our CV (Curriculum vitae) for jobs and let it die in mediocrity. We are working day and night to do things that are worthwhile, sustainable and actually make people’s lives better in the educational sector. My legal career is a priority. I intend to gain experience, build a strong career and brand and make a name in the field. Academics is still on the table and is something I would love to go into along the way; my parents are lecturers, I picked up the passion from them.

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