Tribute to an extraordinary law- The late Mr Olatunji Ayanlaja, SAN – By Richard Ayodele Akintunde, SAN, C.Arb, FBR

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*Photo: The late Ayanlaja, SAN*

It came to me as a rude shock when I heard of the passing of my former boss, Mr. Olatunji Ayanlaja, SAN on the 26th of July 2022. Until his death, he was a Founding Partner of the firm of Ayanlaja Adesanya & Co. I write this tribute to an extraordinary lawyer.

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I joined the firm of Ayanlaja, Adesanya and Co. in January 1987 as the first full-time lawyer employed by the firm. In Chambers was Deji Balogun, now Hon. Justice Deji Balogun who was serving as a youth Corper. The job was heaven-sent, and my long wait had paid off because my monthly salary of N750 was a lot higher than the N400.00 to N500.00 my colleagues who had gotten jobs earlier were earning.

Mr. Ayanlaja was a very seasoned and knowledgeable practitioner. There was so much to learn from him; his dapper dressing, his work culture, charisma, carriage, class, research methods, analytical skills, attention to detail, oratory skills, tenacity, confidence and hard work.
We usually held the firm’s meeting on Friday, and we had to read the Nigeria Weekly Law Reports (NWLR) for each week before the meeting because Mr. Ayanlaja and Mr. Adesanya would drill us on recent decisions in the report.

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We all imbibed punctuality as a virtue as Mr. Ayanlaja was always in the office at 7:30 am every day without fail except he was not around, and you had no excuse for coming late. Mr. Seyi Akinwunmi (now the Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Football Federation) and Honourable Justice Sola Williams (Nee Ilori) later joined the firm.

I remember that on one occasion, we were preparing papers for an appeal, and I left the office at 10:30pm. The following morning, I was back in the office at 7:00 am. On arrival, Mr. Ayanlaja greeted me and said in Yoruba: ” Ayo, you left very early yesterday”, I smiled. This was the work ethic of Ayanlaja Adesanya & Co, and this has stuck with me till this very day.
There is no shortcut, you had to do deep research and leave no stone unturned. Mr. Ayanlaja would typically give you a big file and he would simply write the words “Please Treat”. To know what to “treat” you had to read the file back-to-back to trace the history of the case, the nature of the dispute, the current situation, and the next line of action.

After identifying the next line of action, you needed to prepare a worthy process for Mr. Ayanlaja’s consideration. There was usually a lot of back and forth with Mr. Ayanlaja because he would simply write on your draft “Not Satisfactory”. You did not know exactly what was ” not satisfactory”, you just had to figure it out until he approved the process. His style helped us to have a clear understanding of procedure, the legal requirements for the type of application you were making, pleadings, what you must prove to succeed and defences. Bullen & Leake was a regular reference as your pleadings must conform to the standard of the authors. His approach gave us confidence and boldness in court that we had satisfied all the legal requirements to the minutest detail. I still follow these precepts to date.

Mr. Olatunji Ayanlaja, who took silk in 1995 was a colossus in the legal profession in Nigeria. An extraordinary lawyer. A go-to lawyer who you can go to sleep if you had him in your corner. He was a dogged fearless fighter. He was involved in many landmark and novel cases which are frequently cited by lawyers and judges. Some of them include: Saraki v. Kotoye (1992) 9 NWLR, Pt. 264 p 156, Inakoju v. Adeleke (2007) 4 NWLR, Pt. 1025, Stanbic IBTC Bank v. Long Term Global Capital Ltd & Ors. (2017) 18 NWLR Pt. 1598 p431, RE: Ladoja (2006) LPELR-7655 and Ijebu-Ode Local Government Council v. Segun & Ors. (2011) LPELR-4290.

Mr. Ayanlaja lived a very impactful life. He positively propelled all that crossed his path to pursue excellence in the legal profession and distinction in all spheres of life.

ADIEU! Mr. Olatunji Ayanlaja, SAN – Rest in Peace my dear boss.

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