Behold Nigeria’s law dynasties

Olusegun Awolowo, the great grandson of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was called to the Bar last Tuesday, extending his family’s legal dynasty into the fourth generation. ROBERT EGBE looks at other families with a long legal history

When the 35-year-old Obafemi Awolowo boarded the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) flight from Lagos to London in 1944, he must not have imagined the footsteps he was etching in the sands for future members of the Awolowo dynasty.

The late sage’s mission was to study Law at the University of London in the United Kingdom (UK) and become the first  in the Awolowo clan to become a barrister.

Chief Awolowo accomplished that goal when he was called to the Bar in England by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, on November 19, 1946. It put an end  to his journalism career.

In 1978, Awolowo reached the zenith of legal advocacy when he was conferred with the title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). His shoes didn’t seem too big to fill for his son, Olusegun, who followed in his steps and bagged a Law degree at Cambridge University, England. He was called to Bar in 1962.

But tragedy came soon after.

On Thursday, July 11, 1963, the West African Pilot, founded by fellow nationalist Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, ran the headline ‘Awo’s son dies in car crash; he was travelling to Lagos to see his dad’.

But not even Segun’s death at 25,  could break the Awolowo family legal chain.

The late young lawyer’s son, also named Segun, followed in his grandfather’s and father’s steps and extended that legal dynasty into the third generation: Segun Jnr graduated with an LLB degree from the Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University), Ago Iwoye.

Last Tuesday, 73 years on, Segun Jnr, now the Executive Director of Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), published a post on his Instagram page.

His son and Chief Awolowo’s great grandson,  Oluwasegun, has extended their legal dynasty by one more generation, making it four generations of lawyers.

Segun Jnr also shared generational photos, including Oluwasegun’s call to Bar photo to celebrate the achievement.

Oluwasegun, a Law graduate of the University of Warwick, England, is the fourth iin the family to become a lawyer.

On his Instagram post, Segun Jnr said both his grandfather and his father left blessed memories. He congratulated his son and praised him for also becoming a lawyer.

Awolowo told his son that the mantle had been passed to him to pass to his son to make it five generations of lawyers. He said: “Congratulations son, now over to you to make it to five. No pressure.”


Other dynasties

The Awolowo family tree is not the only  notable legal dynasty. There are others, both of the Bar and the Bench, across the country.


FRA Williams

Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, QC, SAN (December 16, 1920 to March 25, 2005) was the first lawyer to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

His father and uncle were both lawyers, and were called to the Bar in 1927 and 1892.

Despite being given a full scholarship to study mechanical engineering at Yaba Higher College, he chose to become a lawyer. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1942 and was called to the Bar at the Gray’s Inn, London in 1943. He set up the first indigenous Nigerian law firm in 1948 with Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode and Chief Bode Thomas. The law firm was called “Thomas, Williams and Kayode.”

His eldest son Chief Ladi Williams is also a SAN. His grandchildren are also lawyers.

In a 2013 interview with The Nation, Chief Ladi  William said: “When I was called to the inner bar, it was indeed the first time ever in the legal history of Nigeria that father (Chief Williams) and son who are SANs would appear in court together. Thereafter, my two children started following me to court as teenagers whenever they came home on vacation. They are qualified now. My eldest child is about 15 or 16 years at the Bar and my son is about 12 years at the Bar. It has been a family tradition. Already, when I look at my grandson, I used to tell his father, who is a lawyer, that the shape of his head looks like that of somebody who is going to study Law. ”



Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi was born December 31, 1939 and died on October 21, 2018. He was Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Niger State before becoming a high court judge.

Justice Kutigi joined the Supreme Court in 1992 and served as Chief Justice from January 30, 2007 until December 30, 2009, having reached the retirement age of 70.

His son, Justice Mohammed Idris, is a judge of the Court of Appeal.





Chief Idowu Sofola, SAN, was born on September 29, 1934 and died on March 23, 2018.

Idowu joined the Lagos State Judiciary in 1958 as a Court Clerk, having decided it was the pathway to understanding the practice of Law. He thereafter journeyed to the United Kingdom where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the London School of Commerce and Holborn College. He was called to the English Bar at Lincolns Inn in July 1962, the same year he returned to Nigeria for legal practice.

Idowu began his career at the Supreme Court of Nigeria on July 30, 1962 when he was enrolled as a Solicitor and Advocate by Honourable Justice Sir Adetokunbo Ademola KBE, GCON, PC, SAN, having been sponsored by Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode QC, SAN and Kehinde Sofola CON, SAN.

On May 1989, he rose to the zenith of his career as Senior Advocate of Nigeria and, in 1980, he was elected president of the Nigerian Bar Association, a position he held until his tenure elapsed in 1982.

On March 30, 2012, he was elected chairman of the Nigerian Body of Benchers to succeed Dahiru Musdapher. Idowu was the first African to be elected as the secretary-general of the International Bar Association.

He was a brother to Kehinde Sofola SAN, the father of Kayode Sofola, a SAN and former chairman of United Bank for Africa.

He was married to Mrs. Olusola Sofola with whom he has five children; most prominent of which is Sina Sofola, SAN. He also has a daughter who is a judge of the Lagos State High Court, Hon. Justice Yetunde Pinheiro (married to prominent Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Kemi Pinheiro, SAN).



In 1955, Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, son of the then Alake of Abeokuta, Oba Ladapo Ademola, was appointed Chief Justice for Western Nigeria, thus, becoming the first Nigerian head of the judiciary in the country. Three years later, he became the first Chief Justice of the entire Federation.

The CJF handed the baton to his eldest son, Adenekan Ademola, who became a judge of the High Court in 1970. Five years later, he became a member of the Court of Appeal. He was on the Court of Appeal Bench till 1991.

The third generation of judges in line in the family emerged with the appointment of Adeniyi Ademola as a judge of the Federal High Court.

On February 9, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the compulsory retirement of Justice Adeniyi. Ademola.



The legal dynasty of the family of a former Judge of the Lagos High Court, the late Justice James Oladipo Williams is yet to be replicated in the country.

Justice Williams was appointed to the Bench on June 1, 1975, he retired on May 22, 1987 and died on February 14, 1998.

Barely five years after his demise, two of his daughters, Ayotunde Phillips and Funmilayo Atilade, became judges of the Lagos State High Court in February 1994 and July 1996.

Justice Phillips was sworn in as Chief Judge on June 14, 2012. When she retired on July 26, 2014, she handed over to the next in line in the state’s judicial hierarchy – her younger sister Justice Atilade. It was the first and only time such succession had occurred in Nigeria’s judicial history.

Justice Atilade was in office from August 20, 2014, till September 24, 2017.



Chief Remilekun Adetokunboh Fani-Kayode Q.C., S.A.N, was a leading nationalist, elder-statesman, lawyer and politician. His father, Victor Adedapo Kayode, studied Law at Cambridge University and went on to become a prominent lawyer and later a judge.

Remilekun Fani-Kayode went to Cambridge University (Downing College) in 1941, after which he did the British Bar examinations in which he came tops in his year in the whole of the British Commonwealth. He was called to The British Bar at Middle Temple in 1945 and he went on to be appointed Queens Counsel (Q.C.) in 1960 (he was the third and youngest Nigerian ever to be made Q.C. and later Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1977 (he was the third Nigerian to be made a SAN). He set up the first indigenous Nigerian law firm in 1948 with Chief Williams and Chief Thomas. In 1970, he established another law firm Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo with his old friend and partner Chief Sobo Sowemimo, SAN.

His son Femi Fani-Kayode is also a lawyer.

Read Also: Lawyers differ on Buhari’s Independence Day speech



The first person that comes to mind whenever the name Agbakoba is mentioned is Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN). But the rights activist and maritime law guru is not the genesis of his family’s legal history.

Agbakoba comes from a family of lawyers, especially from maternal folks, so he was already familiar with the courts and its environment at a very tender age.

“The story is such that I was familiar with the court even when I was three years old. My father, Godfrey Charles Ubaka Agbakoba, was the first Chief Judge of old Anambra State,” Agbakoba said in an interview.

He is married to Mrs. Lillian, also a lawyer and head of Beverly & Sam Properties, with three children and grandchildren.



Justice George Sodeinde Sowemimo (November 8, 1920 to November 29, 1997) received a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the University of Bristol in 1948 and also trained at Middle Temple for one year before he returned to Nigeria to set up his own law firm

He was appointed a magistrate in 1951 and later became a Chief Magistrate in 1956, he was elevated to the position of judge in the High Court of Lagos in 1961. In 1972, he was appointed a justice of the  Supreme Court. After several years of service in the judiciary, he was appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria in 1983, to succeed the late Justice Atanda Fatai Williams.

Sowemimo retired in 1985 having attained the statutory retirement age of 65.

His son Seyi Sowemimo is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).



Another family worthy of mention is the Abiru family of Ikorodu. It has produced two generation of judges, the first being the late Justice Mubashir Abiru , who was appointed to the High Court of Lagos State Bench on April 1, 1983.

Prior to his appointment Abiru was a Senator in the second republic between 1979 and 1983. When the military took over from the civilian administration, he went into private law practice until his appointment to the Bench on April 1, 1983. He retired as a judge in 1985.

His son, Habeeb Adewale Abiru, has taken after him as a jurist. He was appointed a judge of the State High Court on May 24, 2001 and he has been elevated to the Court of Appeal Bench.



Former NBA President Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) is undisputedly one of Nigeria‘s foremost legal icons. He became the youngest recipient of the SAN rank  in 1991 at the age of 40 years.

Four of his children are lawyers, with two being SANs. They are Bode Olanipekun SAN, Mrs. Tope Adesina, Mrs. Busola Araromi and Dr. Dapo Olanipekun, SAN.

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