Saturday, February 4, 2017 10:29 am
By Richard Akinnola
Even if you didn’t agree with him or his style, you could not ignore him. Very brilliant but not too organized in his law practice. But again, you could not blame him. That was his style, only peculiar to him. Among those who passed through his chambers were Justice George Oguntade (retired justice of the Supreme Court), Chief Mike Ozekhome(SAN) and Chief Wole Olanipekun(SAN).
Late Kanmi Isola-Osobu, otherwise known as PEOPLES LAW, as a student of Nkrumaism, felt that law and justice must be viewed from the Afrocentric prism. When he was not directly involved in a case, Kanmi would still saunter to the court as amicus and announce his appearance on behalf of “Pan African Peoples Law Centre and Akademy” and woe betide that judge to rebuff Kanmi’s appearance. That day, the judge would know his (judge’s) life history.
As a senior lawyer, Kanmi would reduce such a judge to a small boy by reminding him of how both of them used to run after clients at Magistrate courts when they were still young at the Bar.
There was a particular instance sometime in 1992 when he had a face-off with Justice (Mrs) Inumidun Sotuminu, long before she became the Chief Judge of Lagos State. The judge had made a statement which Kanmi felt insulting and Kanmi flew into a rage. Pointing at the judge, he howled in Yoruba: ” Abi eeri girl yi ke” (look at this girl). You can’t talk to me like that n-o-w. I am your senior at the Bar even though ‘won fi e je judge’ (they made you judge).”
As he was talking, other lawyers in the court were calming him down. One of the lawyers beside him was pulling his gown, signaling him to sit down so that the judge would not commit him for contempt.
Kanmi rebuffed them : “Fimi sile” (leave me alone), leave me alone and let me deal with this girl. This is not her first time. You can’t talk to me anyhow as a member of the Honourable Body of Benchers. Even your husband who is my friend, that puts you in the house, cannot talk to me like that.”
The obviously embarrassed judge just kept mute, looking at peoples law . She could not commit him for contempt because it’s like habouring a live snake in your house. No judge dared to touch him.
I remember in 1985 when he was defending a drug courier, Moronke Fausat Lawal, who was standing trial at the Miscellaneous Offences Tribunal, then headed by Late Justice Debayo Desalu, Kanmi on this occasion walked out on the judge. Then came back. Sat down, backing the judge. Kanmi was leading the accused in evidence. The lady was not audible and Kanmi asked her to speak loud like she normally did when she attended Owambe parties. Justice Desalu then interjected: “Is there where she spends the money?” Kanmi did not like the way the judge was interjecting his examination and Kanmi, in his usual self, did not hesitate to remind the judge of how both of them were engaging in “charge and bail” at the Mushin Magistrate court in the 60s and therefore should not deride him.
“We know ourselves n-o-w. My Lord, sebi both of us were doing charge and bail together at Mushin in the 60s. So, my Lord should not teach me my job,” he blurted out and sat down, an angry scowl etched on his face.
Later, Kanmi’s face brightened up and he laughed hysterically, saying “My Lord, you yabbed me and l have yabbed you back. Let us continue”.
Kanmi was Fela’s friend and lawyer and they were quite close and their mannerisms similar.
Kanmi was quite forthright and laid no claim to pretence. To his radical comrades who felt that he had compromised and moved to the establishment, Kanmi would quickly remind them that *kirikiri is not Sheraton, mehn!,* ask Abdul Mahmud and Nasir Kura, after Kanmi secured their release from the SSS dungeon.
Very unconventional, Kanmi was a loyal friend. There was hardly any personal event that I invited him to that he never attended, even at great discomfort. During my wedding, Kanmi was late to the Registry and the door was locked when he arrived. But Kanmi banged the door like he was being pursued and hollered that the door be opened immediately. As soon as Owei Lakemfa opened the door for him, Kanmi laughed hysterically, shouting “Ricardo Baba!”, momentarily halting the proceedings. But he cared less.
When he tried to contest for the Presidency of the NBA in 1992 at the botched Port Harcourt conference, it was obvious that Kanmi could not win. But he was dogged, harassing the daylight out of Mrs Priscilla Kuye another contestant, who he told: “Priscilla! Go and cook for your husband at h-o-m-e. This matter is not for women!”.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) would tell me : “Richard, egbon ( that is, Kanmi) ko le (cannot) win, but we have to support him on a moral ground”. And when Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Falana, Beko were facing treason charges at Abuja in 1992, Kanmi would hit the road alone at about 6pm from Lagos in Peugeot 505 and arrive Kuje prison, Abuja at dawn. He was loyal to friends.
Peoples lawyer had an aversion for the prestigious title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). As far he was concerned, it was irrelevant and each time he clashed with a SAN in court, he never hesitated to make that point.
In 1987 at the lbadan conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA), he had a mild clash with Mr Kehinde Sofola (SAN). Sofola had berated the radicals at the Bar, describing them as “noise makers”
In a veiled reference to Kanmi, he charged: “Have those of us who became lawyers long time ago behaved like those lawyers? No amount of intimidation can dissuade me from coming to the conference.
“Everybody, whether radical or conservative must fall in line with the system. Anybody not falling in line must be asked to shut up”.
Piqued by these statements, Osobu shouted across the hall, menacingly pointing fingers at Sofola on the high table, “he’s talking to me, he is referring to me…”
When it was his time to speak, the whole hall burst into riotous roar. As he wiggled his way up; he was continuously hailed by the lawyers. Osobu gave it back to Sofola without mincing words.
In his characteristic theatrical style, Osobu said Sofola insinuated that he (Osobu) was not properly brought up, he illustrated his defence by saying that his parents’ house was at the *Marina* of Ilesa.
“Despite this, some of us chose to be revolutionary. I have a strong feeling that Sofola’s speech was meant to provoke me. But I have refused to be provoked “.
Amidst punctuating ovation of “fire on”, “more”, Osobu asseverated: “I’m too much for anybody. What we are saying is that we senior lawyers are not paying juniors well and it is “how we go chop. Hunger is our problem sha! ”
At the 1991 NBA Conference at Owerri, Kanmi and l shared the same room at Concord hotel, along with his “Peoples law” magazine sales girl. The girl slept on the rug, while Kanmi and l slept on the bed (just in case your mischievous mind wants to ask about the sleeping arrangement!). At the end of the conference, Kanmi insisted that l travelled with him in his car back to Lagos. We got to Lagos at about 8pm and as he was dropping me off at Stadium bus stop, he picked up a girl. The next day was the valedictory session at the Supreme court for late Justice Taslim Elias, former Chief Justice of Nigeria. After the event, as we filed out at the foyer, Kanmi sighted me and shouted “Ricardo baba, omo ale anan ye, mo wo lata sha” ( that girl of last night, l slept with her). I was so embarrassed that he was saying such things publicly and l just pretended as if he wasn’t talking to me. But Kanmi cared less.
The same way he reacted when he met his girlfriend at Fela’s African Shrine. Surprised to see the girl there, he queried her – “O tun fe maa ba Fela sun. Ki loun wa ni biyi (You also want to be sleeping with Fela, what are you doing here?). To which the girl denied, saying “It’s not true. My hands are clean”. And Kanmi retorted, “if your hands are clean, your nyansh clean?”