DKS: 90 hearty cheers to a lifetime to service to his family, the community, the church and to law
Chief David Kolawole ‘’DKS’’ Solesi who recently marked his 90th birthday on Thursday 16 July has achieved a distinguished and remarkable of almost 60 years career as a lawyer in Nigeria. Chief Solesi who in his long career can count amongst his friends, the great and good of that revolving door of politics and law in Nigeria from the first to fourth republics, the likes of which include Chief Obafemi Awolowo SAN (Inner Temple, 1946), Chief FRA Williams SAN (Gray’s Inn, 1943), Chief Bola Ige SAN (Inner Temple, 1971), Chief Solomon Lar (Nigerian Bar, 1971) and other distinguished men and women of the bar and bench. He was amongst that pioneering class of lawyers in Ijebu, Remo, Egba lands and those in the nook and crannies of the South Western legal circuit who all knew each other on a first name basis with years of friendship dating back years.
Sir Solesi was born on July 16, 1930, in Ilisan-Remo, Ogun State to Samuel Adenuwe Solesi, a successful farmer and a steward at the Methodist Church in Ilisan-Remo and Chief Efularin Solesi (Iya Eleko) a trader. From the time of his birth to date Ilisan-Remo, his hometown Ilisan Remo, the Methodist Church and his legal career have the hallmarks of his life to date. His community, the church and law have defined his long and illustrious career. later from when he was called to bar at Gray Inn’s London.
A devout Christian his life is steeped in the Wesleyan traditions of the Methodist Church from years attending Wesley Primary School, Ilisan-Remo, from 1942 to 1949 and for his secondary Methodist Boys High School from 1950 to 1955. Sir. Solesi's tenacity and doggedness, sterling qualities which have endured his life were formed at early age. At a young lad he and his brothers assisted his dad on the farm and his maternal side who were skilled blacksmiths and he was in what was a successful business which made his dad form the view that a formal education was necessary for him and his male siblings. However unbeknownst to his dad, young Solesi who was passionate about education had other plans. He bought himself a school uniform and had saved enough from the sale of self-made knives and other farm implements for his school fees. The school fees were one shilling and six pence. Dressed in the school uniform (Wesley Primary School, Ilisan) he asked his dad to take him to school. His Dad gladly obliged and he enrolled at primary school at an advantage being more mature than his classmates who were mostly five years younger.
On completing his secondary education, he did a short stint as a Clerk with the then Post and Telegraph Department (which was succeeded by the defunct Nigerian Telecommunications Limited and the surviving Nigerian Postal Service) and later at the Nigerian Railway Corporation till 1958. In 1958 he travelled to England to seek the golden fleece embarked on the golden fleece enrolling at the Holborn College of Law part of the University of London International Programme for his Bachelor of Laws and was called to bar on 9 July 1963 at Gray’s Inn, said to be friendliest of the Inns of Court and later to the Nigerian Bar on 13 July 1964. His lifelong friend, Ijebu kinsman and law firm partner Alhaji Isiaka Abiodun Sanni who he met during his studies in London was called to Bar on the same day at Lincoln’s Inn and on the same day as Chief Solesi to the Nigerian Bar. Later Babcock University awarded him a honoris causa Doctor of Laws (LLD) for his distinguished service to the community and to law in 1999 on the same day former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme (Nigerian Bar, 1991) was similarly bestowed with the LLD honoris causa.
Sir Solesi law practice and partnership with Alhaji Sanni (Sanni, Solesi & Co) was the oldest legal partnership firm in Nigeria, established in February 1964 and one of the oldest professional services firm in Nigeria until the death of Alhaji Sanni in 2019. DKS had previously before founding his firm with Alhaji had a short stint with his Remo compatriot and friend, Chief Kehinde Sofola SAN (Lincoln’s Inn, 1954). Appointed a Notary Public in 1971, Sir Solesi's career from his days as a junior and now to a distinguished senior elder of the bar and minister in the temple of justice imbibes the noble principles of our learned profession in his conduct, honesty, integrity, confidence in the administration of justice, interests of his clients and relations with colleagues. These attributes have served him well in his career including stints when he had been involved in high profile public family cases and also in his mentorship of junior members of the Bar. His practice is one of the leading law firms with the air of provincial English law practice and the serenity of the Barristers chambers at the Inns of Court in London which specialisms in family law, capital markets, banking, insurance contract, property, trusts, company law, wills and probate, commercial law and alternative dispute resolution. Sanni, Solesi and Co have served as Legal Advisers to WAPIC Insurance PLC one of premier Insurance firms for over 50 years and to African Continental Bank for about 34 years as well as other large and medium sized buinesses. His firm also provided pro bonoadvice to Babcock University in its application to be a university before it was eventually inaugurated as a university on 20 April 1999 from the Adventist Seminary of West Africa. Similarly, Sir Solesi was a pioneer founder, director and Legal Advisor of Micro-Finance Bank in Ilisan. Yetunde Ladega his daughter and associate in his firm is the Company Secretary of the Bank, a service she undertook pro bono. His firm’s loyalty to the clients and indeed employees is well known with his driver having been in his service for almost 40 years and counting!
In his career of almost 60 years of practice has been involved in widely cited cases which have established important legal principles and maxims at the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court. Chief Awolowo opines that the rigorous mental drill of Mathematics, or Logic and Methodology, and Psychology are disciplines which enforce; the tidiness of mind and precision in thought and presentation which the study of Mathematics, Logic and Methodology provide; and the breadth of outlook and a deep comprehension of 'the complex of human passion' which psychology imparts – all these, among other things, are sine qua non of any healthy trial for an Advocate and indeed the success of Chief Solesi’s career at the Bar bearing testimony to the application of these disciplines.
In the case of James O. Jegede v Madam Alimotu L. Giwa & Ors. [LOR 15/4/1977 - Supreme Court] appearing for the appellant at the highest court found in appellant’s favour ruling on the classic principle of maxim that Court as a Court of Equity has a duty to do equity. Fatayi-Williams JSC stated that, "It must be remembered that in a court of equity, wrongful acts are no passport to favour".
In the case of Madam Asimowu Odusoga, Segun Odusoga v. L Ricketts Supreme Court of Nigeria, 4 Jul 1997 Suit No: SC.57/1990 on the issue of the validity of the sale under customary the Court held "Where however, part payment of the purchase price was made and the balance is tendered within the stipulated time or, in the absence of a stipulated time, within a reasonable time, the vendor cannot resile from the contract of sale and the purchaser in possession will be entitled to a decree of specific performance."
Similarly in the case of Adefulu & Ors v. Oyesile & Ors [(1989) LPELR-SC.5/1988] a case which involved the dispute on the status of the enthronement of the Olofin of Ilisan, his home town he appeared with Chief FRA Williams SAN, the Supreme Court held that in bringing representative action the representative must have the same interest as the person that he claims to represent. The Court declared that if the interest of the representative action and the representative are common '' a representative action would be in order, provided that the relief sought in the action is in its nature beneficial to those whom the plaintiff represents".
In the locus classicus commercial and constitutional law case of Victor J. Rossek & Ors. v. African Continental Bank Ltd. & Ors. (1993) 8 NWLR (Pt. 312) 382 sparring against his Ijebu kinsman and friend Chief GOK Ajayi SAN (Inns of Court, 1955) who appeared for the Respondents (ACB & Ors), he persuaded the highest court in the land in a unanimous decision that the order of a trial Court is a decision binding on all the parties to the case and it remains binding until it is set aside by due process of law that is by a Court of competent jurisdiction either on an appropriate application or by an appeal. Chief Solesi was successful in arguing that on the point of retrospective legislation relating to s. 258 of the 1979 Constitution argument that the effect of the law to be applied ''when an appeal comes for review or hearing can only be the law in force at the time the presiding justice was writing his judgment and not the law that came to the statute books when the presiding Judge has no opportunity to examine and consider such amendment introduced into the existing law years thereafter.
I am reminded by a veteran journalist, that there is a folk tale in Chief’s Ilisan community about his legal luminary stature and prowess where legend has it of a court case involving some students that were accused of the death of a student arising from a riotous demonstration. In defence of one of the accused, DKS displayed an uncanny, unforgettable, and remarkable spectacle. The story goes that he argued that his client could not be singled out and held responsible for the lynching of the deceased. He deftly underpinned his arguments in court by bringing out a Broom and a bottle containing a housefly. He released the fly from the bottle used the Broom to swat the fly. There was pin drop silence in the court when he asked the question which broomstick killed the fly. This practical experience exhibited in the court discharged the accused. Such is the reverence of his legal abilities held in Ilisan, nay Remo and Ijebu behold in Asiwaju Solesi.
Chief Solesi’s law partnership with Alhaji Sanni despite their differences in faith, Alhaji Sanni being a Muslim was founded on trust, integrity and fidelity which was why since the firm was established until Alhaji Sanni’s death in 2019 their practice in operating the firm’s bank account opened 1964 was to each of them to sign a cheque if they needed to withdraw funds with both of them sharing their profits equally. The epitome of a quintessential business partnership. During the period of the second republic when Alhaji Sanni was the Ogun State Commissioner of Works his low wages as a political appointee was supplemented by income from the firm. Their partnership was unique to those familiar with them that you knew in equal measure the Solesi and Sanni households as well as the extended families in Ilisan and Imodi Imosan (Alhaji’s hometown). It was also reflected in the close proximity of their Lagos residence almost a stone throw away and I recall that on alternate evenings a few decades ago, he took his evening leisurely walks to Alhaji Sanni and other evenings, Alhaji did likewise ourselves. Then the similarity in their vehicles same make, brand and colour with the vehicles number plates registered either in Lagos State with the same digits ‘2345’ but different local government areas Somolu or Mushin respectively LA2345SH and LA2345MH or in Ogun State, Remo and Ijebu respectively OG 2345 R and OG 2345 J.
Dr Solesi is known for his wit an attribute that has been part of his armory as an excellent trial advocate and forensic appellate counsel. During the zoom service at the low key thanksgiving service at his Lagos residence to celebrate his birthday he jokingly said when I asked was he going to eat rice with the aya mase chili sauce stew or pounded yam, he said rice was for birds that he was eating pounded yam which is one of his favourite meals.
Chief Solesi has held the title of Asiwaju Balogun of Ilisan since 1974 and Asiwaju of Ilisan in 2008. In this role he remains a senior privy councillor to the Olofin of Ilisan Remo. His professional calling as a lawyer and Asiwaju in the community has been of immense benefit to the community over the years particularly during interregnum spells when the position of Olofin was vacant and by virtue of his position has been defacto leader of the community and all the associated community groups including his family, quarters and age group, all important like the threading of the Yoruba regal fabric (așǫ oke) and much like his chieftaincy saki (adorned on his right shoulder) fabric woven into the cloth like tapestry which binds the community together. He is known never to miss weekends at Ilisan and save for periods abroad on the International Bar Association conference circuit or visiting his children and grandchildren abroad he spends most weekends in Ilisan and I do recall times when even he travel to Ilisan say on a Thursday and return to Lagos for an event and then travel immediately back to Ilisan to return back to Lagos either late on Sunday or early on Monday. It was also convenient to stay in Ilisan if he had to attend court in Abeokuta, Ijebu Ode, or Ibadan. This was a common feature of many of his generation of lawyers from Ijebu and Remo.
Asiwaju Solesi was one of the founding members and past President of his hometown’s premier social and intellectual club, Ilisan Club with members drawn from the town’s elite. Similarly, as a long serving Chair of his community’s Ilisan Development Council now Ilisan Development Association (IDA) in the 1970s he was pivotal to the development and growth of Ilisan over the years with its transformation today as a university town. The Ilisan Development Council is a quasi-development council similar to a Parish Council in England but without statutory powers. However, it is influential in being formal civic consultative and advisory body for the Olofin the traditional rule of Ilisan as well as for the community of Ilisan as well as the defacto leader of community’s voluntary sector. The IDA forms part of the advisory bodies that advise the Olofin on the use and disposal of community common lands or those gifted for the common use held in trust for the community.
The Council is responsible for the support and encouragement of the community’s customs, culture and traditions including the annual Ishanbi day week held during first week of October, the Oro festival, and other faith-based festivities. It also plays a role in developing infrastructure for the common good of the town including the town, post office, health centre and the community bank. IDA has also been at the forefront of the community’s neighbourhood type vigilante watch.
According to one of those distinguished younger colleagues Chief Solesi has mentored over the years, Prince Adeyemi ‘’Triple A’’ Adefulu (Nigerian Bar, 1972) whose law firm Odujinrin & Adefulu (founded by Prince Adefulu and his long standing friend and colleague Senator Oladipo Odujinrin (Nigerian Bar, 1970) is almost 50 years and is now the longest surviving active law practice in Nigeria, he describes Dr Solesi as remaining as a constant and permanent feature of the Ilisan social and development landscape who has been involved in the town’s every development effort. Asiwaju Solesi having served on the Town Hall Building Committee. Later as Chairman of the Education Committee with Prince Adefulu serving under him as the Secretary, that Committee did much of the groundwork and raised funds for the establishment of the town’s first secondary school, Ishanbi Secondary School in 1977. Currently there are 8 secondary schools in Ilisan when in 1976 a testament to the efforts of Asiwaju leading the likes of Prince Adefulu. Prince Adefulu further captures it perfectly when he opines that to Chief Solesi, Ilisan was always his Jerusalem, a place of total peace and reconciliation. At 90 years, Asiwaju can look back with joy and contentment as one of the architects of modern Ilisan, a mentor, an inspirer, a motivator, builder, and committed modernizer to many in Ilisan and beyond.
In the 1980s and 1990s Chief Solesi and a couple of his childhood friends from Ilisan, Chief F. Sonaike, a Chartered Accountant, late Chief E.O Orelaja formerly Chief Legal Adviser CFAO Group (Inner Temple, 1965), late Prince Adetayo Adebo, formerly Chief Engineer of Pfizer Livestock Feeds, late Chief Abiodun ‘’John Bull’’ Onabiyi, a Building Engineer and late Chief B.O Sobande, formerly Chief Magistrate Ogun State (Inner Temple, 1963) formed the Childhood group organising events and raising funds for good causes in Ilisan.
The Most Rev and Rt. Hon Stephen Cottrell the Archbishop of York and Primate of England, the second most senior bishop of the church and the most senior in northern England and formerly my diocesan Bishop in Essex says leadership is ‘like steering a ship in chopping waters than driving a car down a motorway’ aptly describes Sir Solesi’s remarkable legal career, leadership in his community Ilisan Remo as a long serving Chairman of the Ilisan Development Association in the 70s and the Methodist Church in both the Remo Diocese and the Diocese of Lagos Central administrative dioceses of his parish Methodist Churches in Ilisan and (Methodist Church Cathedral of Blessing Palm Avenue, Mushin) Ilupeju, Lagos respectively. In recognition of his service to the Methodist Church he was invested with Knighthood of John Wesley in 2013 and on 19 July 2014 he was invested with the title of Baba Ijo (leader of the laity) of Methodist Church, Ilisan.
Sir Solesi’s life and devotion to his faith is exemplified in the Wesleyan Methodist tradition of Christian Holiness encapsulated in our Lord and Saviour command in Mark 12:31 of love to God with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. In espousing the Wesleyan Methodist tradition in his career, community and service to the Church he is putting faith and love in action which is what John Wesley refers to as ‘’practical divinity’’. The German Lutheran theologian and second world martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer similarly opines that most glorious Christian concept of grace which he distinguishes in ‘costly’ and ‘cheap’. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. On the contrary, Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Baba Ijo Solesi life in 9 decades and counting thus far is one of costly grace evident in his exemplary service to his family, community, his faith and his profession. St Paul in Corinthians 12 speaks of different kinds of gift in the service of the Lord all working for the common good and as the Solesi family patriarch, leader of the Community in Ilisan and Elder of the Church has exhibited the gift of wisdom.
Side Bar: At this juncture, I have to declare an interest, Chief Solesi (Baba ‘Sale to borrow the moniker his wife fondly calls him) is my uncle married to my mum’s older sister Clementine Olajumoke nee Osibodu, a retired Chartered Secretary and Assistant Director of Accounts in the Federal Civil Service who he married on 18 June 1959 in London. Their courtship started when they met an Ilisan Student Association meeting in 1954 and they both travelled to London in 1958. Theirs is a married blessed with children, all graduates who have stellar careers in law, project management and engineering, medicine and business. On a personal note, three uncles of mine have greatly influenced my chosen career in law, Chief Solesi, Chief Lanre Adeniyi, Lincoln’s Inn, 1964 and Pa Timothy Olayinka Osibodu, Gray’s Inn, 1961 (both of blessed memory) with each of them in their own way having distinguished themselves at the Bar for over 50 years. I recall as my very first day in court at Ikeja High Court was as a young toddler with Chief Solesi who was all suited up with me having to carry his monogramed black barrister’s robe bag inscribed with his initials ‘’DKS’’.
In a day and age in Nigeria when mediocrity has shown its face in sphere of our hallowed profession of law we are exceedingly glad and joy that the likes of Chief Dr Sir DKS bears testament to the enduring qualities and embodiment of that most noble of Yoruba concept of Omoluwabi. The phrase Agakanawo better pronounced for emphasis and clarity in the Remo dialect literally means climbing the ladder to make money a description of sorts in the way and manner generations of old climbed up the ladder of the barn or loft to retrieve their stored farm produce to sell in the markets or to the commodity produce boards. Agakanawo popularly used to describe those from Ilisan symbolises the journey of Asiwaju Solesi 90 years which has been as constant as the Northern star. As such a well-deserved 90 hearty cheers on his birthday and praying for more fruitful years including a telegram from the Commonwealth sovereign in the not too distant future!
©Oladele Osinuga Esq., Otunba Lemofin Ogijo-Remo, Omoba ni llu Ilisan Remo, Barrister, works as Prosecution Advisor and Justice Sector Prosecution Lead in a leading International Governmental Organisations writes from Belize City, Belize Email: [email protected] Follow him on twitter @delinjerosin, google+ OladeleOsinuga, linkedin Omoba Oladele Osinuga.