Yusuf Ali: A Lawyer with a Large Heart

Date: 2012-10-23

When writing about Yusuf Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), one is naturally faced with the problem of where to begin, what to write about him and probably when to begin. This is because, from every consideration, he is a completely complex man. Complex in his vast and in depth understanding of the law profession, which automatically makes him primus inter parres? Complex with his deep and dexterous mastery of the practice of the profession, which makes some observers call him, "Daniel and Joseph" of our time.

If today, a Nobel Prize on Election Prosecution is instituted, he will certainly emerge the first Nigerian winner. This man we are talking about here is also very philanthropic. He gives ceaselessly to the less privileged in the society as well as social and academic institutions. He has set aside three days every week in his Ilorin Ghalib Chambers to give cash awards to at least 30 different indigent people.

Mallam Yusuf Ali (as he is fondly called by his peers) has handled well over 100 election petition cases and over 150 appeal cases at both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. In addition, he has 201 publications both in learned journals, articles and contributions as well as 93 awards among others.

His foray into the legal profession was distinctly different from many of his colleagues who were either counseled to do so or influenced by other successful lawyers. The desire to be a lawyer was a personal decision, even though he was an all-rounder as he preformed excellently in the Sciences, Arts and Social Sciences in his West African Examination Council final result.

However, one thing that played a significant factor in his desire to study Law was his extra-moral activity of being a very successful debater for his secondary school, where for three years running he was his school's lead debater and lead representative at every Quiz competition. According to him this had well prepared him for the Law profession, because though he was an introvert then, debate and quiz competitions have helped him to develop and build in him, ability to argue intelligently and also to face the public without fear.

Young Yusuf had a very humble and disciplined beginning, having been born by devout Muslim parents. He started elementary education at Ansar-Ud-Deen Primary School, Ifetedo, Osun State between 1960 and 1968. In line with the education pattern of the era, in 1969 he attended Local Authority Modern School, Ifetedo and bagged the Secondary Modern School Leaving Certificate in 1971.

Yusuf had his secondary school education at Ibadan Boy's High School, Ibadan from 1973 to 1977. In 1978, he was admitted to study Mass Communication at The Polytechnic Ibadan, but same year he got admission to the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) to study Law and wasted no time in switching over to Law. He graduated from Ife in 1982 and was called to the Bar in 1983. The iconic lawyer believes that law itself does not 100 percent decide a case, because according to him, judges are human beings. He said that human element, psychological and sociological factors, no matter how little often form part of ingredients that would determine where a particular case would go. This is how he put it: "I do know that what goes into a judgment is more than what happens in the court. All said and done, the judge is a human being. That is the whole essence of jurisprudence in law. That is why it is commonly said that you must know your judge before you know your law. Judges as human beings are also subject to environmental influences. For instance, if a man is taken before a magistrate for dangerous driving and the same magistrate a few days back had just had the boot or rear side of his car hit by a reckless driver, what kind of judgment is he expected to receive from the magistrate?

Or if it is the case of a woman, who is wicked and always quarreling with her husband and the husband takes her case to court, seeking a divorce before a judge, whose wife has the same character, of course, the judgment is a straight forward one. So the human element is in all of us, and the man is the totality of his experience." Yusuf believes so much in hard work.† He supports this position by making references to the position in both the Holy Bible and the Quran.

According to him it was this position that reinforced his argument and prayers before the court in the celebrated case of the 49 University of Ilorin lecturers who took the university to court when the institution stopped their salaries because they boycotted teaching as a result of a strike. As a lawyer to the university in the suit, the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court is among one of the few cases he lost, but which he would never agree with, though he accepted it.

The eminent lawyer has a unique law chambers filled with all facilities and services, including a worship centre, a cafeteria and a mechanically operated library. Yusuf, who could be rated as one of the country's foremost legal engineers, especially when it comes to untying knotty legal matters, singled out the celebrated former Oyo State governor, Alhaji Rasheed Ladoja's impeachment saga as one legal victory, which he won that would remain evergreen in his memory. In the suit, while he led the Ladoja team, his friend and brother in the silk, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN led the team that defended the 18 pro-Ladoja legislators. He noted that the judgment was a landmark as it halted the impeachment tsunami then sweeping menancingly all over the country then, with its destability tendencies. This is how he re-calls it. "The Ladoja impeachment saga was a multifaceted case. Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and some of our colleagues represented the members of the House of Assembly loyal to Ladoja, while I represented Ladoja.

With the support of God and the joint effort of all of us, for the first time in Nigeria, we were able to up-turn an impeachment done by a House of Assembly, successfully.

The person who was impeached was restored by the court. It was something people thought can never happen, even many very senior members of the Bar, celebrated Senior Advocates, said these boys were just wasting their time." On the significance of this for the country's democracy, the lawyer-philanthropist says: "Yes our colleagues on the other side fought a good battle, but justice prevailed and we won. That case contributed a lot to the stability of our democracy when the Supreme Court handed down the case in 2006. The gale and spate of impeachment with impunity was virtually stopped. Otherwise three people impeaching, a governor, once they have the support of the police and some other people. So, I think, that was a major contribution that God has used one (me) to achieve.

He identifies corruption as Nigeria's number one enemy that accounted for about 80 per cent of the countries problem. He is of the opinion that corruption is a capital crime that should be given capital punishment (death), as is the case in China, so that the perpetrator would not benefit from the loot. The legal giant is also an Associate Law lecturer at the University of Ilorin. In 1991 he bagged the LL.M degree from the Obafemi Awolowo University.

He was born some 56 years ago in Ifetedo, Osun State to Alhaji Bisiriyu Olayiwola Ali and Alhaja Taibat Omosara Ali. He is a member of several national and international organizations. Top among them are; The Nigerian Bar Association, International Bar Association, Fellow, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators of London, Chartered Institute of Taxation, Nigeria, Fellow Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Nigeria, life bencher, Body of Benchers of Nigeria, Commonwealth Lawyers Association etc.

The Osun State-born legal juggernaut who was awarded the SAN title in 1997, un-arguably has charity as his second name, judging by the in-exhaustible list of his donations and contribution to institutions, apart from medical, educational and job assistance to several thousands. Some of these donations include: a built, and equipped 10 bed-advanced Trauma Centre, donated to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, an ICT/e-library Centre donated to the faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo, University, Ile-Ife, about and equipped 80-bed hostel, donated to the Osun State University (Faculty of Law). The Mallam is happily married and blessed with children, he is a workaholic who wakes up by 5 a.m. everyday and would not retire home before 8p.m., he has clubbing, but patronises religiously his gym at home.

However, when alone, he listens and dances to the music of the late Ayinla Omowura, the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the late Yusuf Olatunji, the late Haruna Ishola, Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey, especially after a good and delicious beans (Ewa) meal, which he must take at least, once a day.

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