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Otaru: A lawyer chosen from the cradle

Date: 2012-07-21


LAWYERS, unlike priests, are called. They are called to the Bar. Priests, in most cases, are divinely chosen and ordained. Maybe in line with the age-long adage that "To every rule, there is an exception". God in His own divine wisdom, allowed the exceptional rule in the manner one of the country's legal icons, Mr. Roland Itoyah Otaru (SAN), emerged as a lawyer.

It would be more appropriate to say that Otaru was ordained a lawyer even before his birth, as the story of his legal-life eventually reveals.

Otaru was chosen to be a lawyer about 10 years before his birth in a prophecy a Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) Prophet revealed to his father, who was then a devout member of CAC in Ilesha, Osun State.

According to him, the prophet told his father that his sixth child that had not even been conceived would be a male, and that whenever he was born, he should be named "Lawyer" because he was going to be a lawyer. In line with the prophecy, his father, who then worshipped in the same CAC Church with the world famous CAC prophet, Apostle Ayo Babalola, named him Lawyer, immediately he was born.

His words: "My becoming a lawyer was by Divine directive, because my father gave me the name Lawyer from birth. My father was a member of the CAC in Ilesha.  He was in Ilesha from 1927 to 1945. At that time, he was attending the same church with the famous Apostle Joseph Ayodele Babalola. He was told by a prophet in the church, that his sixth child, who would be a male, he should name him "Lawyer" because the boy would become lawyer in the future"

True to the prophecy, Roland Otaru did not only become a lawyer, he is the first lawyer from his Ikpeshi village in Edo State. He has also attained the highest professional title in the legal profession, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), making him the first person in Edo-North to become a SAN. He is also the first to bag the SAN title among his 1986 Law set at the University of Benin.

"By the grace of God, I am the first lawyer in my village. I am the first Senior Advocate (of Nigeria) from Edo-North and by the mercy and Divine work of God, I am the first Senior Advocate from my set, the 1986 set, from the University of Benin," he recalled with a sense of modesty.

Mr. Otaru had his first baptismal fire of appearing in court as a counsel in 1986 during his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in Ilorin, Kwara State, at the Chambers of the late David Babalola, who later became a High Court judge in the old Ondo State. He returned to the chamber at the end of the day's hearing in a criminal matter, to the warm reception of his boss, Babalola, who he said, commended his advocacy during the hearing.

Otaru is an unrepentant advocate of compulsory and mandatory pupilage for young lawyers before they are allowed to set up their own chambers. He wants the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and other regulators in the legal profession to set aside, at least, three years of mandatory pupilage for fresh lawyers, under reputable and registered law chambers.

His call for mandatory pupilage, of course, did not just come from a day-night dream. This, of course, must have been as a result of the fruitful and useful experience and skills he garnered during his practice at the chamber of Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and the chambers of Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, who he worked with as a partner.

Without mincing words, he eulogised them and classified them, along with the late Justice Babalola, the reigning emperor of the legal profession, Chief Afe Babalola and Prof. Itse Sagay, who was then his law teacher at the University of Benin, as his role models and mentors. The Edo-born SAN, particularly praised the culture of modesty and readiness to encourage younger lawyers to grow, displayed by Olanipekun and Awomolo.

He recalled that in his early days at the chambers of Olanipekun, he used his wigs in court, until he received salary and bought his own.

"I must confess that I was privileged to be a student of that erudite scholar and legal icon, Prof. Itse Sagay at the University of Benin. He taught us Law of Contract. He was a unique lecturer that we enjoyed. Certainly, he is my mentor. I must also mention with full honour and appreciation, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), he is my role model. I must confess that when I joined him after completing my National Youth Service Corps programme, I was using his wigs to go to court because I had not yet received salary to buy mine. I will also mention Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), who was a very amiable and kind man during our partnership. He gave me the opportunity to go to the Court of Appeal.  In fact, he exposed me to challenging cases that today have helped to sharpen my professional skill. I must also put on record the input of Pa Afe Babalola, who I refer to as my grand-mentor and role model in the making of the lawyer, Otaru," he re-called.

Otaru set up his own chamber in 2003 in Ilorin, thereby joining the unique Ilorin legal circle, which has produced those that could be referred to as primus inter-parre in the world of legal practitioners and judicial officers in the country. The role call of these primus inter- parre include the famous Alfa Belgore judicial family, former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice M. M. Akanbi, one of his successors, Justice Ayo Salami, former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN); Chief Yusuf Ali (SAN); Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Chief Awomolo (SAN). They all began their law practice from this town, which he unarguably described as the "Epicentre of the Nigerian Judiciary".

Apart from Otaru's record of 'first' both in his town, his senatorial district, his UNIBEN set, he also has the enviable record of never losing any case at the Supreme Court, in any case he has personally handled, which he said, were over 10.

He bemoaned the state of infrastructure, energy and security in the country, expressing a serious doubt in government's genuine determination to redress them, especially energy and roads.

He corroborated the global view that Nigerians are one of the easiest people to govern because, according to him, their demands and needs are simple and are easily within the reach of government that is genuinely committed to them.

His words: "Sometimes I ask: Is governance so difficult? The needs and demands of an average Nigerian is very simple and within government reach.  Government has the wherewithal to put smiles on the faces of the people. But today, look at the state of our roads, energy, insecurity everywhere. How many times has government promised on the Sagamu-Ore-Benin Expressway, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and many others, but failed to deliver.

Otaru, gentle, mien, unassuming, and full of strength and energy, says he owes his good health to the support and understanding of his wife, Comfort Olushola and golf-playing.

Apart from his wig and gown, Otaru devotes ample time to farming.

Every year, he cultivates a number of acres of farm to grow yam and cassava.  Though, produce from this farm, are usually of commercial quantity, they are never sold. He donates them to the poor and the less- privileged homes, in furtherance of the philanthropic aspect of his life's calling.

In line with this philanthropic calling, he set up the Otaru Foundation for the benefit of the less-privileged in Edo North. The foundation awards scholarship to indigent but brilliant students. It also engages in renovation of schools. It is, therefore, not surprising that what Otaru wishes to be remembered for is, "someone who touches many lives, gives hope to those who are in despair and comfort to those who are distressed".

True to type, Otaru himself a farmer, born and bred in a yam farming community, says his best food is "Iyan (pounded yam), Efo (vegetable soup) and snail (Igbin)".

He is blessed with children, two of whom are aspiring to become lawyers.

Young Roland was born on April 15, 1959, in Ikpeshi-Auchi, Edo State, to Chief Joseph Otaru (father) and Chief (Mrs.) A. Otaru, mother.

Otaru, who earned his LL.B from the University of Benin in 1985, was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1986. He is a recipient of two Masters Degree awards, Law (2001) and Industrial and Labour Relations (2002) at the Obafemi Awolowo University and University of Ilorin, respectively.

Also, Otaru, who seems to have insatiable appetite for education and maybe is taking after his mentor, Prof. Sagay, is a P.HD graduate (in view) at Babcock University, Ilishan, Ogun State, where he is in the process of completing his dissertation for the award.

Otaru, who could also be called the "Promised Child" like Abraham's Isaac, started his elementary school at St. Vincent Primary School, Ikpeshi in 1964 and finished in 1970.

The promised child had his secondary school education at Ikpomaza Grammar School, Okpella between 1971 and 1975 and the G.C.E Advanced Level in 1977.

The lawyer-scholar has a number of academic publications to his credit.  Among them are: The law as a Cornerstone of Democracy; The role of the courts in sustaining Democracy published in the Law Journal of University of Ilorin.

Service of process outside Jurisdiction published in University of Ilorin Law Journal.

Arbitration as a means of Amiable settlement of commercial disputes, published in AFE: ALL FOR EQUITY.

He is a recipient many awards. These award include: 2006, Merit Award Winner, University of Benin Alumni Association, Lagos Branch.

2009, Merit Award Winner by Corporate & Media African Communications Ltd

Excellence Award Winner, Newark Public Schools, 2009.

Distinguished Merit Award for Excellence, 2009 by Evangelistic Church of West Africa (ECWA).

Fellow, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (Nigeria), and a member U.K Institute of Arbitrators, fellow Chartered Institute of Administration, the indefatigable lawyer was also a one time General Secretary, Ilorin branch of the Nigeria Bar Association.

Looking at the circumstances of his emergence as a lawyer in which the hand of God was visible, it is not un-expected that Otaru is devout Christian and has gone a step further to become a worker in his church, ECWA, where is an Elder, equivalent of a Deacon.

He belongs to a number of social clubs. They include: Ikoyi Golf Club, Lagos, Ikeja Golf Club, Lagos Country Club, Ikeja, among others.


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