By Honesty Eguridu, Esq
A million page memoirs are not enough to chronicle his good works. Today we are not mourning but celebrating the life and times of this gallant soldier of TRUTH. Chief Oladipupo Akanni Olumuyiwa Williams, SAN, popularly called Chief Ladi Rotimi –Williams, SAN is a man who stands for everything good. An epitome of love, integrity and humility. A detribalized Nigerian who treated all human equally irrespective of race, gender colour or creed.
Yes, it is difficult to speak of “Chief” (as we all fondly call him) in past tense. If you were close to him you will know what I mean! Here is a man full of life and humour. He had an exceptional sense of humour which he deployed at every right occasion to make everyone laugh.
Before I met Chief I had heard so many things about him and his aristocratic status. Indeed while I was in the university in Delta State I read about him and his father who was an iconic colossus and enigma of sort whose towering status is unrivaled in the Nigerian legal firmament till date. Never did I ever imagined at that time that this aristocratic figure will one day be my boss, father-figure, mentor and friend.
Chief set up his law firm known as Chief Ladi Rotimi Williams Chambers (CLRWC) immediately after the demise of his father in 2005. He had worked with his father all his life. According to him, he had always lived in Victoria Island immediately he got married to his lovely and amiable wife, Dr. Henrietta Williams and he used to go to work at his father’s office at Ilupeju every day for 35 years out of respect for his father.
His Fatherly Qualities
Chief loved all his lawyers and staff equally and he treated everyone with mutual respect and accorded everyone his/her due regards. At a time I was tempted to think that I was his favorite but when I realized how he extended the same measure of love to other lawyers in the firm I buried the chauvinistic thought and came in term with the stark reality that with a big heart like that of Chief, no one has the exclusive preserve of claiming the title of being favourite. Even in assigning high profile cases to lawyers, he does it in accordance to the strength and expertise of each lawyer and doesn’t discriminate between other associates and his biological children.
My first brush with his fatherly love was when I was barely one month old in the firm and I received a sad news of the demise of my elder brother. Chief invited me to the cozy comfort of his office and consoled me with much comforting words. He immediately instructed that I should be given some days off and also instructed the finance department to release funds for my travel expenses home for the burial. The father and son bond was formed immediately by that experience and many more that followed and it continues till we will meet to part no more.
My wedding was to happen barely ten months of my joining the law firm. However, I didn’t tell anyone in the firm about the wedding until about one month to the date. Immediately Chief heard about the coming wedding he summoned me to his office and he said in his usual jovial style: “so you this small boy want to get married and you have not introduced your bride to be to your father” I apologized for my inadvertence and immediately made the calls for my bride to be to in Lagos for the august “introduction”. I will spare the details of the hilarious comments he made when he first met my wife and how we laughed uncontrollably through that encounter.
A few days later Chief announced, quite to my shocking delight, that he will be coming to Umunede in Delta State for my wedding along with some of my colleagues in the Chambers. It was indeed a moment of great joy to see Chief along with three of my colleagues travel all the way to Delta State to make our day. Indeed his presence alone made a huge difference in the wedding as he added colour and glamour to the occasion. We can still remember some of the comments he made at the wedding reception. Ofcourse, he was the chairman of the day. And that was how he chaired the wedding of all the lawyers in the chambers. And he usually made a funny comment which turned out to be a sort of prophesy and this became a trend in all the weddings he chaired starting with my wedding. He would say, “this union will be blessed with children and the first child will be a boy. Indeed, each of us has a son as his/her first child in line with his pronouncement.
My Foray into the Banking Industry
A few days after my wedding, I got a call from a big cousin of mine asking me to refer a young lawyer to him for employment in one of the top banks then in Nigeria. My cousin obviously was not expecting me to show interest in the banking job because he couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I could leave a high profile firm like that of Chief Ladi Rotimi Williams Chambers for a bank job. My cousin was not very pleased when I insisted that I wanted to go for the job interview to try out my luck.
About three sessions of interview took place within a period of two weeks. I was silently hoping that I will not be offered the job because I acted on the spur of the moment when I asked to be invited for the job interview as I never thought of how I could face Chief to tell him about leaving the firm for a bank’s job just a few days after he made huge sacrifices to see to the success of my wedding ceremony coupled with the family bond that has been formed between me and Chief along with his biological children, Rotola Williams and Kunle Williams and all other lawyers in the Chambers. We were a very big united family and I thank God that the family bond still exists till now.
When I got the offer letter for the bank job it was a moment of mixed feeling. I was expected to resume work in one week’s time but I couldn’t inform Chief about it until about two days to my resumption at the bank. I could not face Chief to tell him myself. I had to inform Rotola Williams, who took the news with calm and equanimity, with assuring smiles. She immediately passed the news to Chief, just before I could gather my stuff to flee the office, I was summoned by Chief. I felt like a betrayer. I expected him to be angry and full of reprimands and all that. But you won’t get all that from Chief. When I entered his office that evening he was all his usual self. Calm and concerned about me! I was shocked. His interest throughout our conversation was my wellbeing. He wanted to know the bank and the kind of job I was offered and if it is in my best interest to abandon a bright and promising future in legal practice for a job whose security and prospects I was not sure of.
He ended that brief meeting with some comforting words which I will never forget. He said I know you have made your choice but know that you always have a place here anytime you make up your mind to return to law practice. He also told me that I was welcomed to join the firm’s weekly meetings if I have the time and that he will always extend invite to me to join any brainstorming session because he didn’t want me to loose touch with law practice. And that encouragement is what made it possible for me to return back to law practice after four years in the banking industry.
My Second Journey in Chief Ladi Rotimi Williams Chambers
I maintained a close contact with Chief throughout my stay in the bank. He was in my house at Ketu for my baby’s dedication when I had my first son about nine months after I resigned from his law firm. And I and my family were always in the Chambers every December 1st to celebrate his birthdays with the rest of the family and he will always invite me to be part of all family celebrations. In one of our many phone conversations Chief told me in his usual jovial style, if your boss annoys you anytime slam him with your resignation letter and come back here. So it was not difficult for me to call Chief one fateful afternoon when I grew tired of my job in the bank and became nostalgic for the “fun” of legal practice. When I informed him of my decision to return to the Chambers he was very elated. Then it was mid- month so I promised to resume at the beginning of the following month. But I developed cold feet at the beginning of the following month and it took a call from Chief to embolden me to eventually throw in my resignation. That call was the nudging I needed to make up my mind and I dedicate all that I have been able to achieve in law practice today to his fatherly love and guidance.
He Upheld the Rotimi Williams Tradition of the “Black Table”
The “black table” tradition is one of the numerous legacies bequeathed to the Nigerian legal profession by the iconic Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, QC, SAN, CFR. It is a practice whereby all lawyers in the firm have a roundtable brainstorming session on legal issues involved in a matter(s). Chief will always say that everyone has something to contribute to an issue, no matter how green they are in the Bar. Like his father, he will listen while everyone makes his/her “little points” before deciding the approach to take in handling any case. Every Friday evening is usually the time for holding such sessions which is usually a learning session for everyone and Chief will ensure that there is enough beverages (tea and coffee) along with snacks to make the “black table” session enjoyable. It is a taboo for any lawyer present in the building not to attend the Friday meeting. So once Chief sits down, everyone is expected to suspend whatever he or she is doing to pay full attention to deliberations at the meeting. And the cause list (list of cases) for the following week must printed out and shared to all lawyers before the commencement of the meeting.
Chief Fed Us like Princes and Princesses
At Chief Ladi Rotimi Williams Chambers lunch was served Monday to Friday, buffet standard. Everyone looked forward to lunch and Chief was always there for lunch any day he is in the office at lunch time. And once Chief is present for lunch everyone is expected to be at the lunch table at the same time. We all will sit round the table both Associates and Chief’s biological children. Everyone will eat and exchange jokes and discuss contemporary issues. Lunch time was another moment of family bonding. Chief is a rare gem. Oh, how I recall those moments with nostalgic feelings.
Legacy of Integrity and Uprightness
A writer once said that “a good man would prefer to be defeated than to defeat injustice by evil means”. That assertion is very true about Chief. He hated lies and anything fraudulent. He will tell you that a lawyer do not need to tell lies to win his case. He will say if you tell one lie you will need another lie to cover it up and the string of lies will be unending. He is stickler for rules, ethics and integrity. And because of his background he sees nothing wrong in writing petitions and compliant about an action he considers an infraction of the law irrespective of who is involved and he expected all those to adjudicate on any issue to do so strictly in line with the law without sentiments. And this is where many people misunderstood him. He believes that everyone should bear the consequences of their action. He fought for what he believes in and you cannot dissuade him from fighting a cause once he is convinced that he is on the right track.
I thank God for having the privilege of knowing and working closely with this great man. He was a man with a tender heart, always seeking the good and wellbeing of others yet he was a fierce fighter of any good cause he believes in.
To his wife, family members, children both biological and adopted (one of whom I am), Associates, friends and well- wishers, know that this great man has finished his race, he kept the faith, so do not sorrow because of him. Mirror your lives through his good qualities and let us continue his legacy of selfless living from where he stopped. Chief Ladi Rotimi Williams, SAN lives on! Chief never dies.
To everyone I say do not shed tears like those who have no hope. Do not focus on the fact that a vacuum has been created by the departure of our father and friend but cherish the good works he did and the good name and memory he left behind. And let your hope be kindled by the fact that you will see him again in heaven!
ADIEU GREAT FRIEND AND FATHER! CONTINUE TO REST IN THE BOSOM OF THE LORD TILL WE MEET TO PART NO MORE