In the interview, Pa Oluwole Adewumi opens up about his growing up, education, profession, and family.
Pa Oluwole Adewumi, an 86-year-old United Kingdom-trained lawyer, speaks to PETER DADA about his growing up, education, profession and family
When and where were you born?
I was born in 1935 into a privileged family in Emure-Ekiti, Ekiti State. My father was one of the few educated people among his contemporaries in those days. I started school in 1943 and left my town in 1947.
Which schools did you go to?
I went to St. Paul’s Primary School, Emure-Ekiti. From there, I proceeded to Emmanuel School, Ado-Ekiti. I joined my father in Ado-Ekiti in December 1947. I went to Emmanuel School and I finished in 1950. The school was one of the very few that had up to Standard 6 in those days. Most schools in those days ended at Standard 3.
What was your father’s occupation?
My father worked as a court official. He was educated and he was one of the very few people in the civil service that owned cars at the time. The car was a small Morris Minor, the type they used up till now in the UK. So, because of that he was nicknamed ‘Oyinbo Dudu’ (Black white man).
Are you the only child he had?
No, he had other children but I am the only male child, others were females. My father was a polygamist because of his popularity. Wherever he went to work in that area then, people would want him to be their in-law. He came from the same Emure-Ekiti town with my mother, so her case was different. He married my mother in a normal way, but my mother was the fourth wife.
As I said earlier, I’m the only surviving son of my father. The other wives were having female children and that created a problem in the household. When the problem was too much for my mother, she had to leave my father at the period. Shortly after that, I couldn’t cope with other wives, so I went to join my father in Ado-Ekiti. At that period, my father was already preparing to retire from government service.
When I was with my father, I was used like a slave because my mother was no longer with him. Every day, I would wake up by 4am to go and fetch water with his house help at a distance of about three to four kilometres at a place called Ishin Nla, close to the prison yard in Ado Ekiti. We used to struggle with the prisoners to fetch water.
Were you the only child from your mother?
No, my mother had four other children after me. She had a set of twins, and two others. But only God knows what happened, within six months the four of them mysteriously died. So, I became her only child. That was why I moved to my grandmother’s place at Emure-Ekiti where I schooled.
What do you remember about your primary school?
You might have heard of Prof. Banji Akintoye. He was my classmate at Emmanuel School. We always competed for the first position. I later left there and gained admission into Christ School. I picked Christ School because it was the only secondary school in the whole of Ekiti land then.
Why didn’t you finish your secondary school education there?
I didn’t know what suddenly came upon my father; he just stopped to pay my school fees. He claimed that he didn’t have money. I left him and went to Ibadan to live with my uncle, the younger brother to my mother. He worked in the Ministry of Agriculture. He told me to come to Ibadan, that he would enroll me in Ibadan Boys High School. When I got to him, he too turned me into a houseboy. So, I left him.
We had a family house in the Isale-Ijebu area of Ibadan. That was where I became very close to the owner of The PUNCH Newspaper, (the late Chief Olu) Aboderin. We were very close in those days. We did attend the same church. I wasn’t going to school any longer then; I was studying privately. To feed myself, sometimes I would go to the motor park at Isale-Ijebu to work as a porter or do other menial jobs. I did that for a while until I secured a teaching job. And because of my small stature I was called ‘Teacher Kekere’ (small teacher) in that school.
I was lucky to meet my principal who was very enterprising and passionate about human development. He always advised us that we should not end our lives there; that we should study further. He had been to London. Most of them went to London to obtain Teachers’ Certificate. Hardly would you see any of them with a degree. Those who had degree went to Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. That was the only university in the whole of West Africa at that time.
So, I sat GCE in 1948 and I passed all my subjects. I didn’t do my ‘A’ levels in Nigeria because my focus was to travel to London. We had only one university here then, the University of Ibadan, and they were not offering Law then. Those that studied Law at that time all went to the UK.
Did you then travel to the UK to study Law?
Yes. I did.
How did you raise the money?
I went to the UK by a cargo ship in 1962. At that time if you wanted to travel out, you would go either by a passenger ship, a cargo ship or by air. Those were the options. But I went with a cargo ship because that was what I could afford. It was the cheapest of them all. We spent 27 days in the ship before getting to the UK. Whenever we got to any seaport, we did help them in offloading goods. Doing that would reduce our fare.
What was the experience like when you got to the UK?
When I arrived in London, my host, who happened to be my close friend, did not come to meet me at the seaport. But I had his address and took a taxi. The taxi driver took me to his apartment. On getting there, he peeped from upstairs and immediately apologised for his inability to pick me at the seaport. He welcomed me into his apartment and we both carried the foodstuffs and other things I brought from Nigeria into his house. His wife was not at home when I arrived. I was able to meet my friend at home because he was on night duty.
After settling down for some few hours, he showed me some letters that were sent to me from the University of London because I used his address while I was in Nigeria. I had put in for three Advanced Levels papers and had about three papers, making nine papers.
My friend became curious and asked me what all the letters were about because since he had been in the UK he had not taken his Advanced Levels programme. He tried to discourage me from taking the papers. He told me that he had already spoken with the factory where he was working and that I had been asked to come and start work.
University of London admitted me as an external student because I could not raise the money to sponsor myself for a full-time programme. So, I searched for a job and I got one at a Post Office Savings Bank as a clerical officer. At the close of work, I attended evening classes. Within a short time, I passed my LLB and I enrolled at the Bar to qualify as a lawyer. I passed my Bar finals in 1967.
Did you start practising immediately in the UK?
After my LLB, I was attached to a firm in the UK. I didn’t intend to stay over there at all; I wanted to return home. I worked for a year before returning home. But I didn’t work as a lawyer. You can’t work as a lawyer until you get your certificate from where you did your pupilage or attachment.
Why were you eager to return to Nigeria?
I loved Nigeria very much. We all loved Nigeria. We were very few lawyers in the country then. So, it was really a prestigious thing. We (lawyers) were like governors then.
I came back to Nigeria in 1968 and enrolled in the Nigerian Law School. I was called to Bar in 1969. My chamber was Agbaje and Agbaje in Ibadan where I once worked as a teacher before going to the UK. After a while, I returned to London because my wife and two children were there and after some time we all came back to Nigeria together in 1971.
At what point did you start a family?
I met my wife in 1962. That was before I left Nigeria. She is from Ise-Ekiti, which is the next town to my own town, Emure-Ekiti. We did all the wedding formality before I left and later she joined me in London in 1965, three years after I got to the UK. She had four children for me. One is currently a professor of Medicine in the USA. She stays in Florida. She was the one that we both survived a plane crash together. But my firstborn, a male, I’m still looking for him now; I have not seen him for the past 35 years. The third one is in Lagos; she is a clergywoman at Christ Embassy. The last child is a lawyer. She is living in the USA, too. She is a corporate lawyer in Texas.
You said you survived a plane crash with your first daughter. When was that?
It happened in 1983 when I was taking my daughter to school. We had a plane crash while flying from Lagos to Enugu. She just finished her school certificate then. She wanted to go for her HSC (Higher School Certificate) in Enugu, to be able to gain admission into 200 Level in the university. My daughter and I were the only two survivors of that plane crash. The plane crashed on November 28, 1983. All the national dailies at that time reported it. To God be the glory, the girl is a professor of Medicine in the USA today.
What was the experience like?
I had earlier been told in our church that I would be involved in a plane crash and that we must observe certain prayers, which we did. The vision was seen about two months before the crash. The plane crash happened about 10 miles to Enugu.
All I could remember during the crash was that we were in the bush and we heard some people, trapped in the plane shouting and crying. Suddenly the plane exploded and a fire began, so I couldn’t hear the sound of the people anymore. Shortly later, ambulances arrived at the scene. They packed the dead bodies while my daughter and I were taken to the Nsukka University Teaching Hospital.
You said you have been searching for your second child for the past 35 years. What happened to him?
I don’t know where he is as I am talking to you. My son’s situation worries me a lot. His name is Wole; I want to see him before I die. Almost every day, I think about him. I gave birth to him in 1966 and he is about 55 now. I had him very late at the age of 33. The last time I saw him was in 1986 in the USA, where he was schooling. I was going to America to monitor his progress in school. I took him to America to study in 1983. I enrolled him at a pre-university school in Miami, Florida, preparatory to his admission into higher institution. I used to go to see him every year and sometimes I used to go twice in a year, to see how he was doing in school. Anytime he was leaving for classes, I would stay in the library and wait for him till he was through and we would return home together. During one of my visits to him after he had spent a year and half in that school, the school’s Director of Students’ Affairs, one Mr Clayborne, a white American, saw me in the library and requested that I should meet him in his office. On getting to his office he asked me if my son was born in America. I replied that he was born in England. I asked him why the question and he replied that they were surprised at his level of his intelligence.
My son, Wole, is a highly intelligent boy. I’m yet to see his match. Things that he started doing at age 10 even adults could not do them. He passed out from the pre-university school which has been confirmed. He must have been preparing to go to the university when we could no longer get in touch with him. Shortly after I returned to Nigeria after Mr Clayborne asked me that question, Wole himself called me that I should send his birth certificate to him. He travelled to America with his Nigerian passport from here. I didn’t suspect anything and I sent him his British birth certificate in 1986 and he called to confirm that he had received it after about a week. And that was the last time I heard from him till today.
What efforts have you made to search for him?
His sister, who is a professor of Medicine, studied in Nigeria and the UK and she is currently in Florida, the same state where Wole lived. She went to the place Wole used to live, but all the structures there have been demolished. I also sent her the file inside which I had been keeping Wole’s records to also help her in the search for him but she could not find him. I was in the process of suing American Government at a time and I can still do it. They must account for the whereabouts of my son because my son got missing in their land. In international law, they must give account of his movement. But on a second thought, I decided to wait for a while. I went spiritual and I was told that he is alive but he is under a little bit of captivity.
With our findings, the captivity means that he may have been used for intelligence purposes in the USA. You can now relate this to when his school’s Director of Students’ Affairs, Mr Clayborne, confirmed his level of intelligence and asked me whether he was born in America, and shortly after Wole requested for his British birth certificate, and diplomatically, Britain and America are one. I was also told that when such people are being used for intelligence purposes in America or in England, they don’t allow them have contact with anybody until they get to the retirement age. But I want to see Wole before I die. He is my only son from his mother. I’m now 86 years old.
How often do you see your other children?
We do communicate often. Even, we do talk through video call on WhatsApp. And they do come to visit me here.
You said after obtaining a Law degree you decided to return to Nigeria because you love the country. Are you happy with the present situation of the country?
For me, we have never had it so bad since I was born. Anyone who returns home safely after leaving home in the morning is now a lucky man in Nigeria. We are facing many challenges now which do not make anybody happy. But I always have the hope that things will get better in Nigeria.