In a flowing black skirt with a black top to match, her dashing looks betrays a woman who will soon celebrate six decades in a couple of days; a reason she insists that God has been kind to her. Victoria Olufumilayo Awomolo’s narrative is inspiring. She is among Nigeria’s few female Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Her sojourn into Law began in 1975, starting out as a court clerk. Born on December 18, 1957, in Ilesha, Osun State to a saw miller father and a petty trader mother, her intellectual prowess which manifested early was never in doubt. As she turns 60, Awomolo talks about her journey thus far, her challenges and triumphs
•My ambition was to be a chemical engineer
• From Chemistry teacher I became Senior Advocate of Nigeria
• Why I Dumped Classroom for Courtroom
• How My Husband ‘Forced’ Me To Study Law After Three Children
I was a gifted child
I was born on December 18, 1957, in Ilesha, Osun State. My parents were from Ponyon in Yagba East Local Government of Kogi State. At the time I was born, my father worked at a sawmill. My mother was a petty trader. I am the first child of my mother but my father had two elder daughters from his previous marriage. It was wonderful growing up in Ilesha which was – and still is a – cosmopolitan city. There was electricity with its epileptic nature though. We managed with kerosene lantern particularly during examinations when I had to study. I grew up in a large compound with a large well where we fetched water. My background wasn’t an elite one. But I was always ahead of my mates. I was also a gifted child. I became a role model and reference point in the community even though my father had little education and my mother didn’t have (any). People would say just put Funmilayo in school and don’t worry she would come out with flying colours. I assisted my mother in selling her wares after school. I sold pounded yam and ‘soda’ soaps – doing that instilled lasting values in me. I learnt the lessons of not wasting time with customers; not being lured by any man; etc. Honestly, that kind of background taught me a lot of lessons, especially to be hard-working, to live a decent life, honest and content with whatever I have.
I was not rascally; I was quiet but inquisitive. I was disciplined, meticulous and organised. When I was about eight years in 1965, my elder sister from another mother got married and I was the little bride. I followed her to her husband’s house. There, I learnt to be independent because I was involved in a lot of chores.
A close shave with death
How can I forget the incident that nearly snuffed life out of me when I was very young? It was the coronation of the late Oba Kabiyesi Agunlejika I. On the day of his coronation, I was coming back from school and I followed the crowd from Ishokun where we lived to Ereja, the Market Square towards the palace. Suddenly, somebody pushed me and I fell and I was trampled on. I screamed and cried for help but nobody in the crowd stopped to give me a hand. All of a sudden somebody just pushed the crowd and pulled me up.
How my small stature denied me school admission in 1969
Having stayed at home for six years, it was an exciting moment when I started my primary school in 1963 at Salvation Army Primary School, Ishokun. I was happy to join other children in school. In January 1970, I gained admission into Ilesha Grammar School. I ought to have gone in 1969 but they thought I was too small. I was eventually admitted in 1970. Some of my classmates were Sola Oshunkeye, the present Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka and other accomplished great men and women too numerous to mention. I had a nice time in that great institution. When we got to Class Three I was moved to the science class. I finished from the school in 1974. Again, something happened. When we finished our WAEC exams in 1974, there was Owosho crisis – an examination leakage. Ilesha Grammar School being one of the biggest schools in town was affected and our results were suspended. We waited till 1975 to retake the exams. We were put in the same class with the current Form Five and tagged, ‘Special Class Six’. We rewrote the examinations and I came out in division one that year. By the time the suspended results were released I still came out in division one.
Working as a court clerk
While we were waiting for our results to come out in 1974, I got a job as a primary school teacher in Temidire Primary School. I was teaching in the school when the Udoji allowance came out. I entered into the scheme as a teacher. The award became a blessing for me because when we were asked to come back to rewrite WAEC exams, some of my classmates didn’t have the money to re-enroll for the exams. While waiting for my admission into Kwara Tech, my uncle got a job for me at Upper Area Court Ilorin as a court clerk. I sat in court and took proceedings. The proceedings were in Yoruba but I took notes in English – God was preparing me for something I had no idea about then. I earned less than N100 as the clerk.
I was a pure science student when I finished from Ilesha Grammar School. My uncle, the late Oba Omoboye Omopariola, who was an Upper Area Court judge, came to Ilesha and persuaded my parents to take me down to Kwara State. I got enrolled at Kwara State College of Technology for my ‘A’ Levels in 1976. I finished in 1978 and did Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Naturally, I didn’t have a choice but to study science-related courses. I wanted to study Chemical Engineering but when my HSC result came out I had Mathematics and Chemistry and a pass in Physics. That was what aborted my dream of becoming a chemical engineer. I opted for Pure Chemistry. I went to the University of Benin in 1978 and graduated in 1981 with a BSc in Chemistry
After my youth service I taught Chemistry and other science subjects for 10 years at Queen Elizabeth Secondary School, Ilorin.
My husband persuaded me to study Law
I had taught for 10 years and had three children. In fact, I had even done a post-graduate degree in Education. In 1991, I said I was tired of teaching that I would like to go into business. My husband said he did not have that kind of money to set up my type of business. I said I would like to go and do Pharmacy but he declined. All other suggestions did not meet his approval and suddenly he just said, ‘Why not study Law?’ I just told him that I admire the way he dresses in bib, collar and suit but I am not for that. Prior to his suggestion, he would bring court judgment and would ask me to read it. Sometimes, he would bring his briefs and ask me to read and correct them. Along the line, he would pester me that I have the intellectual capacity to study Law.
I was concerned about the children but he assured me that our parents would take care of them. He made a move and went to Aare Babalola, SAN, that I have shown my desire to read Law. Aare Babalola was excited and by the time he asked me I was speechless and I just said yes. The University of Ilorin didn’t offer Law but my husband suggested the University of Ibadan. I was also lucky that UI’s Faculty of Law had just started admitting Direct Entry. Aare Afe Babalola gave me his full support. I filled the form and was admitted into UI for the 1991/1992 session.
As a pure science student mixing law with family life wasn’t easy at the initial stage. I was the oldest in my class but my husband threw his weight behind me and assured me that I would make it. He had just been appointed as the first attorney general and commissioner for Justice in Osun State. He was in Osogbo and I was in Ilorin with the children. With his appointment and my admission to the UI, it became a triangle movement. I moved to Ibadan and lived with Aare Afe Babalola’s family – a wonderful family who took me as their own. My husband would pick me every Friday in Ibadan or bring the children to Osogbo for the weekend. It became a real challenge for me. With a science background, I complained that I didn’t know anything about government, written and unwritten constitution. By the following Monday, my husband bought all the required textbooks and law-related texts. This ignited the spirit in me and law became fun and loving. Then the first semester came and I passed. Again, my background in science came to my advantage as I could formulate cases into Principles which I put in small notes.
How I overcame the challenges
Having overcome academic travails, then came discouragers, among them was a lecturer who always made sarcastic statement that ‘I know many of you would go and open hair-dressing salons after this law degree’. I would keep quiet determined to make something out of studying Law. I was so confident that by the time I got to 300 Level, I had stabilised and even wanted to join students’ politics and contested as Vice President of the Law Student Society at the faculty level. But Prof. Ojo, of blessed memory, persuaded me to leave it for the younger ones. He had his reasons because of fear of persecution. I listened to him and bowed out. As student politics dust was cooling down, I discovered that I was pregnant with a baby. Incidentally, the prolonged ASUU strike that almost a year saved the day. I had my last baby, who was nicknamed ‘Asuugbemi’ on December 13, 1994. The strike was called off exactly six weeks after I had the baby. I went back to school with the baby. Mama Afe Babalola took the baby from me while I went back to school. I weathered all the academic storms and graduated in 1996/1997. I went to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos. We were the last set of Law School students before it was decentralised into campuses. I was called to bar in Abuja in February 1998. Looking back, I can simply say God brought me back to destiny. Again, I have a visionary husband, ‘my destiny helper’. I became a lawyer in 1998 to the glory of God.
From science teacher to Senior Advocate of Nigeria
The journey to becoming a Senior Advocate of Nigeria started in 2010 when I told my husband that I would like to go to the bench. I applied and got recommendations and was even top on the list but somehow I was not taken at the last minute. My husband said I shouldn’t worry. I went to Are Afe Babalola, he also asked why I wanted to go to the bench when he had already promised to buy my silk gown when I became a SAN. When that one didn’t click, my husband said he would give me three years to gather all my judgments over the years: High Court, Appeal Court and Supreme Court. I had to go to the archives in Ilorin our former base to collate everything. We looked at the guidelines for the year 2010 and said he would give me extra three years to meet the minimum qualification and other requirements. That was when the real work started. I was moving from one state to another arguing my cases, getting judgments and so on. In three years I had so many judgments and by the time we studied the guidelines for 2013, I even had an excess. I got the application form, filled it and put all the requirements together. To the glory of God, I made it to the pinnacle of my career as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria among the few female SANs in 2013. It wasn’t an easy journey but God has been there all the way. I am currently a senior partner in Awomolo and Associates.
My love story
I met my husband 35 years ago in my brother’s office. I didn’t know he had interest in me. A few days later, my brother called me that his friend (his brother-in-law now) was interested in me but he had already told him that I was a serious-minded person and not for ‘play-play’. By the time we got talking he showed genuine interest in me and was passionate about my career. We dated for two years and realised that we have the same chemistry. He is loving, kind, and generous. He likes to showcase me wherever he goes. He manifests his love and I don’t lack anything.
The marriage is blessed with four children – two boys and two girls – and a grandchild. One of them is a lawyer. My first son read Economics and currently studying Law. The last one whom I had while studying at UI studied Electrical Engineering at Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti. Another one read Mass Communication at Bowen University and went to University of Aberdeen in Scotland to study Human Relations. So far, we’ve had a beautiful life.
My passion at 60
At 60, I can say I am contented and grateful to my maker for seeing another milestone in my life. I have good health, a loving husband and wonderful children. I was a teacher and was contemplating going into business. God Almighty held my hand and led me to a career path where I have blossomed. As my birthday approaches, there would be a celebration with a thanksgiving service in our house and a dinner later in the evening. But a Saturday before the D-day, I would love to mark the anniversary at orphanages in Abuja and its environs. At this stage of my life I want to dedicate my life to God and humanity.