Barr Tope Temokun is unarguably one of the best brains in the legal profession. He is a Constitutional and Human Rights Lawyer. He shared his success story and spoke about his foray into the legal profession, life challenges and accomplishments, family and the state of the nation.
Can we meet you?
My name is Tope Temokun. I am a lawyer. I am the founder and head of TOPE TEMOKUN CHAMBERS, with divisions of practices in the states of Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Abuja.
Can you share some of your life challenges?
My life challenge while growing up was not different from the traditional challenges of the children of my time in my background and my environment. There was poverty. But we thank God today we defeated it. It was tough though. I cannot forget so soon. The bends and twists of destiny in those formative years… Only God knows what I would have become today, a hunter, a farmer, a bush meat seller, a palm-wine tapper, whose last ambition in life might be to be made a village chief.
The journey to destiny began in 1988. It was Christmas time. They told me I was going for Christmas at Igbotako, another Ikale town. But soon, Christmas was over and I was told to consider staying back to continue my schooling. This was the grand plan of my mother and her elder sister who was a head teacher at Igbotako at the time. It was a capital NO at first because my father had concluded the plan to apprentice me away to a popular village roadside motorcycle mechanic in town, popularly called Shockwire, who did a lot of havoc to my father’s Suzuki 100 in the name of servicing before the motorcycle parked up. He told my father I should resume by January 1989, after Christmas. But fate said No. I was taken out of town to start a new life.
To cut a long story short, that was how the truant youngster who was already disarrayed to follow a path of failure in life became a citizen of Igbotako, a town that was to become a place of history for me later in life, where the disciplinarian headteacher, Mrs Magaret Opadare, my mother’s elder sister, who conspired with my mother against my dad to save my destiny, nurtured me to usefulness and to a youth model who became a reference standard to parents and who did not only record outstanding success in his academics to confound everybody who knew me back then in hometown as a bad boy but who became a senior prefect of his set and who won many laurels for the school in his time and in the years that followed became the first son of that village palm-wine tapper to become a lawyer and when I say this, I mean I am the first son of my father and my father was a palm-wine tapper and subsistence farmer. But today, I am a lawyer! That is my story!
I can’t also forget how I used to follow the clan masquerade, dance to the admirable steps of the Ogoni koko, our most acrobatic masquerade and dreamt to be clothed one someday, learning some traditional ways from my father, now late, Chief Anthony Temokun, the Osowe of Ode-Aye. I appreciated the village life of bush meat and palm wine a lot, which was abundantly available at the time. I loved that life and all these I was not ready to let go, but my mother cried when I left school in 1988, never to return, in preparation for my journey to the roadside village mechanic apprenticeship, till grace took me out of town and to destiny! The rest is the grace you are seeing today. I am a product of grace, in summary.
What are your accomplishments so far?
I have been used by God in law practice to give many oppressed people smiles. God has used me to restore hope to many who had lost hope. That is my fulfilment.
As a constitutional and human rights Lawyer, mention a few cases you won against the government or its agency.
In 2010 there was a case of a commercial driver, Friday Ekpotor, against the Ondo state Government. His vehicle was hit by the Ondo state government Hilux which led to an accident in which the commercial driver’s vehicle caught fire and was burnt. I took up this case against the Ondo State Government and I was just over two years at the Bar then. I got judgment for the helpless commercial driver and he was awarded the sum of N5.1 million naira against the Ondo State Government.
There was also the case of the two Urhobo Okada rider who was killed in 2011 by Police Officers at Okitipupa in Ondo state over non-payment of a 50 naira bribe at the checkpoint. I took up this matter pro bono, for the widow and the children of the killed motorcyclist, before the Federal High Court, Akure Division and got judgment in 2018 for the widow of the deceased, damages of N7.9MILLION against the Nigerian Police.
There was the human rights case of Barrister Zerrubabel Olanrewaju and the Nigerian Army, where a lawyer, a colleague, was assaulted by a soldier, at Okitipupa. I took up this matter pro Bono, for the enforcement of the right of the colleague to the dignity of the human person, before the Federal High Court and got judgment in 2015, damages of N10 million against the Nigerian Army.
There is a pathetic case of Kemisola Ogunniyi a young girl who was arrested in Akure Ondo State during the ENDSARS protest that took place in Nigeria in October 2020 and was remanded in prison custody of Ondo State for about 9 months. She found out in prison that she had been pregnant before her arrest and all efforts of her parents to get her released hit the rock till we got to know of her predicament and took up her matter pro bono and filed all necessary papers in court to fight for her release. A few days after filing a bail application for this girl, she delivered a baby boy in prison.
We approached the court for her release and while filing papers in court for Kemisola’s release, the girl went into labour and delivered a baby boy in prison. When the naming ceremony was coming up on the eighth day, we got the girl released on the eve of the naming ceremony to the glory of God. That boy was named Okiki, meaning fame.
On the 29th of March 2023, the Ondo State High Court presided over by Justice Adejumo, gave judgment in the case filed by my chambers for Mr Oluwasegun Oluwarotimi, a 36-year-old Okada rider who was shot in the leg by the Ondo State Security Network Agency, code-named Amotekun, in Akure, on the 9th of August 2021 and whose leg was later amputated. We took up this case in the public interest and filed the case in court on the 28th of October 2022, after a year of his moving from one office to another in search of justice till God directed him to our office. The court awarded the sum of THIRTY MILLION NAIRA as damages against the Ondo State Government and the Amotekun Corps.
The cases mentioned here are just a few of the human rights cases I have been involved in or spearheaded because of my passion for a better society.
What is the happiest day of your life in the practice of the legal profession?
I have had many happy moments in my practice life. But the most significant that drew tears from my eyes inside the court was the 2016 case when I got a judgment in the Court of Appeal restoring the Olotu of Otu Costain to his throne after he lost that throne at the High Court before that case got to me. I was not the lawyer who handled the case at the High Court. I cried in court when the Court was delivering the judgment in our favour at the Court of Appeal because it was a tough and turbulent journey to victory for me. The experience I had, in that case, was not for a child that I was. Close shave with death. Some stories are better left untold. There shall still be time to tell the story in full. But God used me for the good man, His Highness Oluwole Akinboni, the Olotu of Otu land. I am happy anytime God uses me to restore smile, and joy, to those deprived of it.
What are your humanitarian services to society?
Our humanitarian services consist in the free cases we do in our chambers for those who would not have been able to afford the services of a lawyer to get justice. We also do a little in the area of education by assisting in our little ways to give modestly in supporting indigent students whom we can reach in the course of our drive for humanity.
Do you have an interest to contest any election? If not, why? If yes, what position are you looking at?
I don’t have any interest to contest any election. I find politics too distractive for my course of life. I also find it difficult to come to terms with the futility inherent in trying to struggle with crooks who litter the political space for power. Moreso, I live a modest life and I am very contented. My needs are little. My struggle for a better society is my politics.
Any message for Nigeria and the incoming administration?
Nigerians should always be ready for the worse experience after each election.Every successive government in Nigeria has been worse than its predecessor. Nigerians should live by that Christian hymn that says Christians seek not yet repose, Hear that words that the angels say, You are still amid foes, Watch and pray. Please watch and pray, because eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.