Had Olisa Agbakoba’s father not plotted with a late Nigerian Army general to trick him into studying Law at the University, he would have ended up as either a soldier or a footballer, which would not have been a terrible idea on the surface. But, it would seem his immeasurable contribution to nation-building and a just society may not have found expression through the military or sports.
Olisa Agbakoba is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association and a prolific maritime lawyer. He’s the founding Partner Olisa Agbakoba Legal (OAL).
He was one of the pro-democracy activists who fiercely contested the resilient military misrule until Nigeria transitioned to civilian leadership. Ironically, Agbakoba says the military dispensation was better off than the current state of Nigeria. In this interview, he shares his intriguing journey of courage, determination and grit with the Business Elites Africa team.
BEA: You were a prominent footballer in secondary school with the moniker ‘Abana.’ One would think you’d naturally pursue a football career instead of Law. What’s the backstory?
Olisa Agbakoba: I was interested in football. That was when the school sports system worked. I was quite good and even got a scholarship to Government College Ughelli, Delta State, to play football. I was actually going to play for Nigeria. I was shortlisted, but that was the year the University Expo started. I had to leave in August of that year, and by the time I returned, the train had moved. The Academicals had left for the first Sports National Festival. I have always wondered what it would have been – the likes of Kenneth Ilodigwe, Thompson Usiyan, and others were my mates; we were in the same team. That was how my football dream disappeared.
BEA: So, was your decision to become a lawyer your father’s influence, being a lawyer himself?
Olisa Agbakoba: I am not sure actually. I was a Biafran soldier, and I think at the end of the war, I had more interest in enlisting in the Nigerian Army. I used my father’s connection to get the late Gen. Abdulsallah to put me in the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in Kaduna. I didn’t know there was a plot between them to abort my ambition to join the army. He said why don’t you just read Law while waiting. I didn’t know these people were deceiving me. So, I went to study Law. But I don’t have any conscious recollection of my dad pressuring me to read Law.
BEA: Shortly after you became a lawyer, you started anti-government advocacy against the military leadership at the time. Why were you so committed to that?
Olisa Agbakoba: That was not precisely the case. The truth was that I was interested in prisoners, and that was because, during the war, I was detained by the Biafran state security service. I was detained in an ordinary prison called Ntueke in Imo state. I came very close to the condition and challenges of being in prison. So when I became a lawyer, I accidentally ran into prison issues.
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