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How Olaniwun Ajayi Built One of Africa’s Biggest Law Firms

Indeed the circumstances of a man’s birth are no grounds to predict how much heights he would attain. For the humble beginnings which Sir Olaniwun Ajayi started from, there could have been no telling just how far he would grow. Infact, some say he died a giant after making so many conspicuous contributions to family, the legal profession, and society.

Olaniwun Ajayi was born in his father’s small parlour in Isara Remo on April 8, 1925, to Mr Benjamin Awoyemi Ajayi, a farmer and Marian Efundolamu Ajayi, a petty trader. He was first taken to live and school at his uncle’s place in Epe, Lagos state, but stopped school after a while as his uncle could not keep up with paying the fees. His father took him back to Isara Remo, and he continued his primary education. 

Olaniwun was quite intelligent, so much that after completing his primary education in Ode-Remo, the school engaged him as a teacher on a monthly salary of 10 shillings, six pence. The young teenager understood that, given his family’s financial realities, he would have to save up if he had any intentions of further pursuing his education. He started by saving a little over 20% of his monthly salary and later increased it to 50%. By the end of one year as a teacher, he had saved up £6 (six pounds). 

He applied for a four-year teacher course at Wesley College, Ibadan, Oyo State, and was admitted. It was, however, a struggle to pull through the four years in college as his savings could only take him so far, and there was very little support to be expected from the family. 

Finishing the course changed his financial lot significantly, as he became supervisor of schools for the entire Remo and Ijebu province. But teaching was, for Ajayi, only a means to his ultimate dream. He later travelled to the United Kingdom in 1957. He was admitted to the City of London College, Moorgate, London (now known as City University), where he studied to become a Chartered Secretary and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators.

He attended the London School of Economics and the Political Science University of London in 1959, where he obtained a Law degree. Expectedly, he had to work his way through school. He enrolled at the Council of Legal Education, Lincoln’s Inn as well, in 1959 and was called to the English Bar in July 1962. He was enrolled as Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on November 2, 1962. 

Back in Nigeria, he worked in the legal department of UAC Group, and rose to the position of assistant group legal adviser.

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From public service to private practice

Resigning from UAC group threw Ajayi into a different terrain altogether. The then Governor of the Western State, Brig. Gen. Christopher Rotimi appointed Olaniwun as commissioner for education for two years and as commissioner for health for another three years. 

After this brief stint in public service, Sir Ajayi set up his private practice as a lawyer. On November 2, 1962, Sir Ajayi founded the law firm Olaniwun Ajayi & Co. From the onset; it was designed to be an international legal practice since Ajayi himself had been called to the English Bar. The firm was focused on providing legal advisory, arbitration and receivership services. 

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