Human rights lawyer and director of Festus Ogun Legal, Festus Ogun, tells ABIODUN SANUSI about her career, advocacy, activism and lifestyle
What are your educational qualifications?
I attended Ifelodun United Primary School, Efire, Ogun Waterside, Ogun State where I got my first school leaving certificate. For my secondary education, I attended Pathfinder College, Ibiade, Ogun Waterside, Ogun State.
I then studied law at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. Subsequently, I continued my studies at the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos where I sat and passed the bar exam and was admitted to the Nigerian Bar.
You were an activist in college. How were you able to combine this with your studies?
As a student-activist, I understood that my main task at university was to graduate on time with a good grade. I made no compromise on that. So, I created time to study hard for tests and exams. Yes, I spent more time fighting for student rights than attending classes, but that doesn’t mean my academics took a back seat. Discipline, determination and good time management were the tools I used to moderately combine activism and law.
What were your main achievements as a student-activist?
As a member and later Deputy Director of Chambers of Femi Falana’s Student Chambers, I instituted a number of strategic cases in our school’s court system. I vividly remember the historic case I dealt with, where the court ruled that freshmen had the right to vote in student union elections. Previously, recruits were unfairly disenfranchised in elections without legal justification. It was a significant judgment that has become a benchmark today. Likewise, I ran OOU Premium, a campus newspaper that kept students informed of breaking news, challenged unfavorable policies of school management, exposed flagrant corruption and misconduct in student associations, and fought for social justice in general. I regularly wrote articles and legal analyzes on national issues, and they were published in national daily newspapers.
How would you describe your experience studying law at OOU?
Studying law at OOU was the best experience that shaped me. The school administration was very tolerant. At no time was I threatened or intimidated. There was a time when the Vice Chancellor called me on the phone about an article I had written about the illegal suspension of some students. He looked fatherly and we both made our points in a manner devoid of further hostilities. This was the OOU I attended. If I had been frustrated with an intolerant university system, I might not be making my modest public interest legal contributions on the national stage today. I am only worried about the pitiful neglect of the prestigious institution by the government of Ogun State.
You were the president of the Law Students’ Society at OOU. What were the highlights of your tenure?
As president of the Law Students’ Association, our administration’s greatest achievement has been our rich investment in students’ careers and personal development. It was more important to us than parties and dinners. We have organized workshops, public lectures and skills training programs. We have also resurrected the moribund legal journal that was last published more than a decade before that time.
What were the highlights of your time at the Lagos Branch of the Nigerian Law School?
I went to law school during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was really difficult, although the program itself was not difficult.
It ended with praise and I’m forever grateful to God.
Who or what prompted you to become a lawyer?
In high school, listening to the daily news was part of our daily routine. As a student, you had to write no less than five news headlines in your notebook. It exposed me to listening to the news every day to the point where my dad had to buy me a radio. From there, I met the likes of the late Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana and Titiloye Charles, who were described by broadcasters as “Lagos-based lawyers”, “Lagos radical lawyers” and “lawyers for human rights “. I took inspiration from them.
What prompted you to create your own law firm?
I see the practice of law as a business. However, the quest to commercialize the practice of law, which I find noble, has caused the majority of lawyers to completely abandon the cause of the weak, downtrodden and downtrodden. A lawyer has bills to pay. Either way, a lawyer must “live in the direction of his people”. Besides making ends meet, how many lawyers are truly committed to leading their people these days? I believe we can have a law firm of the future that manages the rich and defends the poor. Who says a law firm can’t commit to solving clients’ most complex challenges and, at the same time, be fully committed to the public interest, human rights and social justice? ?
How would you describe your experience with Festus Ogun Legal?
Running a law firm is not an easy task, but thank God I did my best.
What are your notable accomplishments as a lawyer?
My greatest achievement as a lawyer so far has been bringing smiles to clients who cannot pay their legal fees.
How do you manage the handling of many pro bono files as a young lawyer who is still finding his bearings in his career?
I selectively take pro-bono cases. They are in fact undertaken for the public good, usually for indigent people. I have to be convinced that people are truly needy before taking their cases on a pro bono basis. The fact that you have been the victim of a human rights violation or injustice does not automatically mean that you are entitled to free legal representation. Human rights and civil liberties are a specialized area of law. Those who can afford the legal fees should pay them. The challenge has been that most potential clients hide under the guise of “human rights” or “pro bono” to seek legal intervention on purely commercial matters. They try to manipulate us and blackmail us to demand our fees.
Regardless, our position remains that only truly indigent people who experience injustices or human rights violations should benefit from free or discounted legal services. Nigerians need to learn how to pay lawyers. Law firms of human rights activists should not be confused with non-governmental organizations.
How do you reconcile being a lawyer, public analyst and activist?
I was able to do this through time management, discipline, good planning and hard work. I prepare my to-do list the day before the next day. It makes me more productive. Since I combined advocacy with my legal practice, it was easier for me to put myself in the shoes. But, I hardly have time for social activities.
What inspired you to start Crypto Law Africa?
I see cryptocurrency as the future of financial technology. Helping those dealing with crypto to navigate the uncertain legal and regulatory terrain has become an opportunity to provide solutions.
What would you have become if you hadn’t been a lawyer?
I would have become a journalist or a writer.
Would you like to become a judge one day?
I have no interest in becoming a judge.
What advice do you have for young aspiring lawyers?
Your dreams are valid. However, dream with some kind of innovation. Innovation makes you shine brightly.
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