In every material particular, Dr. Michael Adekunle Abiodun, is a successful man. First, the visually impaired lawyer is a PhD holder in Human Rights, Security and Anti-Terrorism Laws from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. As a lawyer, Dr. Abiodun has handled 22 cases and has never lost any case since he started practicing. In all, he has had 11 convictions and one case was struck out. Dr Abiodun who is a prosecutor with the Federal Ministry of Justice, has also published four books. In this interview, he told TOPE SUNDAY and NNODIM EUPHASIA how he surmounted so many odds to reach where he is today.
Although you are quite successful, not many Nigerians know you. Can you briefly tell us about yourself?
I am Michael Adekunle Abiodun, a legal practitioner, a pastor and I am also an Author. I graduated from the University of Lagos in 2002 after which I worked briefly with a mentor of mine, a very brilliant, energetic and resourceful fellow, Professor Bolaji Owalosanmi. He is the Executive Director of Human Development Initiative in Lagos.
Afterwards, I proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja, for my Barrister at Law programme to become a practising lawyer. I was called to the Bar on Friday 15th of October, 2004 and at that time, my National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) programme was already also on in Abuja, which means, I left the NYSC camp for the Call to Bar at Abuja here.
I love to dream big. I don’t dream little, I am an highly ambitious person and my ambition is always sky high. So, by the time the NYSC was rounding off, I was with my admission letter for higher studies at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
On the 19th of September,2005, I was airborne to the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where I obtained my Masters’ Degree in Law and stayed behind for my PhD in Security, Human Rights and U.K Anti-terrorism Law.
At which age did you lose your sight?
People always ask me whether I lost my sight at birth but I wasn’t born blind. If I take off my glasses ( and he removed his glasses to explain how his blindness started), you will notice the differences between both eyes.
You will observe that the left eye is shrunk in and the right eye is not. Am I correct? I was about five years of age at about 8:30 in the evening, when my mother’s best friend’s son threw a stone at this left eye. This was revealed to me by my mother because I was about five years of age then. She said the eye bled. But because of improper medical attention, my second eye was badly affected. That, however, began the sad story of my visual challenge. But I was fortunate to attend a blind school in Sururele in Lagos, called Pacelli School for the Blind; it was there I was trained in the use of brail and typewriter. I knew right from primary school that I was going to be a lawyer, and I kept on nursing my ambition. Today, I am a lawyer, a pastor and an author.
You said that improper medical attention led to losing your sight. What efforts did your parents make in order to save your eyes?
My parents, particularly my father, did the very best he could. I must inform you, they weren’t educated but they did the very best they could, especially my father and I repeat the phrase ‘my father’ with every sense of seriousness. I was taken to several hospitals in Abeokuta, Ota (both towns are in Ogun State), Bamgbose and Tinubu in Lagos.
I was also taken to an Eye Specialist Hospital in Ibadan, Oyo State, but all to no avail. Sometimes, I personally don’t agree with that opinion that says “whatever will be, will be”. I am not fully convinced by it, a man is a changer of destiny and you can change your destiny, you can! I remember between 1980 and 1983, one afternoon my father carried me on his shoulder and fell into a gutter at Ibadan and he sprained his foot. He later reminded me years later that when he fell into gutter, I told him “Baba epele” (meaning Baba sorry), don’t worry I will take care of you in the future, I will buy cars for you”.
So, if anything was running through my mind then that may be one of it. I believe, I am so sorry to say this, some members of my family are not pleased but I did say it. I said so long as my father was alive my education will be not stop.
How was it like in school, were you taunted by other pupils? How did your teachers relate with you? Did they give you any special attention?
In all modesty, Pacelli School for the Blind and partially sighted is the best school for blind persons and partial sighted persons not only in Nigeria but in the entire Africa. The facts speak for themselves. The school, which was found in 1962, has trained blind people to become Professors and other successful people including me and today, I am a Dr of Law.
At Pacelli, we only had one person who had physical challenge. He was our music teacher, Mr. John, who was trained in Scotland. Aside him, all other teachers were not physically challenged but they were trained in the mind to meet the needs of the physically challenged persons. They carried the pain of the physically challenged person in their hearts and the moment they met that criteria they were able to adequately reach out to every blind person that was in the school.
They saw the potential in me; every support I needed was given to me, we were equally treated. The school belongs to the catholics, there was no discrimination; they showed so much love but not sympathy. That love prepared us for the future because they believed that someday we will leave Pacelli and graduate into the wider world; that love trained us to become complete human persons.
Apart from school, were you discriminated against or despised by members of your family?
It is height of stupidity when you consider that life has challenges. And when you always see challenges of life, you will always be bitter and not be able to overcome the problem you are facing. But if challenges are common to live with, that means I have my own challenges am I correct?
Well, I had mine on my road to greatness. I faced rejection especially from my mother. One of the challenges I had in October 1991, was that my mother rejected me. After my primary school, I don’t know may be she felt they were doing everything possible to get me into secondary school. I had written the National Common Entrance Examination and the result was not forthcoming and I didn’t know that my result was sat upon at the Ministry of Education. I wrote the examination in Pacelli and I was the third best in the entire federation.
Because this my result didn’t come out and at some point and because of one reason may be she felt frustrated, maybe she wasn’t happy with me. One morning, she said that she has rejected me, she voiced that to my hearing; life moved on.
With the help of God and some persons, I went to Federal Government College Ijalikin, Lagos State.
There were challenges here and there and you really have to strive and even when you get the equipment to brail your notes, you have to beg your class mates to help you dictate the notes and they have their own assignments to do. You could be left behind because the note of yesterday you are yet to brail it and they are piling up unlike my experience at the University of Aberdeen.
At the University, I would just send the note and the text book to the help desk, we called it the printing budget and they would just forward it to the brail embosser and within minutes, the text book is ready.
Did your mother come round to accept you? At which point in life did she embrace you?
The moment she made that statement, my father wasn’t happy, he didn’t welcome it. Let me say that she must have made that comment out of frustration but I have forgiven her. But it got to a stage that it became obvious that at the end of the day, that I would be going to secondary school, her attitude changed; the wind of frustration was now over; she was up and doing again. She came once in a while to visit me. My both parents, very sad… My father died when I was in my finally year in the University and that’s the only pain that I carry in my heart. My mother died last year and she enjoyed the best from me, she became a star mother, she was called ‘Mama Lawyer (Lawyer’s mother) in our village.
How many were you in the family and were you the favorite child?
I am not a special one, but I consider myself the fortunate one because I got friends that covered me up. So, with that, I was able to weather the storm. I had other challenges which included finance. As a journalist, you know that most persons who are physically challenged come from poor background and money to fund education sometimes is a serious challenge. I still consider myself not the best but the fortunate one.
I got scholarship in secondary school, then I got scholarship in UNILAG through Shell and then finally I got scholarship to complete my PhD. I got scholarship from former Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun state for my Masters, then I got scholarship from Former Governor Fasola of Lagos state for my PhD. It wasn’t all that rosy, no! Challenges were there and challenges will always be there, sometimes I check myself if something is running so smoothly; I stop and check myself, is this thing God’s way for me? Why is it going too smooth?
Do you still relate to the person who threw stones at you, as a result of which you became blind?
The boy we are talking about was only about twelve days older than me when the incident occured. What do you punish an innocent child for? It was just an accident. Many years later, I still pray for him because it gave him a bad name, everybody who sees him in the community will say that is the boy that was responsible for my blindness. He didn’t directly target the my eye, and I have forgiven him. To me, he did not do me any harm.
Why did you chose to study law out of the several courses that are available?
I studied law and particularly did PhD in Human Rights because I hate injustice and I feel I could stand up for people who are wronged. And I wanted to arm myself with something. And one of such things to arm myself with is the knowledge of the law.
In primary school, I read a book ” The Incorruptible Judge”, and there was a Lawyer called Duro Arugomatidi,who shares same surname with me because I am Michael Abiodun Kunle Arugomatidi.
I love the way he reasoned like a lawyer and argued so brilliantly. I saw lawyers as the only people who have the most analytic turn of mind, people who reason within, they could also reason from without. With their argument, they could reason and completely turn black to become white. I thought that was brilliant; I thought that was a skill that every human being wanted to have and I did enjoy arguments and debates back when I was much younger.
How did you cope with your studies generally, from primary school up till the university level, seeing that schooling is a great challenge even for the able-bodied?
You remember I told you that Pacelli school taught us how to be independent, and when you are leaving the school, you will be given a typewriter.
Meanwhile, from primary four, we were taught how to brail, and I taught myself how to use the computer. I am computer literate and my books, I typed all of them myself. Pacelli gives you a typewriter and during exam, test and class works, they put us in a single room where the teacher comes to invigilate and those teachers readout the question, and once they have read out the question if you were prepared for the exam you begin to type the answer.
At UNILAG, I used the typewriter and the guiding stick given to me at Pacelli. And at the school, they taught us to ask questions about direction. In this aspect, some good hearted Nigerians will answer you, some will not answer you, that has happened to me severally but you can only pity yourself and move on. Aside what I just told you, I wasn’t discriminated against at the UNILAG.
How has improved Information and Communication Technology helped the visually impaired in their studies?
Brail is very slow but what the white man has done for us today, there is a software called voke; once you program it to any computer, that computer begins to talk. Anything on the screen of the computer will be read, then there is also a machine called brail and speak.
If you are my boss in the office and you want to give me an instruction, ordinarily you just pen It down in a sheet of paper. That machine, when you forward a written note to a blind person to work on in the office. It will read your hand writing and it can talk to that blind person or translate your hand written note into brail for him to read with his fingers or it can even turn it out in printed text for you just to read. Technology has now advanced in such a way that a blind person can now be as perfect as a person who is normal.
With a Ph D in law, it is expected that you should be in the classroom, lecturing in the university. Why did you end up in the court room, as it were?
The court is a learning room and anybody who wants to be a good lawyer must be in the court room. I did my PhD so as to lecture and not to practice. I hate practice and one of my lecturers is really striving to get me to lecture in UNILAG.
But they are raising the objection about how I will be able to mark my students’ scripts but she said there are about two or three lecturers to a course, that why don’t I lecture while the others mark? And when the lecturing job wasn’t forth coming, I had to be going to court, I had to start the practice which I don’t like and which I never planned for. I didn’t plan to be a practicing lawyer. No! I wanted to lecture, I am an academic.
Now that you have found yourself practicing, is there any special preparation that you do, given your circumstance, before a court appearance?
Things can be expensive but there are some materials on the legal angle. If you go online, the 1999 constitution and the EFCC Acts are there. And those books of law that are not online, I go to a good café and they will help me to type it out and keep it on my Flash. With the application on my laptop, it will be reading it for me. I have all the Nigerians laws on my laptop, if I just need to open my laptop and it will talk to me on any subject that I programme it.
I have never lost a case. Since I started practising as a lawyer two years ago, I have handled 22 cases. I am saying this with all pride. I have once settled a case out of court , and I have had as many as may be 11 convictions and one case was struck out.
Having achieved this measure of greatness, what else do you want to achieve?
In the next five years, I want to look back and see that financially, spiritually, and in every respect possible, I have mentored not less than a 1000 people for the next three years. I want to model people to appreciate hard work for success. And I want to become a Professor of law. I like lecturing.