THOUGH reticent and taciturn, Mallam Yusuf Olaolu Ali is by no means a run-of-the-mill lawyer, let alone a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
An accomplished legal practitioner with over 30 years in active legal practice, this Kwara State-born legal icon has to his credit unparalleled skill in article writings, among others.
However, unlike some of his peers whose parents were either lawyers or judges, Mallam Ali hadn’t such privilege as none of his lineage ever read law, none also came closer to a lawyer before he took the unprecedented decision to be a member of what is regarded as the noblest profession.
Born almost 60 years ago, the legal icon, who preferred to be called “Mallam”, was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1983; appointed a Notary Public by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) in 1989 and appointed a SAN in September 1997.
The SAN is unarguably one of the most outstanding senior lawyers ever produced in the country. Speaking on the matter, he said: “From day one, I prayed to God that I wanted to be among the very best and that I wanted to do ethical practice. That I was not going to compromise on what is right. I would follow the rules of our profession and the rules of my faith because I know at the end of the day, I will still be accountable to God. I have tried to be faithful to that. I don’t believe in cutting corners, I believe in back-breaking hard work. I believe in honesty, truthfulness and playing fair.
“We have had cases you feel you have done your best but you still lose, but you move on. We have also had so many successes that one has to thank God that successes have totally overwhelmed the drawbacks.”
To him, success means that if God has blessed you, share with others and impact on other people’s lives.
Ali is a lawyer with a difference, his love and commitment to the wig knows no bounds. He has served his fatherland on a number of occasions, including being a co-opted member of the University of Ilorin Council Committee that probed the activities of the bursary department of the university in November 1995 to June 1996. He served as the Sole Judge for the Kwara State Local Government Election Tribunal April to July, 1996; member of the Kwara State Local Government Election Appeal Tribunal 1997; member of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Cult Activities at Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife 1999; Affiliate Representative on the Council of Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society; member, Kwara State High Court Civil Procedure Rules Review Committee 2004 and Chairman, Kwara State Law Review Committee September 2004 to June 2005.
Mallam Ali has also been involved in election petitions since restoration of democracy in 1999.
In the meantime, the nation has been witnessing defections from one party to another in recent weeks. On what he thinks this portends for the democracy we are practising now and what the law says owing to varying interpretations by even legal practitioners, he has this to say: “In a normal setting, defection is good for vibrancy of democracy. I mean, it shows something clearly, and that is that the right to associate is at work, that you can freely associate with whosoever you like, form association with others, join any political party of your choice. But on a practical level, I have not seen any difference in any of the parties. Nobody is defecting because of any ideological leaning, it’s rule of convenience. And the ease with which Nigerians change parties shows clearly that there is no difference in the parties and the dramatis personae. Like I always tell people, our politicians, with respect to most of them, are merely looking for platforms to have access to the resources of the country. The interest of you and I is not in contemplation. And I don’t believe there is any progressive party in Nigeria. All the parties are conservative; class struggle is what we are witnessing, people trying to protect their class. Those who move from one party to another are the elite. There has been no mass movement of real grassroots people from any party. It is the elite that lead them by the nose. Until we have internal democracy in the parties, we will just be wasting our time”.
On what this trend portends for our democracy, he said: “Well, what is going on now in a way is good for us because it is not right for any of the political parties to hold us to ransom, believing that it is so big and, therefore, can do anything it wants. At least in some sense, we will have some problems with impunity. Our constitution is clear that once there is a faction, it does not say the faction must be recognised or registered; once a party is factionalised and if you move from one of the factions to another, it does not affect your standing. The makers of the constitution put it there clearly and we’ve had that experience in the past.
So, I don’t see any stress about it. Once your party is factionalised, then you can move. But it is not you alone moving. And you know there is no morality in our politics in this part of the world. People don’t get involved in this defection because there is no principle involved.
Mallam Ali has not only made his mark in the legal practice through his advocacy and flair for writing, his incisive analysis and appropriate dissertation are captured in over 38 published learned articles and contributions in books, over 70 seminar papers delivered and also written long essays on jurisprudence. The Nigeria Supreme Court and the Right to Fair Hearing 1979-1989: LL.M. Long Essay submitted to the Faculty of Law, O.A.U. Ile-Ife unpublished 1990.
Ali is also a member of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), International Bar Association (IBA), American Bar Association, Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association, Fellow, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, (FCIArb) (UK); Fellow Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb) (Nigeria); Member, Chartered Institute of Taxation Nigeria (CITN); Fellow, Society for Peace Studies and Practice (FSPSP) and Fellow, Dispute Resolution Institute (F.DRI)
Yusuf Ali is still serving on boards of many companies and institutions including the Chairman, Kwara State Law Reform Committee; member of the Board of Trustees of Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin; Chairman Council of Public Defenders, Kwara State and also, the Chairman Board of Directors, Apex Microfinance Bank Ltd.
He has also held various posts starting from when he was in secondary school till date; school prefect, L.A. Modern School Ifetedo 1970-1971; president, Literary and Debating Society, Ibadan Boys High School 1975-1977; president, the Geographical Society, Ibadan Boys High School, 1976-1977; labour prefect, Ibadan Boys’ High School Ibadan, 1976-1977; secretary general, Ibadan Boys’ High School, Old Students’ Association, UNIFE branch, Ile-Ife 1980-1981; member, Constitution Review Committee, Muslim Students Society of Nigeria 1980; president, Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria, University of Ife, Ile-Ife branch 1980-1981 and won the best Debaters’ Competition for Secondary Schools at University of Ibadan (Geographical Society) 1976.
But for providence, this legal icon might by now be editing stories either as editor or managing editor for a publishing company. He confirmed enrolling for an ND programme at the Polytechnic Ibadan before leaving to read law at OAU. “I would have been a journalist because I actually did journalism for a few weeks before I went to OAU. I did studied Mass Communications at the Ibadan Polytechnic before I left.”
And to demonstrate his passion for his first love, Mallam Ali was editor, Al-Ayat Magazine between 1981-1982, served as features editor of Torch Magazine UNIFE 1980-1982 and Chairman of Editorial Board Nigerian Bar Journal 2002 till date. He has received over 40 merit awards from 1989 till date.
He also confirmed his reticent nature when he said: “I have done a lot of pro bono cases but I don’t make noise because it is a covenant between me and God. I don’t attract attention. I think I am a radical person because I stand for truth.”
He had his first degree at the University of Ife where he made a Second Class Upper Division for his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1982. He attended the Nigerian Law School, where he also passed with a Second Class Upper Division. Ali went back to his alma mater for his Master of Law degree.
Aside practising as a lawyer, this amiable SAN said he is involved in sports and extra-curricular activities. “I am a gym freak. I have standard gym in my house in Ilorin and Abuja. Any hotel I stay in must have a gym and anytime I travel, the most important thing I carry apart from my praying mat is my gym dress. I am so used to it.”
Although a devout Muslim, Mallam Ali married only a wife who is now late. “I used to have one wife but I lost her nine years ago, and I am yet to remarry. I am still praying, the window is open to any woman. Any woman that God pushes to me, I take. I am a Mallam and I live a very strict life. I am not a member of any club. I don’t take alcohol and I have never smoked in my life. My life is very easy. You can’t catch me anywhere at 10pm.”
Yusuf and his late wife are blessed with children and he had recently given out one of them in marriage. He is a local person even as he said amala and beans are his favourite food. “Beans is the healthiest food we have in Africa, I love amala and beans. I am not a football freak, the last time I entered stadium was in 1978”, he intoned.
Despite being very close to 60 on earth, he still possesses a look of a middle-aged man. “My father is over 80 and my mother is almost 80 years but you will not know. Even me, I am close to 60 years and still counting”.