“Only Nigerians can solve their own problems” – Yusuf Ali SAN

Ogunsakin Mustapha
23 Min Read

There are three things that have guided the life of Yusuf Olaolu Ali SAN right from childhood, excellence, humility, and gratitude. Ali now in his mid 60s; believes that he is a product of the grace of God. This feeling started right away from childhood. He believes that his background, and world view have fuelled this three codes of his life.

Ali was born and raised as a Muslim. One of the key believes in Islam is the believe in the will of the Almighty Allah for one’s life. His first contact with education therefore came when he was enrolled in a local Quranic school and primary School at Ifetedo, Osun State, where academics and religion formed the foundation of his life. He told this reporter in an interview: “I think that kind of world view and my background has been responsible for the way I look at issues and the fact that I know I also owe a duty and a debt of gratitude which can only be repaid by taking part in all positive things that can change other people lives and uplift others”.

Ali tasted virtually all schools in the ladder of his education. For instance, he attended a Secondary Modern school for three years after his primary education, and worked briefly before he gained admission into Ibadan Boys’ High School, Ibadan. Ibadan then was not the capital of Oyo State, but capital to the Western State which comprises Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti states today. Even at that young age, Ali had learnt to take responsibility. In his final year in 1976, he was made the Labour Prefect of the school, which places the responsibility for all the works done by the students on him.


By the time he left secondary school, the Western States had been

The Yusuf Ali SAN clan

Balkanized into three states, with Ibadan now the capital of Oyo State. He therefore joined the Oyo State Ministry of Finance as a Tax Officer. He was posted to Igboora in Oke Ogun area of the state. This was in 1977. The following year, he left the tax job to take another appointment as a Laboratory attendant at Lagelu Garammar School, Ibadan. It was in the same year, 1978, that he gained admission into the prestigious University of Ife, Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) to read history but later changed his course of studies to law.

From the first day at Ife, the light of the young man began to glitter. By the second year, he had become a University Scholar. He also won the Federal Merit Award. In 1982 when he graduated, he made a Second Class Upper Honours. He proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos where again, he came out with Second Class Upper Honours.

Ali did his compulsory National Youth Service Corp at Kwara State, and thereafter he joined the firm of Adegboyega Awomolo & Co. Ilorin at this time was gradually becoming a city of thriving law practice. Already, there were senior lawyers and judges that came from the town. There were likes of Justices Alfa Belgore, Babatunde Belgore, Kolapo Sulu Gambari (now Emir of Ilorin), and Mustapha Akanbi who had gained national prominence for their works as Judicial Officers. Also there, senior lawyers who had set up practice in the city, like Aliyu Alarape Salman SAN, Late Chief Akin Akintoye, Late J. O. Ijaodola, Late Chief Jimoh Shittu (A former Deputy Governor of Old Kwara State), Late Alhaji Akanbi Oniyangi (Former Minister in the 2nd Republic) Chief Tunji Arosanyin, Chief Wole Olanipekun, Chief Gboyega Awomolo both SANS and a host of others who turned Ilorin into a city of prominent lawyers.

Ilorin turned out to be a prophetic city of blessing for the young Ali. He joined the chambers of Awomolo in 1983 and began learning at the feet of the masters. Like every good learner, patience and perseverance were his key words. He served in the chambers for eleven years and became a partner before leaving to start his own law firm, Ghalib Chambers, also at Ilorin.

The eleven years he spent with Awomolo were years of scrupulous study. During this time, he went back to his Alma Mater, Obafemi Awolowo University and obtained a Masters degree in Law. He was also appointed a Notary Public by the Chief Justice of Nigeria. It also leads credence to the immortal truth that spending time in tutelage, under the feet of the masters actually pays. This should speak to the youths of today, who, after leaving law school, desire to set up practice. They should know that success in the practice of law is not about rushing into practice, but spending quality time in tutelage with masters of the game.

No wonder, Ali was conferred with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1997, three years after establishing Ghalib Chambers. It was a mark of brilliance, exceptional contributions to legal discourse and practice that could have won for a lawyer such rank in so short a time.

From this moment on, there had never been a turning back for Ali. Practice and life have moved from one greater level to another. Today, he criss-crossed the world to do what he knows best- legal practice. As he moves higher, the recognition and awards came calling. And so are the numerous responsibilities of service to community and Nation. He has served and is still serving on the boards of many Companies and Institutions. 

Grandpa Ali

He was Chairman, Kwara State Law Reform Committee; Pioneer Chairman, Council of Public Defenders Kwara State. Sole Judge of the Kwara State Local Government Election Petition Tribunal (1996) Member, Kwara State Local Government Election Appeal Tribunal (1997).

At the level of his professional association, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ali has equally served and continues to serve in several positions. He is a Life Member, Body of Benchers (BOB), the highest honour that any lawyer could possibly achieve;

He also a member of the BOB’s Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC);

Member, National Executive Committee (NEC), NBA; Former Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Nigerian Bar Journal; Former  Chairman of the NBA Committee on the Rule Of Law, Pioneer Chairman, NBA Section on Legal Practice (SLP) and Pioneer Chairman of the  NBA Anti-corruption Commission. At the International Bar Association (IBA) level, Ali served as Newsletter Editor, IBA Committee on Damages and Negligence; Member of Council, Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA), Former   Vice Chairman, IBA Committee on Damages and Negligence; and Former Chairman of the IBA Committee on Damages and Negligence.

In the academics, Ali is equally proving his mettle. He is a member of the Board of Trustees, Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin; Member of the Board of Trustees, Summit University Offa, Kwara State;. He was co-opted into the Council of the University of Ilorin in 1995 to probe the bursary of the university.. He is the Pro – Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council, Osun State University. He is an Associate Lecturer, at the Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin. He has delivered more than 300 papers on different and diverse topics at various fora, including the International Bar Association Conferences, Commonwealth Law Association conferences, Annual Conferences of the Nigerian Bar Association, among others. He had contributed more than 20 Chapters to various legal books  and has to his credit more than 40 published learned articles in learned journals in the fields of Litigation, Commercial Law, Jurisprudence, Practice and Procedure, Constitutional law, in local and international law journals.

A litigator and arbitrator per excellence, Ali has traversed all the Superior Courts of record from the High Courts to the Supreme Court in the course of his over three decades of legal practice.  He has also acted as counsel and arbitrator in many arbitral proceedings. He is knowledgeable in Islamic finance and jurisprudence. He has attended many arbitral conferences within and outside the shores of Nigeria especially those organised by IBA and ABA.  He is a visiting Research Fellow at Kings College, University of London UK.

He is one of the few senior lawyers that has the grasp, and understanding of Nigeria’s Electoral Laws. Because of this, he is always sought after by politicians across political divides, to handle their electoral petition. He has worked in virtually all the states across the Federation. Presently, he is a key member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s legal team with the task to defend the mandate given to him by Nigerians at the Presidential Election Tribunal. He joins the likes of Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN, and others in this onerous task.

Speaking with this reporter recently on his experience in election petitions, he said: “I’ve taken part in many of these election petitions since 1998 till now and it is very demanding. You must be on the go all the time especially for some of us who are lucky to get briefed in more than one case. But one thing I’ve enjoyed thoroughly out of it is that it has assisted one to empower other colleagues professionally and otherwise, by constituting different teams to appear with you in cases and the like. For me, that humanistic service is very important”.

This brings this write up to the third leg of Ali’s existence, charity. A true Muslim to the core, he believes in giving back to the society and her people, the benevolence and favours Almighty Allah has bestowed on him. This he had been doing as a struggling lawyer. He is the Chairman of the Alanu Trust Fund of the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. This is a fund that caters for the less privileged that has medical challenges and brought to the Teaching Hospital.

In order to be able to reach out effectively in his philanthropic efforts, Ali set up the Yusuf Olaolu Ali Foundation, of which he is the sole financier so far. The foundation has intervened in many public institutions by donating several projects. The projects include the following: A Twin Dormitory of 40 bed space to the University of Ilorin, An Eighty bed Hostel to the Osun State University, A Ten Bed  fully equipped Advanced Trauma Centre to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, and a Thirty unit ICT center to the Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University, .

Others include a thirty unit ICT center to the College of Law, Crescent University Abeokuta, Ogun State, endowment of the Crescent University College of Law Building, Forty unit E Resource Center to the Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin; brand new Kia Rio 2014 Model to the University of Ibadan for the use of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies of the university. Twenty Room Luxurious Hostel to Fountain University, Osogbo; built and fully equipped a court complex donated to Osun State Judiciary, Established a Kidney Dialysis Center , where patients treatments are subsidized by his Foundation; Thirty unit E Resource Center for Summit University, Offa Kwara State. The foundation also donated a patrol vehicle and some units of patrol motorcycles to the Nigerian Police, Kwara State Command.

The YOA Foundation   does a lot of other charity work, like award of scholarships to indigent students in secondary and tertiary institutions both within Nigeria and outside. It is also involved in the provision of wells and boreholes to communities, medical financial assistance to patients both within the country and outside and the development of literary awareness in secondary schools all over the country by entering into an annual sponsorship with the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).

In recognition of his many charity works within and outside Islam, he was appointed as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Ilorin Central Mosque.

Yusuf Ali has been awarded more than 250 honours from within and outside of Nigeria. He is listed in the American Biographical Institutes “Who is who”, as well as in Nigeria’s “Who is who”.  A few of the over 250 awards conferred on him include Lifetime Achievement Award by the Governing Board of Editors of the American Biographical Institute,West Africa International Golden Award for Excellence in Enterprise, Award of Excellence presented by AIESEC ILORIN, Award of Excellence as a Doyen of Legal Luminary in Nigeria by Nigerian Vogue Magazine, Special Award by Federation of International Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kwara State, Award of Excellence by the National Association of Muslim Law Students, National Headquarters, Abuja, and Distinguished Personality Award presented by the Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan.

Other awards include Merit Award by the Nigerian Institute of Management, Kwara State Branch, Award of Excellence by the National Association of Polytechnic Students; Award of Excellence by the Students’ Union, University of Ilorin, Award of Exemplary Leadership and Service by Rotary Club, Ilorin, Merit Award by the Ibadan Boys High School Old Boys Association, Merit Award by All Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools, Osun State Branch, Kwame Nkrumah Leadership Award of 2010, Africa Legal Icon by All Africa Students’ Union, Award by the NBA Women  Forum for Immense Contribution and Activities to the Forum, Police Friendly Award 2009 by the Kwara State Police Command, Kwame Nkrumah Leadership Award on Education Per Excellence/Icon of Societal Development by the West African Students’ Union, Commander of Great IFE , (COI) by the Obafemi Awolowo University National Alumni, Honorary Degree of Doctor Of Letters (HonorisCausa) of Al Hikma University, Honorary Fellow, Kwara State Polytechnic ( Honoris Causa ),

The awards also include; Award of Excellence as Icon of Greater Nigeria by National Association Of Nigerian Students (NANS), Jarman Matasan Arewa Najeriyaby Northern Youth Council Of Nigeria, Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) of Fountain University, Osogbo, Award of Recognition by Ibadan Boys High School Old Students Association, Ibadan, Award  for selfless service and immense contribution to the promotion of peace and stability in West Africa, by West African Network for Peace Building, Accra Ghana, Award of recognition as an accomplished professional by the Government of Kwara State at the 50th year celebration of the State in 2017, Recipient of the 2018 Peace and Humanitarian award of the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution , California State University, Sacramento, USA, and Doctor of Science Degree HONORIS CAUSA, in Public Administration by Oduduwa University, Ipetumodu, Osun State.

Ali is a firm believer in the eradication of corruption in Nigeria. So much is the believe that he authored the book: “Anatomy of Corruption in Nigeria: Issues, Challenges and Solutions”. In a recent interview with this reporter, he said: “Nigeria is the only country I know where corruption has ethnicity and religion. If a Yoruba man accuses a non-Yoruba person of being corrupt, it is strictly in the prism of tribalism. If a Christian says a Muslim is corrupt, it is immediately seen as a religious issue. We leave the substance and pursue the shadow. Nobody will ever try to look into the allegation and see if it is likely to be true. No, we would rather focus on who says it and not on what he has said. So this is our country and if we don’t change, it is quite unfortunate”.

He believes that when Nigerians gets tired of the ills that plague the country, they will rise up against such ills. “When people even say we’ll pray to God, I hold the view that God doesn’t have time for unserious people like us. He is busy attending to serious people elsewhere. These are problems that God Himself has given us brains to solve so why should we still be saying it is God? If a person steals in America or the UK nobody says “God will catch him”. God won’t catch anybody because He has given you the brain to go and work and solve it.

As for Ali, he has vowed to continue to be a good example of what patriotic Nigerians should be. “In my own little way, those who know me know what I stand for and I don’t hide my views. People know that I cherish integrity, anti-corruption, saying the truth and of course, I like being a good neighbour. I’ve said at times that our situation has gotten to a point where speaking out now may be akin to trying to speak to the deaf and dumb and that I’m not going to be wasting my time anymore. I will take care of my own little corner of the world, do and act rightly, behave correctly and generally try to ensure that I keep my environment the way I think is proper for good environment to be kept in terms of where I operate from and that is very important for me. I always say that if every person keeps his own corner clean, the whole street would become clean and the same applies with the country as a whole”.

As a way of solving the myriad of problems facing the country, Ali believes that identification of the problem is germane. “The way forward is to ensure first of all that we have a correct diagnosis of what the problem is, before we start to apply medication. If you’re looking at symptoms and you don’t look at the root cause, there is a problem. ‘Why are we where we are’, I think should be the starting point. You can’t offer palliatives to a person with a terminal disease; palliatives can never solve the problem of a terminally ill person”.

He says going back to the good old days when Nigeria is well respected in the comity of nations could be that beginning. “Let’s restore all the good things of the past that made the rest of the world to respect us like hard work, integrity, honesty, good neighbourliness and empathy. These are things that our forebears had and the world respected them for. Let’s do less or do away with the worship of materialism, less of undermining institutions, less of the “me and my family alone” mentality. Let us know that if you or members of your family are well fed and go to bed satisfied and your neighbours are hungry, you are in danger”, he concluded.

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