Be Inspired! How I became a SAN from motor mechanic – Niyi Akintola

Chief Adeniyi Michael Akintola’s (SAN) core is made of steel. To borrow the words of Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart, Akintola’s palm kernel was not cracked for him by a benevolent spirit, but through doggedness and resilience.

His is the proverbial story of an eagle, which after flocking for a while with turkeys on the ground, discovered itself, developed wings and flew over obstacles, thorns and mines laid on its journey.
The erudite lawyer and rights activist saw, tasted, chewed and swallowed poverty with its accompanying suffering, but refused to be caged.
From apprentice motor mechanic, to motor boy and apprentice photographer, he is one of the leading lawyers in Nigeria, even though he didn’t see the four walls of a secondary school.
The man highly rated as one of the major contenders for Oyo State governorship seat in 2019 says:  “I never saw the four walls of any secondary school. My life has been that of divine favour from God. When I finished primary school, I had the opportunity of going to secondary school after I passed the common entrance examination, but there was no money. By the standard of that time, I was a local champion, because I was the best in my primary school; I used to be the letter writer for people in the village.
I’m a village boy. I lived with my paternal father, who used to be a rich man by the local standard at that time. He was a local chief and had many farmsteads, and was a descendant of a warrior. He had eight wives. My foster mother was the last wife.  I never really knew who my biological parents were then. But they were alive; I was fostered away at the age of six years to the last wife of my grandfather, who had no child of her own. So, I thought I was her only child and was pampered by her, and my grandfather loved me, and I thought he was my father.
“As fate would have it, as I was dropping my pen after the First School Leaving Certificate Examination, the old man died. That was when I started knowing what suffering was. I got to my foster mother when I was six years old, so I knew no other place; I knew no other person other than Mama Adepitan, who I thought was my mum. She was actually my foster mother; I knew that when my grandfather died. I was then introduced to my biological parents; I didn’t belong, as I knew nobody there, and where they were staying was 15 kilometres away from where my grandfather lived. There was no way I could further my education, because my biological father, in his wisdom, thought that having sponsored my elder brother from the same mother, he had met his obligation towards my mother’s side. I actually wanted to go to school; I had passed three different common entrance examinations, the school fee was five pounds, but my father refused to pay. “
With that seeming cul-de-sac to his dream of furthering his education, the young Akintola was apprenticed to a mechanic at Mokola Roundabout by Ogunpa River in Ibadan. He ran away from the mechanic workshop after spending some months, and became a motor boy.
My life as a motor boy
However, his father frowned at this show of truancy and so barred Akintola from his house.That was how the poor boy became a vagabond living in the motor park. At that time, the plank market at Ibadan was at Oke Bola and the spare parts market was also there. God intervened in his life when, towards the end of 1971, a trader came from Kaduna to buy planks. He volunteered to follow and offload the consignment, which was conveyed by his master’s truck. His master, Alhaji Muraina was a popular transporter who had the famous  inscription ‘Alejolowo’ (Money is a stranger, take care of it), on his vehicle. He agreed for his ward to have the adventure.
Life as apprentice photographer in Kaduna
The trip marked a new phase in Akintola’s life. After offloading the planks at Tudun Wada, he absconded. For three days, the old man was looking for him , but could not find him, even though the little ‘rascal’ was seeing him.
He himself recalls: “I roamed the streets for two days and I saw Ade Photos, by the side of Hamdala Chemist. The owner hailed from Ogbomoso. Incidentally, he happened to be a Baptist like me. My paternal grandmother was a Baptist. So, I approached Ade, and told him that I wanted to learn the trade- photography. He asked who my parents were; I told him that I had none. He couldn’t believe it, but I was persistent, and he took me to meet Rev. Akingbala, pastor in charge of First Baptist Church in Kaduna. Coincidently, he was the one who baptised me, and the man urged him to take me. That was how I started as an apprentice photographer.
Mr. Ade lived in a room and a parlour, and I was living with him, he was still a bachelor and had two of his younger brothers living with him. I was sleeping in the parlour with his brothers, who were in secondary school in Kakuri, and when they came back from school, I was in the habit of reading their books. Towards the end of my second year with him, I became so proficient in English, Economics and other subjects. It got to a stage that I had to teach those two boys – Tunde and Bolaji.”
On the 13th day of his staying with Ade Photos, something unusual happened, he printed photographs and dried them. “My master had gone for choir practice and somebody came and needed four passport photographs urgently. My seniors in the workshop told him that our master wasn’t around. The man was lamenting, and I volunteered to take the picture and the other apprentices were asking me if I was crazy. I ignored them and took the picture, developed the film in the darkroom and printed it out. I was drying it when our master came back. He was shocked and asked, ‘who is doing that?’ Everybody pointed at me and said it was Mike. My Christain name is Mike. He bent down, looked at the dryer and took the photographs, beautifully made. He allowed it to dry and cut the photographs to passport size. And he never said a word. He dashed out of the studio; I didn’t know that he had gone to see Rev. Akingbala. He told him that he had seen wonders in his studio, that the boy you told me to take had just finished printing photographs, and those who had been there for two years couldn’t do that. The Reverend told him to go and bring me. I came and he prayed for me, but my master warned me never to repeat that.
In 1977, something drastic happened. My roommates, the brothers of my master, were to take their GCE Ordinary Level, as external candidates. My master bought forms for them and I also begged him to buy for me. It was two naira then, and he obliged. I was planning for my freedom after five years. I took the exam and passed, but Tunde and Bolaji failed, and that became a subject of discussion in the church, as everybody wanted to see who the boy was.
Life in Jos
He later moved to Jos, with Ade and emerged with the best result in the GCE Advanced Level 1978/79 Examinations  in the entire Benue and Plateau states. That feat turned Akintola into an instant celebrity.
Desiring a career in the military,  he entered the Nigerian Military School. and was there when his admission letter to read Sociology at the University of Ife came. “I opted to read Sociology because there was nobody to guide me. I was able to save some money from teaching of the children of celebrities in the church. My greatest ambition then was to become a teacher, but Deacon Okeniyi called me and asked me to stop wasting my time and go to university. All this while, nobody looked for me. I never even knew that my father had died.
I left Southwest at the age of 10 and coming to the university was the first time I came down south after I left with the lorry to off load planks in Kaduna,” Akintola said.
Journey to silk rank
He added: “It was in the course of our registration in the university and comparing notes with fellow students that the late Prof. Iluyomade from Ondo town, who was the Dean Faculty of Law, and later the Attorney general of Ondo State, heard our conversation, he turned and said: ‘young man, which department are you’. I told him, Sociology. He said: ‘why not come to Law, you had the language and I have seen the potential in you that you would be a good lawyer’. I was discussing with five other boys and he was impressed by the way I was making my points.
“He said I should come to see him. I went, he gave me a Change of Course form. Dr. Ezekiel Adetunji, was the registrar, I never knew him, but he saw my tribal marks and he too had tribal marks, and hailed from my hometown, though I never knew him because I had become an Hausa boy. It was while in Jos that I met Rochas Okorocha, Imo State governor, we grew up together and we used to hawk together.
So, it was Prof Iluyomade who actually fired the imagination in me.
But I had a stumbling block in one woman, who was then the Assistant Registrar, Faculty of Law. She stood between me and admission to the Law programme. She said, as long as, she remained there, that I was going to study Sociology. I became confused and pulled out of the university in annoyance. I had vowed never to step into my father’s house. I was in search of one Rotimi Bolaji, who came to Jos for his national youth service, and he was a member of the Baptist Youth Fellowship, of which I was also a member. He was like an elder brother to me. I sought him, and he was the accountant of NNPC depot in Ibadan. On my way to his office, I passed my father’s compound and I didn’t enter. He was very happy to see me, and I told him I was coming from Ife. When I narrated my story and told him that I was pulling out from Sociology, he was annoyed, and advised me to go back to the university, I refused.
“I went to Ibadan Polytechnic, where I met Mr. Mabadeje, who was Academic Affairs officer, he promised to help, but he demanded N5 bribe from me. I had no money to give to anybody, as I was guarding the little I brought from Jos.
When Bolaji came back, I told him my experience, he said there was a publication that Ogun State Polytechnic advertised for students’ admission. I went to Abeokuta. I was admitted and they asked me what I was looking for here when I already had A Level, I said I wanted to enrol for HSC to prepare for the next academic session. I had the best result in West Africa. I had A in Economics, B in Literature and A in Government. I repeated the same in Cambridge examination. I now had three sets of Advanced Level papers. But, due to what that woman did to me at Ife, I refused to go back there.”
As it were, the bright student applied as Direct Entry candidate to the University of Ibadan, and was admitted. But the factor of indigence trailed him. When he entered the university, bursary was in vogue, but a year after, after the scheme was abolished, and he saw the other side of life.
But, according to him, God showed up. Some good -spirited people in Ibadan Lagelu 16 Club headed by Alhaji Tunde Bello spotted him and told the rest that there was a very brilliant student reading Law at the University of Ibadan. “They sponsored me even to the Law School. When I graduated, I really suffered. Don’t forget that nobody in my father’s compound knew that I was in the university.”
How I reunited with my family
He had submitted his final year project and was waiting for the degree examinations results, when a cousin, the daughter of his uncle, who came for matriculation as one of the  Associate Education Certificate course candidates spotted him on the campus.
“Incidentally, she and I finished primary school together, we were supposed to go to secondary school together, her father paid for her, but nobody paid for me. She had done a course in teacher’s education to qualify as a Grade Two teacher, and she now came to do Associate Certificate in Education. She saw me and asked, ‘Mike what are you doing here?’ I told her I was graduating in Law and she couldn’t believe it. I took her to Independence Hall, where I was living. She raced down to my family compound to inform them, because all along they thought that I was dead. For 15 years, no member of my father set eyes on me.
She went and reported to her father. Her father had mistakenly thought that my mum was hiding me, and so was castigating  and almost drove life out of her. My mother followed her to the university, but unfortunately they didn’t meet me as I had gone to see one of my foster fathers (those members of the club) who gave me wings to fly in terms of getting good education. It was Chief Ogunyemi, who was a permanent secretary that actually identified me and took me to that club, and that is how I became their ward.
So, I had gone to his house by the time my cousin, Funmilayo and my mum came to look for me. I really experienced the limit of suffering.
I came back the following month, my mother and Funmilayo repeated the visit and she saw me and dragged me to the family compound.
Most of them never believed that I was reading Law, to them, I was learning motor mechanic. Eventually they saw that it was true.
But something else followed. During my graduation, neither my mum nor I could pay for my graduation photograph, which was N4. I took the photograph, but I couldn’t pay. I lacked the courage to go and asked my foster fathers to give me the money.
So, I had no photograph from my first degree graduation. I had to go back to the university to study Political Science. To the glory of God, I hold first degree and Master’s degree both in Political Science. That was when I had started practising as a lawyer.”
I trekked daily from CMS to Law School, VI
“While going to the Law School, the club awarded me a scholarship of N3, 000. Typical me, I took the money to a bookshop and bought books of N2, 500, worth. When I got home, I thought my foster father would be impressed, but he said that I was stupid, and asked what I would be spending in Lagos. I had never been to Lagos before, so he now took me to Chief Areoye Oyebola, one of the editors of Daily Times. He was living at Aguda, Surulere and I stayed with him. He used to give me N20 every week to keep body and soul together.
I used to walk from Aguda to Masha every morning. I now paid 5kobo from Masha to Stadium and another 5 kobo from Stadium to CMS.
I was trekking from CMS to Law School, Victoria Island. I was doing that morning and afternoon, because I had to operate within the confines of that N20.
“When I finished, I had exhausted my goodwill with the club, so I couldn’t go back to them for my wig and gown. I didn’t have money to buy wig and gown. I practised law for 13 months without wig and gown. For my call to the Bar, it was Segun Olagunju who gave his own.
Cutting my professional teeth?
Exempted from NYSC because of of his stint with the military, Akintola got a job with Ibru Organisation to work with Federal Palace Hotel,  as its legal officer. “My salary was N400, which was a lot of money, with Santana car, and a flat at Surulere. At that time, even the Permanent Secretaries were earning N300. So, I was excited. I rushed to Ibadan to my foster’s father’s house, that is Chief Ogunyemi. He had the habit of going to the dining immediately he returned from work. So, I placed the letter on the dinning table. He read the letter and dropped it and continued with his meal, he never said a word; he was not excited.
“After his meal, he walked straight to me and said, ‘ young man, if I were you, I would sacrifice my today for my tomorrow’. I didn’t get the message. He said, ‘young man I can see in you the potential of being one of the greatest lawyers produced by this country if only you can sacrifice your today for tomorrow. I’m not forcing you, but let me take you to where you will be taught the abc of Law, you have learnt the theory; let me take you to where you will learn the practice and become a great lawyer’.
“I wasn’t happy, but I couldn’t say a word, because I was excited that I was going to be earning salary, riding a car, and living in a flat. Here was I, from mechanic workshop, to motor boy and apprentice photographer, I thought that I should be contented with that, but I could not voice it out.
The following morning, he called and asked me my decision. I said, ‘sir, as you said’ . He said, it is not what I said, what is your decision? I acceded to his advice.
I was taken to Lambe Arasi and Co., and he introduced me to him and that was how I cut my teeth in private practice.


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