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Prof. Clifford Olawoye: Legal luminary (December 11, 1938 – April 21, 2018)


One year after his passing, Professor Clifford O. Olawoye continues to be fondly remembered by his family and friends. Born on December 11, 1938, he died on April 2, 2018. They all remember him as an amiable, quick-witted and distinguished legal scholar and practitioner that trained many aspiring and practicing lawyers in academia and in legal practice and was generous in the deployment of his formidable intellect, wit and deep understanding of the law to his family and friends and within every community with which he was associated.

Olawoye spent his early life in Ondo Town where he was born. He began his formal education at the St. Andrew’s Primary School, Idimoge, Ondo and as a young pupil, he delighted his classmates with his sunny disposition and a powerful memory that helped him win many top prizes for the school in Bible quiz competitions.

In 1953, he was admitted to the Ondo Boys’ High School where he completed his secondary school education.

He relocated to Lagos in 1958 to work as a clerk in the Public Works Department (now Federal Ministry of Works and Housing) and then proceeded to London in 1960 to study law. He started his law studies at at the Holborn College of Law, Languages and Commerce and later gained admission into King’s College London where he completed his LL.B. in 1963. He was called to the English Bar in 1963 and the Nigerian Bar 1964.

He began his professional life in July 1964 as an Associate in the law firm of Burke & Co. In his pursuit of an intellectually rewarding legal career, he joined the Law Faculty of the University of Lagos as an Assistant Lecturer in September 1966. Concurrently, he enrolled in the faculty’s first LL.M programme, which he completed in 1968.

By dint of hard work and perseverance, Prof. Olawoye rose steadily through the ranks and was appointed Professor of Law in March 1978, at the age of 39. He served as Head of the Private and Property Law Department and by August 1980, was elected the fifth Dean of the Law Faculty.

However, the Adedevoh crisis that rocked the university at that time led to the wrongful termination of his employment by the military government. He, alongside two other similarly affected professors, successfully challenged the wrongful termination in court in the celebrated case of Olaniyan & Ors v. University of Lagos & Ors leading to the delivery of a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of Nigeria, in 1985, that affirmed the rights of employees whose terms of employment are governed by statute and declared the termination unlawful.

He retired from the university in August 1986 after twenty years of meritorious service and returned to private practice at his firm, C.O. Olawoye & Co. He ran a successful law practice and was an adviser to several of his colleagues who regularly consulted with him on complex legal matters.

Olawoye is generally recognised as an authority in Nigerian land law. He is the author of Title to Land in Nigeria, one of the leading books on Nigerian land law published by Evans Brothers Limited in 1974. He also had to his credit, many published articles and comments on a variety of law subjects.

One of his landmark contributions to legal academics is the founding of the Nigerian Journal of Contemporary Law in 1969 with eight other academics. He was a member of the Editorial Advisory Committee and the Editorial Board of the Journal of Nigerian Law. He also served on the Land Use Panel, established by the Federal Military Government in 1977. His professional life is aptly captured in the book “Among Giants: Memoirs of the Deans of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (1962 – 2012)” published by MIJ Professional Publishers.

Olawoye was committed to the advancement of the Ondo Kingdom. He was a foundation member of the Ondo Development Committee (“ODC”) were he first served as the Chairman of its Legal Sub-Committee from 1990-2014 and subsequently as Honorary Legal Adviser. He coordinated the preparation of several cases on behalf of the Ondo Kingdom and in defence of the crown, continuously rendering his services free of charge.

In recognition of his invaluable contributions to the progress and development of the Ondo Kingdom, the Osemawe, Oba Kiladejo Jilo III, in July 2010, conferred on him, the honorary chieftaincy title, Bamofin of Ondo Kingdom. He was also a founding member (and past president) of both the Ondo Club 75 and the Neumay Club.

He was a devout Christian and family man. He was married to Mrs. Grace Aramide Olawoye, a distinguished public administrator, of blessed memory, for over 51 years and their marriage was blessed with children and grandchildren.

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