Lawyer and community relations practitioner, Oladunni Afolabi, tells TOFARATI IGE about her plans to build monuments in honour of the victims of the Dana plane crash

What can you recall of your childhood?

I was born in Agege, Lagos, and I am the third of five children; four girls and a boy. I attended Ifako International Nursery, Primary and Secondary School in Iju, Lagos. My mother doted on me a lot while growing up because my father wasn’t usually around. For my tertiary education, I attended the University of Lagos, and I graduated with a degree in law. I was called to the bar in 2004. After that, I observed the National Youth Service Corps in Yola, Adamawa State, and I regard that as one of the best experiences of my life.

Why did you choose to study law?

When a child is witty and argumentative, people often say that such a child should become a lawyer. That’s what happened in my case. Personally, I was torn between mass communication and law. While studying law, the courses I enjoyed most were the ones about corporate social responsibility and human rights. I have always been drawn towards helping people. I remember that when I was in secondary school, there was a student that had Down syndrome in my class; she was a bit slower than other students. While everybody else acted funnily towards her, I always tried to help her.

Can you recall your first experience in court as a lawyer?

My first court experience was in Adamawa State. I was supposed to defend a teacher who raped a little girl. I felt I should have been defending the little child, but it was the man who came to us. The girl was defended by the state. As a lawyer, one is not supposed to be biased but because of my interest in social justice and vulnerability, most of the questions I asked the man were aimed at indicting him. Anyway, I did all I could but the man eventually went to jail. However, he was supposed to get a longer sentence but we helped to have it reduced.

Don’t you think it would have been better if you had washed your hands of that case?

Absolutely, that would have been the best thing to do. But the law is an ass; even if a person is caught committing a crime, he is presumed innocent until convicted by a law court. I handled that case during my national youth service, but at this stage, I cannot accept any case that is against my principles and values.

Do you still practise law?

Not anymore. The last time I went to court was over a decade ago. I’m more into advocacy now. I would rather write about legal issues.

You’re working on a project that aims to immortalise victims of the Dana airplane crash of 2012. How exactly do you intend to do that?

The project is tagged, Victims of Dana Air Crash Memorial Project: raising a generation of aviation experts. A lot of lives were lost in that disaster and I think we need to continually tell the story; not for tragedy but for development and solutions to aviation problems in Nigeria. I also feel monuments like this would bring succour to the family members of the victims. The project is in several stages but the first part involves rehabilitating the public schools in Iju community, and building monuments in honour of the victims.

Were any of your friends or relatives involved in the Dana crash?

I didn’t know any of the victims directly. However, there was a lady involved in the crash who had worked in a company I also worked. My brother also narrowly missed that ill-fated flight. Lastly, the crash happened in the area where I live. I saw first-hand how the accident happened.

What do families of the victims stand to benefit from this project?

It will serve as a form of closure for them. After the World Trade Centre in New York was attacked, the monument built did not bring the victims back but it serves as a form of remembrance till date. Monuments remind you of events, and they ensure that you don’t forget the lessons learnt.

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

My ultimate goal is to see that schools in Iju are rebuilt as a public affairs project in honour of the victims of the Dana plane crash. I want it to be that as a result of this project, the Iju community has a different story beyond tragedy. I also hope that this project would inspire students to pursue careers in aviation. It is important to build a human resource base so that we can develop a deliberate competent strategy to solve aviation problems in Nigeria. To build such a base, there must be excellent education. And that is what informed the decision to focus on the rebuilding of schools as the first phase of the project. I believe that when families of the victims see what has been done in their honour, they would have reasons to smile. Another part of the project is a memorial wall, which would have the names, pictures and profiles of all the victims.

How do you relax?

I have not unwound in the past two years. However, whenever I want to relax, I read books.

Are you a fashionable person?

I am a very formal person and I’m not so big on fashion. Whatever I wear, I like to be covered up. I believe you can be fashionable without exposing flesh. I used to like heels a lot but I tend to wear a lot of loafers now. For my hairdo, I usually carry braids.

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