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The story of Christopher Sapara Williams, the first Nigerian lawyer called to the English bar

The story of Christopher Sapara Williams, the first Nigerian lawyer called to the English bar

Christopher Sapara Williams made history on November 1879 when he became the first Nigerian to be called to the English bar.

Born on July 14, 1855 in Sierra Leone although he was reported to have been of Ijesha origin, he studied law at Inner Temple in London and on November 17, 1879, he was called to the English bar.

In 1888, Williams returned to Lagos colony, as it was then to begin practising law. He enrolled in the Nigerian Bar Association where he became chairman from 1900 to 1915 when he died.

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In 1901, he was nominated to the legislative council where served as member till he passed away. His judgement was called to test in 1903 when a crises arose over the tolls collected from traders by local rulers. The then Governor William MacGregor requested views from Williams, Charles Joseph George and Obadiah Johnson as indigenous opinion leaders. They suggested that the tools be retained as against changing them to subsidies so as not to upset the rulers.

Williams was nominated for a knighthood but the recommendation was turned down.

In 1904, Williams suggested that "the present boundary between the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria be re-adjusted by bringing the southern portion into Southern Nigeria, so that the entire tribes of the Yoruba-speaking people should be under one and the same administration". Sir Fredrick Lugard however opposed the suggestion on the ground that provinces should not be divided on ethnic lines but on social and political lines.

He visited England in 1905 and tendered some suggestions to the colonial office. He called for the establishment of “a teachers training college in Lagos, and having more continuity of policy by the governors of the colony.” He also spoke against the Seditious Offenses Ordinances of 1909 that suppressed press criticism against the government. To him, "freedom of the Press is the great Palladium of British liberty ... Sedition is a thing incompatible with the character of the Yoruba people, and has no place in their constitution ... Hyper-sensitive officials may come tomorrow who will see sedition in every criticism and crime in every mass meeting.” The bill was however eventually passed.

On his return to Nigeria, Williams called on Herbert Macaulay encouraging him to convene an inaugural meeting of the Lagos Auxiliary of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society on 30 August 1910. This gave Macaulay a platform for opposing the government.

In 1914 when the northern and southern protectorates were amalgamated, Williams made a member of the new legislative council before his demise a year later.

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