His name is Olubukola Adetula, but you can call him “Bukie”. That’s what everyone calls him. A marverick lawyer, he runs a general practice in criminal, personal injury and immigration law in East Orange, New Jersey.
Sola Osofisan: Let’s talk about success. Do you think there is a difference between success in Nigeria and success here in America?
Bukie Adetula: I think for you to be able to compare success in both countries, you have to look at what the definition of success is.
Sola Osofisan: So what’s your definition of success?
Bukie Adetula: My definition of success is a career, a business, a profession where you’re enjoying doing what you’re doing… You’re a family man, happily married with children, a happy home environment… Some of the essentials in life are readily available to you, basic transportation –
Sola Osofisan: You have just described yourself.
Bukie Adetula: I think I’m successful. I think I have success. I think I have been blessed with success. We need to distinguish it, yes, from success in Nigeria, because here, some of the things that I think come with being successful… a lot of those things are not available in Nigeria. Being able to pick up your telephone and conduct business, being able to make phone calls, being able to move money from one account to another when you need to, being able to walk into a bank and say ‘look, I have this little project – here’s who I am – here’s what I’ve been able to achieve. I need some money to back me up.’ Being able to do that in a matter of 20 minutes – 25 minutes.
Those are all the things that help make you successful. You can sit back as a lot of people do in Nigeria and say ‘I have 50 million Naira in one bank account and then I have 120 million Naira in another one and I’m waiting on a 200 million Naira contract from Abuja and Lagos State government owes me 50 million Naira… Success is not about money. You could be successful and not have money and that’s the mistake people make.
Sola Osofisan: When did you come to America?
Bukie Adetula: January 1979, on a very wintry day. I arrived in a double-breasted suit with no jacket, no coat, into Buffalo, NY. Saw snow for the first time. Freezing cold weather as Buffalo is notorious for, and watching the snowflakes fall from the sky. The excitement of watching the flakes made me forget it was cold and I didn’t have a coat on.
Sola Osofisan: What were your first impressions, suddenly seeing white faces all over the place?
Bukie Adetula: Well, because one had been privy to movies and television, newspapers, magazines over the years, one sort of had some idea what America was going to be like. I expected the roads to be slightly better than they were. I expected the people to be able to understand me easily with my accent because after all, I understood them, so I was surprised when I found I had to repeat my questions a couple of times at JFK Airport as I waited to connect to Buffalo on a domestic flight. The food was obviously different, so I didn’t dare move near it. I just watched it from afar. People seemed friendly. They seemed very curious. They asked a lot of questions. Here’s this young man traveling by himself all the way from Nigeria, never been to the US before, leaving behind his father and his mother and all his siblings.
Sola Osofisan: What was their impression of Nigeria back in those days – and how has that impression changed over the years?
Bukie Adetula: Oh, Nigeria was a country that had a lot of money. There was oil money flowing. There were a lot of Nigerians in the US in various colleges on Federal government scholarships, State government scholarships, various bursary award payments that were being received by students here. The only other country that seemed to be able to compete with Nigerian students in those days was Iran. There was a lot of Iranian oil money also flowing around… a lot of students here on Iranian government scholarships. They used to drive the best cars in those days. They were able to afford the finest looking ladies, they got all the attention. They dressed well.
But we Nigerians then were able to hold our ground. We were perceived as coming from a wealthy country, well taken care of, good upbringing, here to study, here in search of a dream, to capture that dream and take it back to Nigeria to make Nigeria a better place. So, for us, it was all about coming here to get a solid education and then turning around and going home and using that education in a system that we believed had potential to flourish, was growing, was beginning to test the waters of democracy in 1979.
There was optimism. Americans respected us. You didn’t have what we now have these days where every corner you turn there’s some scheme or some scam, some 419 venture by some individual who decides its time to do things that will bring the country’s name down. We didn’t have all those then. I’m not saying it didn’t exist at all, but it wasn’t in the limelight. It was the exception, extreme exception in those days for things like that to happen. We got a lot of respect. Nigerian students were known to do very well in school in those days. We were the best students in the universities.
Sola Osofisan: Has that changed?
Bukie Adetula: Yes and no. And here’s what I mean. I think Nigerian students continue to excel in American institutions today. But what is different about today, when you compare it to 1979, is that the number of Nigerians in school in American institutions has reduced drastically. In short, Nigerians don’t come back here necessarily in pursuit of an education, but rather are coming here in an effort to escape from home. To run away from home, to run into America and make America home.
In those days, Nigerians were coming here with a specific goal in mind: get a solid education and then let’s head back home and let’s go and use it. So the number of Nigerians in institutions has reduced drastically. In those days, every major university in the US had a Nigerian Students Association and was represented. The institution I attended then, State University College at Buffalo, we had at the very minimum, 60-70 Nigerian students at any given time. And that was one institution.
So, that is what has changed. We don’t have that many Nigerians anymore in educational institutions. They come in here, they come in to pursue the dollar, they want to cut through the short cuts, they want to get straight to the money, and they don’t want to pay the dues anymore.
Sola Osofisan: You said earlier that it was difficult for the average white person to understand you when you first came here? Has that changed?
Bukie Adetula: For me? Well, after 25 years of being in this country, my accent has Americanized somewhat. I still have my Nigerian accent (but) being around this society for that long changes your accent.
Sola Osofisan: You don’t find yourself modifying your accent to suit a particular environment?
Bukie Adetula: No. I think after being here for so long I’ve sort of… my accent has leveled off. It now has its levels irrespective of whom I’m speaking with. It’s a different thing for instance if I’m speaking with a Spanish speaking person who speaks very little English and I’m trying to engage them in a conversation, so between my little Spanish and their very little English, I may find myself exercising some words and using some body language to get the things I’m saying understood. Other than in those exceptional situations, no, I think my accent has leveled off and I’m comfortable using the same accent whether I’m speaking with a Nigerian or a Yugoslavian or a Ghanaian or an American or a German.
Sola Osofisan: You have a long name. They do all sorts of things to names in America. What have they done to yours?
Bukie Adetula: Well, the one that really comes to mind, I mean my full first name is Olubukola and I’m called Bukie for short. That’s easy for Americans to pronounce. My surname, Adetula, is not that long, so you can teach the average American. A lot of the judges and lawyers, when they pronounce ‘Adetula’, they forget it’s an ‘a’ at the end of it. They think it’s an ‘o’, so it comes out ‘Adetulor’.
The only one I think of is my first semester in Law School. I had a professor, Paul Trachtenberg, who taught us Contracts then, and as part of the first semester getting us comfortable in the Law program, he arranged for all the members of his class to visit him at his home and he arranged a little lunch/brunch type thing for us.
I just remember arriving at his door and his wife meeting us one after the other at his door and I introduced myself and she acknowledged me more favorably than the others and I enquired why and she said her husband had spoken to her about me and he’d had difficulty pronouncing my name in class so when he came home after the first day of class, he spent time with his wife practicing how to pronounce my name. She had gotten used to my name and so she acknowledged me and told me that it had really troubled her husband and he was determined that the next time in class he was going to pronounce it properly.
Sola Osofisan: Did he ever pronounce it properly?
Bukie Adetula: Oh yes. I mean it takes time, but they get adjusted to it.
Sola Osofisan: Interesting. Talking about judges and courts, you’re a lawyer.
Bukie Adetula: I come from that background. My father is a lawyer. He’s practiced law in Nigerian since 1962. So, I’ve been around the law basically. That was like a beginning point for me. It’s always interested me. I was able to watch my father practice his profession for years, spent some time around the office –
Sola Osofisan: You never considered doing something else? Or were you steered in that direction by your father?
Bukie Adetula: No. For a brief moment I thought I was going to be a soldier. I think I must have been about age 8-9 then. I mean in the hey-days of Nigerian military rule. It was quite exciting to watch the military guys do what they have to do in the days of General Yakubu Gowon. It was quite impressive to see them. It caught my attention. It crossed my mind for a little short while. Thank God I quickly dismissed the thought out of my mind.
Sola Osofisan: Why?
Bukie Adetula: Because as I reflect on that now, I can see that I would have made a lousy soldier. I make a much better lawyer.
Sola Osofisan: You would have been richer than you are now. (General laughter). Or you would have become a Governor or a Head of State.
Bukie Adetula: Well, you have a point there. I probably would have done something like that. I revisited the issue after getting my law degree and one of the things I considered was joining the American Armed Forces in the capacity of a legal practitioner, because they do have openings within the military which they encourage lawyers to come aboard. They bring them in at a slightly higher level, not right off the bottom. But of course, you have to go through every basic training also.
So, I thought about (that) when I left Law School as I tried to decide what areas I would like to go into, but I finally decided against that. I decided that private practice is really what I wanted to do and really what I thought I could excel in.
Sola Osofisan: You came to America from the outset to study Law?
Bukie Adetula: Yes. I actually left Nigeria eighteen months after I completed my secondary school education at the Government College, Ibadan, (1977). I left in 1979, January.
Sola Osofisan: Was it easier to leave Nigeria then? No international restrictions?
Bukie Adetula: There were no restrictions. You still had to get admission at an institution here, which I did through my uncle who lived in Buffalo then. Pan American Airlines had their direct flight from Lagos to JFK, and the American Embassy was already at Eleke Crescent then. The long lines existed at Eleke Crescent even then. You had to get to Eleke Crescent in the early hours of the morning to be able to get in. I wouldn’t say it was a difficult process, but I had to satisfy the requirements of the Consular Officer at Eleke Crescent. Certified copies of my School Certificate (result) from WAEC were delivered to them. After two or three efforts at Eleke, I got my visa and all I had to do was buy a ticket and hop on Pan American Airlines.
Sola Osofisan: I’ve seen you in court a couple of times. It’s like you get an adrenaline charge when you stand in court. You enjoy law practice that much?
Bukie Adetula: It’s the one thing I enjoy doing. It’s like a high for me.
Sola Osofisan: What aspect of it gives you that high?
Bukie Adetula: Well, it’s the aspect where you have to stand before a Jury of twelve people, representing the interest of the client on a very serious charge, knowing fully well that the client is relying upon you, expecting you to perform wonders and now looking at the Jury and trying to convince them of the innocence of your client. And the high of course is when you successfully convince them. It’s a high that I think everybody needs to experience at least once in his or her life. No words can describe it. You’re light-headed for days, sometimes weeks. In some instances, I still look back on cases I have tried three-four-five years ago and I sit back and I reflect on that moment when the Jury announces its verdict and I still get the high.
Sola Osofisan: Talking about highs, what have you had to do to get where you are today? To become the successful and happy person you claim to be today, what have you had to do? And what can others do to be where you are today?
Bukie Adetula: One of the things I always thank the good Lord for is a very happy home. One of the things that I think has contributed to my success is having a wife who’s extremely supportive – a wife who’s always been supportive of my profession, who’s always been able to play the role of an assistant, a partner, an adviser and somebody you can cry on her shoulders.
Sola Osofisan: Oh, you cry?
Bukie Adetula: Oh, of course. There are times you do that. Once in a while you lose a case and you start second-guessing yourself, you need to cry to somebody. I have a wonderful wife who’s always been able to –
Sola Osofisan: Put me on speed-dial. Call me the next time you’re crying. (General laughter).
Bukie Adetula: So, that’s been very significant. That’s been very helpful. I must thank the Lord for her. Needless to say, having children, watching your children grow encourages you –
Sola Osofisan: How does that encourage you?
Bukie Adetula: Well, I’ll give you an example. I remember about five-six months ago, I think September, just before school started, my wife had taken the kids out for the back-to-school shopping. One of the things she had to do was make sure she bought a new pair of sneakers for my son who is 14 years of age. When she got to the store, she called me on my cell phone and said ‘do you know how much the sneakers cost?’ And I said whatever it is; it can’t be more than 50-70 bucks. She said ‘no, the one he wants is $250.’
I choked on that for a minute and then I just smiled. In that moment, I reminded myself that what is life all about? Why are we doing all these hustling and running around and working so hard? It’s because of those kids, and if that’s what makes him happy – and he’s been a good kid – why not? And I said to her, buy it. Go ahead and buy it for him. That’s the joy of having kids. That’s the joy you get from knowing that all these hard work is for them, it’s to be able to make life a better place for them as our children, so that encourages me…
Sola Osofisan: So, give me a summary of what others looking up to you have to do to be in a similar place? Become lawyers?
Bukie Adetula: It helps. I mean it doesn’t hurt. It’s an exciting profession. It’s a rewarding profession-
Sola Osofisan: Or attend 5 to 6 universities in America?
Bukie Adetula: It helps. I mean one of the things I did in the first few years I came to America was – as I said – focus on education. During those few years, not only did I get my JD degree in law. I also obtained a BA, obtained a BS. I also obtained a Masters degree. I’m licensed to practice in a few jurisdictions in America. So, it helps. I’m glad I did it. There are other things of course. There are other professions that can be pursued by individuals. There are a lot of successful Nigerians and people from all over the world in the medical field, in the accounting field –
Sola Osofisan: So, if you want to be successful in America, education is always good.
Bukie Adetula: Education is very good.
Sola Osofisan: What else?
Bukie Adetula: With education as the backbone, it helps you develop your business ideas. You can go into areas of business, you can establish businesses. You can pursue a profession. You can explore possibilities of political positions. For instance, one of the areas that I hope more and more we’ll be seeing Nigerians get into is the political arena here in America.
|“Nigerians don’t come back here necessarily in pursuit of an education, but rather are coming here in an effort to escape from home”