Adebayo Ogunmeno wears many roles with pride. There's his regal status as prince of his homeland in Nigeria and his professional role as attorney in Kansas City, Kansas. He recently added another title to his bulging resume'-- that of published author. His first book, a how-to, offers rights advice to everyday citizens, the same group he has a 20-year history defending in court. But, Ogunmeno's titles don't stop with attorney and author. The 54-year-old is bracing for what would be his most prestigious life role: that of king.
Ironically, Ogunmeno views his many roles as intermingled, all helping to advance his chances of the highest tribal honor. While Ogunmeno is of royal blood in his father's lineage, it's his position in the family tree on his mother's side that places him in line for the highest title in his Yoruban tribe in Remo, a territory of 1/2 million people. In other words, Ogunmeno is a direct descendant of the town's founder, a relative of his mother. Ogunmeno admits there is competition for the seat among the tribe's other princes. However, if asked by the tradition-steeped ruling house counsel to assume the role, he would readily accept.
The process doesn't call for campaigning. But counsel members will consider the candidates' resume's in deciding the tribe's top position. The elders also consult spiritual leaders in making this decision, relying on Ifa, or the spiritual leaders' predictions for the future.
His role upholding America's legal justice system, and his book, just published in November, should help propel him to the top of the list of candidates for the office. However, he's not sure just how many princes would accept the position of king, if offered.
" Just like here, not everybody is interested in running for office," he said.
In order to be considered for king, the Remo tribe's current king would have to either die, or be removed from office. Kings serve for life. The sitting elder statesman is in fine health, despite his advancing age of late 70s, Ogunmeno said. Nevertheless, Ogunmeno said "the chances (that he will sit on the throne) are very, very high."
According to tradition, kings don't make laws, but are charged with settling disputes, a process Ogunmeno has become very familiar with while defending clients in courts of law here. Kings represent one of two forms of law upheld throughout Nigeria. One is traditional, of kings, the other is modern, a system established during British rule. Each rules in different cases. For instance, disputes involving land normally would be handled in traditional court, such as that ruled by kings. The only time such disputes would be handled by the modern system of law is when the dispute could not be settled in the traditional system. But, such cases are rare. If not able to be resolved in the traditional system, and the case was sent to the modern system, all parties would be hostile. Cases involving outsiders (non-tribal members) are settled in the modern system, as well as political and business issues. "Going to modern court is like breaking with tradition and a last resort," Ogunmeno said. "We can't be friends."
Ogunmeno first considered a career in law after his high school civics class visited the local courthouse, where he observed judges wearing the white wigs and long robes, in English tradition. Ogunmeno said the site of dark-skinned Africans wearing white wigs and long robes was hard to forget.
"My hero was a lawyer in Nigeria," he said. "And, I just liked the way lawyers were represented. I said, 'I think I like this.'" He came to this country not because his native Nigeria lacked good universities, but for the sense of adventure that accompanies seeking a higher education in a foreign country. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science from a university in Washington, D.C., before earning a law degree at Washburn University in Topeka.
He decided to write a book after nearly 20 years of practicing law here, where he constantly witnessed what he considers the injustices of the legal system. These injustices are not, however, unique to America, but are wrought throughout much of the world, including his native Nigeria.
"Silence is Power" is a 100-page epitaph, available at Amazon.com. The book offers legal advice based on the rights offered citizens in the U.S. Constitution. Ogunmeno said many Americans are either unaware of such rights, or forget about them in tense situations, such as being questioned by police.
"I've defended many individuals accused of breaking city, state, or federal laws," Ogunmeno writes in his book, adding that some were "tricked" into confessing. "Others," he writes, "thought the police were their friends and casually made statements off the record--statements that were later used to convict them."
In the book, Ogunmeno states that the best response to police questioning is silence. Those being questioned by law enforcement should never offer information, except identification, such as drivers' license and proof of insurance. All Americans have the right to representation and should refuse to answer questions unless provided legal representation. Otherwise, Ogunmeno said, by the time the case lands on his desk, it's often too late.
"Before they get to attorneys, they already give up their rights," he said. "It makes it difficult to represent them."
In fact, Ogunmeno goes a step further in his book, giving examples in which law enforcement officers often ask leading questions in order to obtain a confession, sometimes making statements that seem logical at the time. They ask questions such as, "Do you know why I stopped you?" Finally, law enforcement officers might even tell those they're questioning that innocent people don't need attorneys.
What attorneys such as Ogunmeno often face, as a result, are sometimes innocent people whose rights have been violated and their reputations put at risk. Many citizens mistakenly believe their names will be cleared if they cooperate. Sometimes, this need to be cleared of any wrongdoing citizens to give law enforcement officers permission to search their cars or other property.
"That's a big, big mistake," Ogunmeno said. "Police know the law and the public doesn't and they (police) use it to their advantage."
Ogunmeno said he believes all of his experiences would serve him well as king. He would be proud to return to Nigeria.
"I'm a cultural, traditional person and that's why I'm interested," he said of the kingship. "If it happens, it would be a dream come true."