John Idowu Conrad Taylor the renowned Nigerian lawyer is a seminal figure in Lagos. During his time practicing at the Nigerian Bar he was a commanding lawyer, well remembered for several high profile cases. In tributes paid to him after his death, at the young age of 56, he was remembered as bold, independent, fearless; a classical legalistic conservative lawyer who had received his legal training in England and went on to contribute immensely to the development of Nigerian case law. The former head of state of Nigeria said of Taylor: “In an age which corruption, intrigues, back biting and the love of office and power are fast becoming a virtue, Mr. Justice Taylor stood out from the crowd with a detachment that has brought immense dignity to the High Office of a Judge”.
John Idowu Conrad Taylor was born on 24 August 1917 at Victoria Street (close to Tinubu Square) in Lagos, Nigeria, the fourth child of Eusebius James Alexander Taylor and Remilekun Alice Taylor (née Williams). A well-known lawyer and nationalist in his own right, E. J. A. Taylor had been called to the Bar on 10 July 1905 and gained the nickname ‘the Cock of the Bar’. John Taylor’s education began in Lagos where he attended the Olowogbowo Methodist School (primary) and then the Methodist Boys High School (secondary) before leaving for England in 1929. It was in England that he completed his secondary education at Culford School in Bury St. Edmunds, between April 1929 and July 1936. His younger brother Alaba Taylor would also follow in his footsteps to be schooled at Culford. During his time at the school John was a school prefect and was described as ‘a fine sportsman’, being captain of the Athletics team, as well as playing rugby, hockey and cricket. He also won the Senior Boxing Cup.
In September 1936 he entered King’s College, London – the 1937-38 King’s College Calendar shows that he was a registered student in the ‘Faculty of Laws’. However in 1937 he transferred to Brasenose College, Oxford. His name was entered in the College admission book on 18 December 1936, where his home address was listed as Wycliff House, 58 Lewisham Park, London, S13. He matriculated at Oxford on 9 October 1937 (Michaelmas term), as a ‘commoner’ i.e. he did not hold a scholarship or an exhibition. He was the only African student to matriculate in 1937, and though the list of matriculants mainly included men from England, there were many other students from overseas (including Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, Egypt, South Africa, Argentina and Serbia).
From Michaelmas term 1937 to Trinity term 1940 Taylor lived in Oxford. During his first year (1937-1938) he resided on staircase XIV, room 3 (which cost him £15 a term) and during his second year (1938-1939) he lived on staircase XII, room 7 (£16 a term). The termly rates for room and board varied depending on which room a student could afford; payments ranged from £9 to £20. By 1939 war had broken out and its repercussions were being felt in Oxford. The Brasenose buildings were requisitioned by the military authorities from the beginning of the war and this meant that the students who were still in residence had to live elsewhere. Most undergraduates were moved to the Meadow Building at Christ Church College, and whilst we have no record of where Taylor lived from 1939-1940 it is likely to have been at Christ Church, where the Brasenose and Christ Church students (in some cases) even amalgamated their sports teams to make up the numbers. During this time the Principal of the College was William Teulon Swan Stallybrass, a lawyer (University Reader in Criminal Law and Evidence, editor of Salmond on Torts and Honorary Bencher of the Inner Temple) whose influence was widely felt around the College. He loved sport, especially cricket and was the leader in many Brasenose social gatherings. Taylor was probably also influenced by his tutor at Brasenose: Sir (Claud) Humphrey Meredith Waldock, the jurist and international lawyer. In 1947 Waldock became Chichele Chair of public international law at Oxford and later served as the British Judge in the European Court of Human Rights (1966-1974) and in the International Court of Justice (1973-1981). The College law society, the Ellesmere, was flourishing between 1937 and 1939. Luncheons and moots were regularly held and Taylor would have had every opportunity to participate in the life of the society. Whilst at Oxford Taylor also boxed (lightweight division) for Oxford University Amateur Boxing Club. He boxed in two Varsity matches (Oxford against Cambridge), but lost both in 1938 and 1939.
He had applied to join the Middle Temple on 6 September 1937 and was admitted on 6 October 1937. His first certificate of character was supplied by the Headmaster of Culford School who wrote ‘Taylor obtained his London Matriculation in September 1936, his subjects being English, French, History, Elementary Mathematics, Heat, Light and Sound. He is a boy of good average ability, a conscientious worker, and of sterling character’. The second was supplied by a Police Magistrate from Lagos. His report was equally favourable: ‘Mr J. I. C. Taylor…was known to me as a little boy, and his parents…are well known and highly respected people in Lagos; he has had the advantage of an early upbringing in a Christian home, and I believe him to be a gentleman of respectability who will live up to the reputation of his own august parents and uphold the traditions of whatever College into which he may be admitted.’ He was ultimately awarded a 2nd Class B.A. (Honours) degree in Jurisprudence, graduating on 27 July 1940, and on 14 January 1941 he was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple.
In December 1941 he returned to Nigeria where he joined his father’s law firm. On 22 June 1944 he was awarded an Oxford M.A. (in absence). The M.A. is a status within the University and did not entail further study or examination; at Oxford students can progress to the degree of MA on application, 21 terms after matriculation. Following his father’s death in 1947 Taylor was made head of the law firm and went on to serve on the Nigerian Bench for a total of 17 years. One well-known case the firm defended, in 1944 (before Taylor senior’s death) was that of a group of King’s College boys in Lagos. King’s College was a colonial government college which had been requisitioned by the army. This situation meant that its students were forced to move out and in response they wrote a petition protesting of the problems created by this move. Unfortunately the Taylor’s were unsuccessful; the student’s appeal was ignored and their ensuing strike culminated in the detention, trial and expulsion of 75 pupils, whilst their 8 ring leaders were conscripted into the British Army to fight in the 1939-1945 Second World War.
Taylor continued to play sport when he returned to Nigeria and between 1947 and 1949 captained the Nigerian cricket team. By 1956, aged 39, he had risen to the position of Judge of the High Court, Western Region (Nigeria) and four years later he was Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. In 1964 he became Chief Justice of the High Court of the Federal Territory of Lagos, a position he held until 1967. When Lagos State was created on 27 May 1967 Taylor became the first Chief Justice of the new state, which restructured Nigeria into a Federation of 12 states. Today Lagos is considered to be the financial centre of Nigeria, as well it’s most populous state. John Taylor died on 7 November 1973. His funeral was held at the Wesley Cathedral, Olowogbowo, where Dr Dr. Bolaji Idowu delivered a sermon of remembrance. The John Idowu Conrad Taylor Memorial Lecture, organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (Lagos branch) is held annually and delivered by an eminent jurist and he also has a street in Lagos named after him.