Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Hon Onueze Chukwujinka Okocha, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), has been honoured at different times across the country.
But when he clocked 40 years in law practice, his colleagues from the Ikwerre ethnic nationality decided to honour him. They resolved that he should be celebrated for his contributions to the growth of law practice in Ikwerreland, Rivers State and Nigeria.
The celebration of the 40 years of legal practice of Hon OCJ Okocha by Okpo Club of Nigeria (Association of Ikwerre Lawyers Worldwide) was a comprehensive affair. It attracted the best of the Rivers society under one roof. Senior and junior lawyers, other professionals, top government officials, traditional rulers, academics, media, women and youth groups.
For a man who has devoted 40 years of his life to the promotion of the rule of law and access to justice, an eternally grateful society gathered to appreciate his commitment to their welfare.
Guests learnt at the event that Hon OCJ Okocha had kicked against the elaborate celebration. But the executives of the Association of Ikwerre Lawyers Worldwide would have none of it. They insisted that such a legal luminary deserved all necessary accolades to encourage younger professionals to toe the right path.
Chukwuma Chinwo, Chairman of Okpo Club of Nigeria, said that OCJ Okocha’s contributions to the development of the legal profession are very fundamental, as he helped in grooming different generations of lawyers in the state.
He said: “We met him in the legal profession as a gentle giant who had no difficulty in stooping down to carry the younger ones along and make all have a sense of worth. There may be some who claim he did not do it as well as they would have wished, but we are very satisfied with what he did for us all.
“We realised that though he is of gigantic proportions by all means, he stood on the shoulders of pioneers who were giants in different endeavours.”
Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, who was the Special Guest of Honour at the celebration, thanked the Association of Ikwerre Lawyers Worldwide for honouring Okocha whilst he is still alive.
He said: “This is 40 years of successful law practice. I commend Chief OCJ Okocha for mentoring young lawyers to be worthy legal practitioners.
“He has had forty years of successful law practice because of commitment. He is committed to the profession. This is somebody that everything he does is centred on legal practice. He never comes to seek for contracts. For OCJ, law practice is his job”.
The governor said that God has kept Hon OCJ Okocha alive to continue to build young lawyers and contribute to the overall growth of the profession.
Chief Moses Wifa (SAN) said that Okocha deserves the honour because he is a bridge between old and young lawyers.
Former Rivers State Governor, Sir Celestine Omehia said Okocha is a living icon who has contributed to the development of the state.
He said: “We are here for the celebration of an icon. We are here to celebrate a man of honour. We are here to celebrate a legal icon. We are here to celebrate our own, OCJ Okocha .
“Usually, people celebrate a person when he is dead. But today, we are celebrating a living icon, OCJ Okocha”.
The highpoint of the celebration was the presentation of a book written in his honour by lawyers of Ikwerre ethnic extraction.
Titled: “Opening and Enriching the Channels of Justice in the Nigerian Society: Essays in Commemoration of Four Decades of Legal Practice of OCJ Okocha”, the book is “designed to be a celebration of the intellectual prowess of the generation of Ikwerre lawyers and judges coming after the honouree and particularly a show of commitment of Ikwerre lawyers to celebrate their own”.
Editor of the book, Chukwuma Chinwo, in the preface explained that the topics treated were carefully and deliberately chosen to reflect on the honouree and his contributions to the development of the law profession and grooming of young lawyers.
The foreward of the book was written by the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike.
He wrote: “Hon. OCJ Okocha means-several things to many persons. As a legal luminary, OCJ has been phenomenal in his pursuit for justice and defence of the rule of law and independence of our judiciary.
“For our youths, he has always been an inspiration and a counsellor to many of us who love and admire his exemplary leadership. He has contributed immensely to the advancement of legal education in Nigeria”.
Chief celebrant, Hon OCJ Okocha started his remarks with a praise hymn, “To God Be The Glory”. He thanked God for the privilege to serve humanity using the legal profession as a platform.
He said: “May I say how grateful and thankful I am at this celebration organised by Okpo Club to celebrate my attainment of 40 years of legal practice, and for the honour done to me today, and also for the award just bestowed on me. I give all the thanks, praise and glory to the Almighty and Eternal God for my richly blessed life, and for the success I have made of my career in the legal profession. I must also thank you all who have come here today to honour me, and also thank all those, living and dead, who have in their several ways helped me along the way.”
He recounted his experiences through the practice of law since he was called to Bar in 1978, maintaining that he has continued to remain focused in pushing for the promotion of the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and greater access to justice by members of the society.
In his foreword to the book that has been presented to the public today, His Excellency, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, CON, GSSRS, POS (AFRICA), Governor of Rivers State, has stated that yours truly “…. has been phenomenal in his pursuit for justice and defence of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary”. That is true, if I may humbly say so myself. That is also what all of us who are lawyers, and all of us who are judges and magistrates, must most chiefly concern ourselves with. As the motto of the Nigerian Bar Association loudly proclaims, our responsibility is and always ought to be : PROMOTING THE RULE OF LAW.
“Sometimes, indeed most times, when I reflect on my life, and wonder what, if any, I have achieved, or I would like to achieve, I settle on the thought that I would personally like to be an inspiration to others to join the legal profession, and do much more than some of us have tried to do, to improve the machinery in place in Nigeria for the administration of justice, and the maintenance and enforcement of law and order. I do hope that, God being my helper, I will remain faithful to the pursuit of that thought, and the ideal which I hope to attain for so doing. Happily, I seem to be making a success of that aspiration, as three of my own children, without any prompting by me, have studied Law and become legal practitioners.”
He expressed gratitude to his wife, Mrs Ifeoma Okocha, who has been a pillar of support all through the years, enabling him to carry out his responsibilities for the good of the society.
Like every other great professional leader, Okocha also has people who have mentored him on his way to becoming a living icon.
“May I also, with the greatest respect to you all, crave your kind indulgence to use this opportunity to thank all those who had helped me to enter the legal profession, and to build my law practice, my MENTORS, so to speak, and some others. First, Chief Richard Akinjide, CON, SAN, FCIArb (UK), in whose Law Firm in Ibadan I did my Law Office Attachment in 1978, as a student of the Nigerian Law School. He has led and still continues to lead me in several matters before the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Second, the late Alhaji Shettima Liberty, who was the Honourable Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Borno State, when I arrived Maiduguri in August, 1978, for National Service in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Third, the late Professor Niki Tobi, CON, former Justice of the Supreme Court, who was Dean at the Faculty of Law, University of Maiduguri, where I was later re-deployed for NYSC Primary Assignment, to lecture the students in Nigerian Legal System and Constitutional Law, during the 1978/79 Academic Session. Next my professional father, the late Chief C. A. B. Akparanta, SAN, in whose law firm I started practising law in Rivers State in July, 1979. Then, my professional grand-father, Chief Nwobidike Nwanodi, SAN, who was Chief Akparanta’s Senior in the Law Firm of NWOBIDIKE NWANODI & CO. The late Chief Nwobidike Nwanodi was the trail-blazer for all of us who were and are Ikwerre-born lawyers.
“Then, there was Dr. Mudiaga Odje, OFR, SAN, FCIArb., now deceased. He led me in my first case before the Court of Appeal. I must also mention in a special way, my own Chairman, Chief The Honourable B. M. Wifa, OFR, SAN, KJW, JP, who at all times, and even now, would advise and guide me through the difficulties I encountered and still do encounter in the practice of law. I need not add that he also taught me a few things about how to deal with CONFERENCE MATERIALS at Bar Conferences, at home and abroad. And, of course, my dear colleagues in the Manuchim Chambers Family, the legal practitioners and secretarial staff, from time to time, past and present, who have helped to build the Law Practice of OKOCHA & OKOCHA, Legal Practitioners and Notary Public.”
The honour bestowed on the legal icon by his professional colleagues of Ikwerre extraction is well deserved. The beauty of the entire ceremony is that it is a departure from the norm.
It is a call to the society to rise up and appreciate societal leaders while they still live. This act of appreciation will encourage more leaders to improve on their commitment to the development of their respective communities. That way, Nigeria will be a better country.
Nwakaudu is Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor on Electonic Media.