By Kester Enwereonu and Aham Njoku
Legal giant Bon Nwakanma (SAN) recently passed on at the age of 78 years. At a period when the attention of the whole world is focused on London for the celebration of 400 years of Williams Shakespeare the great English playwright and dramatist, it is important to point out that he read law in the University of London where he graduated LLB (Hons) Second Class Division in 1964. He later obtained M.A. degree in the same university. He held several positions in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). He served as Honourable Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in old Imo state. He started his practice in Aba before the creation of Abia state and then relocated to Owerri in Imo state where he flourished.
Nwakanma, a member of the Eze-in-Council held the traditional title of Ugo (Eagle) of Ife Autonomous Community in Imo state. A knight of the Church of Nigeria, he was until his death the Honourable Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of Mbaise, Imo state. Apart from playing pivotal role in improving infrastructure in his village he was also philanthropic and inspired a whole generation of lawyers. These include but are not limited to Eze Enwereji, P.P. Maduka, Amanze Okoroigwe and Harrison Ugwuala. He was married to lady Bridget Nwakanma, an educationist who died some months earlier. Their marriage was blessed with children, some of whom are lawyers themselves.
However for us, Nwakanma’s major contribution to the legal profession would be the publication of the often cited authoritative book, “Laws Governing Elections And Election Petitions”, a 667 page book published in 2007. The book was co-authored by Mr. Ngozi Olehi who read law at the university of Nigeria and was called to the Bar in December, 1990. Nwakanma had taken part in several election petition litigations both at the gubernatorial and presidential elections. He was so formidable in this area of the law that he was Lead Counsel to former Governor Achike Udenwa in 1999, 2003 and to former Governor Ikedi Ohakim in 2007. His dexterity in election petition litigations was so outstanding that the publication of the above book did not come as a surprise to many legal pundits.
His Lordship, Ikechi Francis Ogbuagu, Justice of the Supreme Court (J.S.C.) as he then was, in the foreword to the book, had this to say, “This book – Laws Governing Elections and Election Petitions, begins with a survey of electoral developments in Nigeria. This is significant. The process through which an electoral system is designed or altered has a great effect on the type of system which results, its appropriateness for the political situation, and the degree of legitimacy and popular support it will enjoy. The treatment on critical electoral activities and on jurisdiction and justiciability of intra-party disputes are not only illuminating but positively challenging. Hitherto, there has not been a detailed analysis of this subject matter and I am sure that my learned brothers at the Supreme Court will not hesitate in taking note of the points canvassed with commendable erudition”.
The learned Justice concluded, “This book is important in multiple respects. It is patterned to equip the political class, operators of the electoral system, policy makers, legislators and legal practitioners with the basics in electoral engineering”. He then concluded, “The technical aspect of the presentation is outstandingly attractive and the intellectual quality is quite good. The scope of work is quite expansive and its treatment of issues previously considered obscure and abstract, is impressive”.
According to Nwakanma, himself, in the preface to the book, “The pillar on which democracy stands is the electoral process. It is what translates the choice of the majority expressed by the voting patterns, into seats in representative institutions. It identifies the person to occupy a contested office. In a plural society as ours, with multi-ethnic diversities, building trust as well as professionalism in the management of electoral process remains a major challenge for electoral management bodies. The subject of electoral system is of central interest to anyone concerned with the operations of democratic systems of government. Elections are the defining moment in any democracy”. Further, he said, “In representative democracies, elections perform two fundamental tasks: they confer authorization or legitimacy upon those chosen to represent the people and ideally, they hold the representatives to account for their actions while in office. The electoral process therefore is critical to democracy, governance and development”.
Emeka Nnubia, one of our colleagues when told that Nwakanma had passed on described him as a man of character. He is right. It may be recalled that many years ago when the traditional ruler of his community died, Nwakanma was unanimously nominated to be the next traditional ruler. He declined to the surprise of many. He suggested that the position should be given to anybody below fifty years of age who is dynamic because the future belonged to the youths and not the elderly. He was frank and altruistic in a society be-devilled by lies, deceit, manipulations and self-aggrandizement.
He also had a great sense of humour. Once on a visit to Lagos, he was being driven to the airport to board his flight when he came under constant harassment by aggressive Lagos road-side hawkers. After observing them patiently for a long time, he said, “Do you know that in this your Lagos, somebody can actually stay in his car and buy all the items he needs to cook a good pot of soup!”
Indeed, we can pay him no better tribute than the one rendered by another of our colleagues Mr. Dele Adeogun. Adeogun who extensively used Nwankanma’s book (supra) in all of his recent Election Petition Tribunal and Court of Appeal cases from the 2015 elections when informed that Nwakanma had passed on was pensive. Then as if encapsulating the core of all that Nwakanma stood for in the legal profession he said, “May his Legal soul rest in peace”.
Enwereonu and Njoku are both Lagos based legal practitioners.
By Kester Enwereonu and Aham Njoku