Boniface Chibunna Nwakanma: Exit of a Legal Icon

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Charles Ajunwa
Sir Boniface Chibunna Nwakanma was born on 11th August, 1938 to the family of late Ephraim and Roseline Nwakanma Abajuo in Umunawiri Ife Ezinihitte-Mbaise Local Government of Area of Imo State.

He started his early education at the Ife Primary School. As a student, the young Bon Nwakanma excelled and was consequently awarded the Commonwealth scholarship to study Education at the Stranmills College, Bellfast between 1960 and 1962. He graduated from Stranmills with a diploma in Education.

While at Stranmills, he also enrolled at the Faculty of Law at the University of London to study for their intermediate Law examination. In 1963, in recognition of his academic excellence, he was awarded the University of London’s certificate of merit standards in Criminal Law, Land law, Tort and Law of Trust. He graduated the following year with a second class honours degree in Law from the University of London. He immediately proceeded to the Nigerian Law School in 1965 and after being placed first out of 55 students in his class, he was called to the Nigerian Bar in July of the same year. In 1982, he obtained his Masters degree M.A (Lond.) in Strategic Studies in the United Kingdom.

Nwakanma’s public life spanned over four decades. It was a period of many remarkable achievements in his career, the church, the community, the state and the nation as a whole. As a young lawyer, he was committed to a life of service to his community, his state and his country. He was launched into public service with his election as the Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association between 1972 and 1974. With the creation of Imo State, he became a member of the editorial board of Imo State of Nigeria Law Reports between 1976 and 1980. He was also Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association Owerri.

In 1980, he was appointed a federal commissioner of the Code of Conduct Bureau. While at the Bureau, he designed the asset declaration form (FORM CCB1) for public officers and in 1982, he produced models for transparence in public life. In 1986, he became the Attorney General and Honorable Commissioner for Justice of the old Imo State between 1986 and 1987. As a Commissioner, Sir Bon Nwakanma again left his indelible footprints on the sands of time, with the inauguration of the Customary Court in Imo State.
In 1994, Sir Bon Nwakanma was nationally recognised for his legal prowess, as he was conferred with the prestigious position of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He blazed the trail as the second Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Imo State.

In recognition of his commitment to quality education for all Imo indigenes, he was appointed Acting Chairman of the Imo State University Governing Council between 1996 and 1997.
In 2000, he was appointed a member of the Imo State Judicial Service Commission. He held this position until 2010.

He was a Member representing Imo State at the National Political Reform Conference in 2005. He was chairman/member of several other boards, commissions and panels and he continued to make his mark in his legal practice with various landmark wins under his belt which subsequently led to the publication of his book on Election Petitions in Nigeria. He was a man that distinguished himself in various sectors both in federal and state appointments.
In 2008, he was again nationally honoured by the then President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, His Excellency Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, with the conferment of the national honour of the Federal Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).

Late Nwakanma was a remarkable Church administrator and a committed Christian of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion. He was knighted by his Lordship, late Arch. Bishop Benjamin Nwankiti in 1988. He was one of the pillars of the development of the Owerri Diocese and was always at the forefront of the building of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of our Lord. Sir Bon Nwakanma was one of the people that championed the creation of Mbaise Diocese. He organised his people to come together and transformed the church in Ife into a magnificent Cathedral. He personally funded the building of the vicarage and served in many committees set up to ensure that the new diocese became a reality.

When in 1992, the Mbaise diocese was finally created, Sir Bon Nwakanma became the first and only Chancellor of the diocese till date; he broke another record as the longest serving Chancellor at an Anglican diocese. He was also a member of the Standing Committee Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion (The Governing body of the Church in Nigeria) from 1993 till date. Sir Bon Nwakanma contributed through personal donations and membership of various committees to the development of both the Owerri and Mbaise dioceses and in recognition of his immense contributions to the church, he was honoured severally by both the laity and the clergy of the Church in Imo State.

He was a community leader par excellence. He was the quintessential trail blazer for the young men and women of Mbaise who adored and emulated the extraordinary life he lived. He contributed in no small measure to the educational and career development of many Mbaise indigenes. He trained and successfully facilitated the employment of many of his people in Imo State and beyond. His achievements in this regards will keep his memory alive for many years to come. He left a legacy of service to God, to his community and to his family. He was honoured with numerous chieftaincy titles including ‘Ugo Mbaise’ amongst many others. This was a clear indication of how revered and respected he was at home. For him, charity began at home. It was no surprise then that he was offered the position of traditional ruler of his community. But being a modest man, he graciously declined to accept.

His commitment to the development of Mbaise endeared him to all and sundry. As a result, he was voted in as the President General of one of the foremost socio political organisations of the Mbaise nation “Ezuruezu Mbaise”. During his tenure he brought stability and unity to his people. His love for his people earned him many awards, including the Leadership and Contribution to the Development of Mbaise Award from Ezerezu Mbaise in 2007. He also received The Senior Citizen Award by the Mbaise Council of Traditional Rulers in 2013 and the Builder Award by Umunawiri Village in 2014, amongst others.

He was also a dedicated family man. He loved his family unconditionally. As a husband he was loving and understanding. His relationship with his wife, late Lady Bridget Nwakanma JP, was a very unique one. He loved her so deeply that even death could not break the love they shared. As a father, he was a source of strength and wisdom for his children. He gave everything to provide for them but yet lived a simple life; meticulously nurturing them into the accomplished adults they are today. His love for family extended far beyond his children. His brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws, and others, were all beneficiaries of his benevolent disposition. He was indeed a father to many!
The late legal icon, who died at the age of 77, will be laid to rest on Friday, June 3 at Ezinihitte-Mbaise in Imo State. His burial will be preceded by a Christian Wake on Thursday, June 2 and a funeral service at St. Michael All Angels Cathedral Mbaise.
He will be dearly missed by all who encountered him.