Ikeazor: The Poor Man’s Lawyer

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The altruistic life he led guaranteed thousands of poor Nigerians justice. The late Chief Chimezie Ikeazor, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria fought for an inclusive justice system in his time that fours years after his death, his legacy of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria remains unrelenting on his tracks. Chineme Okafor writes in memory of Oboli Obosi

“Oboli was a man of the people, he stood for justice and fought against injustice,” Uju Ikeazor, widow of late Chief Chimezie Ikeazor told THISDAY when the paper called on his Gwarinpa home on a memorial visit.

“He was a crusader for justice; the underprivileged and downtrodden benefitted immensely from his works.

“He did many pro-bono cases for people who didn’t have the means to be represented at courts or pay legal fees; Oboli campaigned from university to university, organising seminars and conferences to justify why the poor who could not afford to pay for legal services should be assisted,” she re-counted to the paper.

Fondly called Oboli in reference to the hereditary traditional title he got from his hometown, Obosi in Anambra State, Ikeazor on October 12, 2012 passed on, leaving behind a very worthy legacy of standing up for poor Nigerians in courts across the country.

Oboli was well schooled. He obtained a prior Diploma in Divinity and Law from the University of Hull and Kings College, before eventually graduating with a law degree from the University of London and subsequently called to the English Bar in 1959.

As told by his widow and several records of his feats, he in his days pleaded the cases of people who had no means to legal services. Along with a few like minds – the late Chiefs Solomon Lar, Debo Akande, and Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, he founded and financed the Nigerian Legal Aid Association in 1974 to do this. The platform later became the bedrock for an institutionalised legal aid service in the country.

The association which provided free and mandatory legal services to poor Nigerians also had as one of its founding fathers, Chief Felix Offia who is still alive.

Shortly in 1976, these efforts, through a decree – the Legal Aid Decree No. 56 of 1976 which the then military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo signed, established the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria to take up from him the job he enjoyed doing – representing poor Nigerians in courts.

The Council has since then stood in courts for the poor in continuation of his ideals. Four years after he died, its report card showed that it has not let down in the fight as it in 2014 alone completed 12,779 criminal, civil and police duty solicitor scheme (PDSC) cases.

Within Nigeria’s legal circles, it is known that the history of legal aid in the country will be incomplete without Ikeazor showing prominently as a faithful crusader for free legal aids to indigent Nigerians.

Besides being reportedly dogged in his commitment to the poor, his desire to ensure access to justice for prisoners and awaiting trail inmates were accomplished without beneficiaries meeting him or his pockets not feeling the pinch.

“He sold his properties to the extent that some of his colleagues couldn’t understand his motive. They really didn’t understand the concept of free legal services for the poor but it was what he believed in,” Uju said.

Her claims were equally supported by that of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Alfa Belgore who in a book written by Ikeazor before he died to record his experience providing free legal aid to Nigeria’s masses, said: “Many beneficiaries of his vision hardly know his name, much less his person but history will surely do him justice.”

Similarly, Obasanjo who wrote a forward for the same book attested to Ikeazor’s good character when he said of the man who led as the first president of the Legal Aid Association of Nigeria that he had listened to and agreed with his arguments in 1976 of the need for a legal aid scheme to guarantee standard representation for poor Nigerians in courts, and decided to institutionalise his efforts.

The former president said he was proud to share the same history page with Ikeazor on efforts they made to provide justice for indigent Nigerians.

Conferred with the SAN honour in 1984, as well as elected as the first African Director in the governing board of the International Legal Aid Association in Vancouver, Ikeazor was a man no other but himself alone can adequately describe the dynamism behind his commitment to social justice.

He received the World Legal Aid Award amongst several other international and local awards and was in 2007 recognised by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria as its founding father, a fact no one can dispute.

It often said that from his sacrifices, a good number of young Nigerian lawyers have been able to hone their litigation skills working in the legal aid scheme. Through their constant engagement in the defence of poor citizens by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, these lawyers have also continued to scale up the capacity of the Council to passionately stand in for poor Nigerians in courts across the local government areas that the Council operates in.

For the extraordinary life and contributions Ikeazor lived and made to Nigeria, Uju said the country owes him a good measure of gratitude, one she said can be redeemed with a dedicated memorabilia to his name.