Obi Okwusogu

Obi Okwusogu SAN, much loved by so many lawyers, former General Secretary of the NBA, intelligent, cheerful, pleasant, with his distinctive grey hair, went to be with the Lord. Kunle Uthman and Antonio Atata pay tribute to him. Obi, may your lovely soul rest in peace

By Kunle Uthman

The sad news of the demise of Obi Okwusogu SAN hit the legal community like a thunderbolt, akin to the striking of Sango (the God of Thunder) in Yoruba mythology, in a violent thunderstorm. The resonating sound and resultant effect would be monumental destruction, comparable to what we now refer to as a “tsunami” with catastrophic consequences. The reason why even the Gods wailed and wept can only be ascribed to the fact that Obi Okwusogu epitomised the qualities and attributes of a lawyer who loved, relished and practiced the profession of law, with humility, fairness and firm Christian values of the fear of God and knowledge that there is something good in every human being. Obi would never ever denigrate anyone and his was the Jeremy Bentham Jurisprudential epitomisation of “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”. Therefore, the Gods Are Not To Blame (Ola Rotimi).

Does it mean that Obi would not be seen at future National Executive Committee meetings of the NBA? Does it mean that he won’t come into social gatherings with Uju his heartthrob, whom he loved and adored till he breathed his last? Obi was a ladies man with good intentions. He had soothing words for them and they all enjoyed and relished those flattering accolades. He was also a People’s man and a good advocate from the Harry Lardner stable, where he served his pupillage with Mike Igbokwe SAN, Tony Idigbe SAN, Kunle Fasanu SAN and others. Obi was trained in the best tradition of the Bar by a Master of the Trade. He belonged to “the old school” and his white natural wig conveyed the erroneous impression that he was an old man, which he was not.

Obi Okwusogu served the Nigerian Bar Association as its General Secretary soon after the Port Harcourt imbroglio of 1992. He along with others midwifed a rejuvenated Bar Association. Their noble desire was to create an association devoid of political meddlesomeness and a courageous Bar leadership. It is true that he was not happy with the way matters have turned out in legal practice and the present public perception of lawyers and Judges. Verifiable criminal allegations of the prominent Bar leaders; complicity in criminal scandals; collusion between the Bar and the Bench to pervert the cause of Justice and arraignment of a Justice of the Supreme Court for corruption and the “Augean Stable” ominous stench that oozes from the dungeons, that has denigrated legal practice in the most recent past. These are troubling times, and the greed of a few of us has destroyed what our forefathers built through a hundred years.

Obi Okwusogu would never compromise standards. He lived a modest life with his family and personified the attributes of a good father and husband. He was a detribalised Nigerian, who had friends in all the nooks and crannies of this country. He spoke Igbo and Yoruba very fluently, and if not for his name, he could easily have been taken as a Yoruba man. He spoke Queen’s English without the heavy African accent. He was proud of his heritage and often described himself as “an Onitsha Boy”. He valued people irrespective of their religion. His Muslim friends include, Aminu Tambuwal, present Governor of Sokoto State, Bashir Dalhatu (Walin Dutse), A B Mahmood SAN, Kabiru Turaki SAN, Mallam Yusuf Ali SAN, Lawal Rabana SAN, Garba Tetengi SAN, Prof. Wahab Egbewole, Adamu Audie Esq. and other adherents of the Islamic faith. Obi and Uju along with Emeka Ngige SAN and his wife, usually came to my residence to eat ram and “jollificate” with my family and I during the Eid-el-Kabir festivals. He was a good man, a loyal friend and a very good lawyer.

Death where is thy sting? Recall, “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage until he is heard no more. It (death) is like a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” – Shakespeare. To die is certain. The question is, “How would we be remembered when we take the final bow and exit this world of sin and tribulations? What legacies would we leave for our children in particular and humanity at large?”.

Obi lived a good life. He travelled far and wide and can properly be described as “A Man Of All Seasons”. He did not drink or smoke, and was not a womaniser. He epitomised optimal Christian values and worshipped God with total commitment and I suspect he is presently with the Archangels in Paradise. He, Obi was the protagonist in “Julius Caesar”, one of Shakespeare’s trilogy, where he William Shakespeare stated thus, “Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death is a necessary end, it will come, when it will come”.

When death came, he was prepared because he lived a good life with the fear of God. Adieu, Obi Okusogwu SAN. We are already missing you and will continue to miss you. We are comforted with the memories of the good times we spent in the Lagos Bar, at NEC meetings and at the Annual Conferences of the International Bar Association. We acknowledge the important role that you played after the 1992 aborted Port-Harcourt Conference to resuscitate the NBA. You were incorruptible and was comfortable among your contemporaries, including Judges and Justices of the Superior Courts of records. Please, be comforted that the Bar and Bench will emerge from the present “ominous state of disrepute”, a better and stronger Bar and Bench. You were a man of integrity who was happy with legitimate earnings. In reality, you benchmark excellence in the Bar and in legal practice.

While we wait for the Funeral plans to be rolled out, we pray that Almighty God, whom you held steadfastly to in your lifetime, will comfort your wife, children and the members of the Okwusogu family. May He also comfort all your lawyer friends with whom you interfaced in your lifetime and made indelible marks of cherished memories. You were a good man. May your soul rest in perfect peace. In Islam, we would say, “Inna lilahi wa inna illahi rajiuna” : “from Allah we came, and to Allah we shall return”. May He grant you a place in Paradise. Adieu dear big brother and friend. Chineke nalu mkpulu Obi gi na ndokwa. May your soul Rest In Peace. Amen. Obi kachi foo. Goodnight Obi.

Chief Kunle Uthman, Legal Practitioner, Lagos

By Antonio Atata

This is not a short story; it is a tribute to a good man whose life cannot be reduced to a few lines even by the best of flash fiction authors.

Last week, my world stood still and perhaps that of thousands of other lawyers who knew him.

He was a good man. He was humble. He had the humility that was scarce among his peers who had his title. He was distinguished. He was so gentle and elements were so mixed in him that nature will stand up and say, this was a man.

My first close contact with him was in the first week of July 2009 at the bar centre of the Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos branch, then in Court of Appeal, Lagos. He was the chairman of the election committee. I was attending a meeting of all contestants in the election. I was not contesting, I was there to represent Chijioke Okoli (now SAN) who was running for Chairman, but couldn’t make it to the meeting. In that meeting, which I consider the most significant meeting in my career as a lawyer, I met two other people who would influence my life positively in the coming years. I met Mr. Taiwo Obayomi Taiwo as he then was, now Justice Taiwo O Taiwo, who was also running for Chairman. I met Mrs. Olufunmi Oluyede, who was running for second vice.

From the first day I introduced myself to Obi Okwusogu, my name never left his lips, he called my surname musically any time he saw me. He made jokes about me being the tallest Ngwa man. It continued like that until the last time I saw him at the beginning of the new legal year, where I took his pictures.

The Tribute Begins Here

Two months before our first meeting, I had made a rascally decision that almost got me bankrupt. I started a publication called Courtroom mail which I published and distributed free of charge. Months later, I was struggling with thoughts of giving up (since all my earnings as a young lawyer were going into this project), when I met him at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos.

I still remember that meeting vividly, I had a matter before Justice Binta Nyako. I dropped my wig and gown and ran off to distribute copies of courtroom mail in the other court rooms, when I saw him coming in the opposite direction. That edition of courtroom mail was supposed to be the last. I was burnt out. I had given up. My last desire was to make sure I distributed the three thousand copies as much as I could. I was emotionally charged that morning, knowing that my failure will begin the moment I gave out the last copy.

I walked pass him murmuring greetings, not out of disrespect but out of the conviction that he will not recognise me. ATATA! He shouted, I froze and it dawned on me that I had goofed. The tallest Ngwa man! He continued cheerfully. I greeted him and he started talking in a smooth beautiful Onitsha dialect. Suddenly, he stopped and stared at me for a few seconds. I felt his gaze pierce through the facade on my face which pretended to be happy. He might have seen my soul. He held me and led me to a quiet corner of the court and we got talking.

He brought up the issue of my writing and praised it. I knew he was just laying a foundation to get close to what he saw beyond my weak smiles.

I was raised the African way and in Africa, men don’t cry. I resisted all his attempts to get close to that soft spot. He was trying to get to somewhere I knew I needed someone to get to. I spoke with a dramatic confidence which I struggled to put up. His smiles were not difficult to interprete. He was seeing my nakedness with the eyes of an elder. I am an avid fan of hip hop . In hip hop, I picked up a lot of life’s lessons .One of them says that you should never get emotional with your hustling, whether you fail or succeed. It was obvious that I was headed for failure that day, it was just a matter of hours; I was not ready to break that rule. I never succumbed to his enquiries, but that edition which was supposed to be the last one didn’t become the last one after that second meeting. We met other people along the way who vulcanised us (courtroom mail) to life and inflated us with the strength to keep walking.

Until now, we are yet to publish the last edition and wouldn’t publish the last in the nearest future. He died the week we were promoting courtroom mail in East Africa. He was a good man.

In 2011, I became the assistant Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Lagos Branch. In one of the monthly meetings of the branch, he pulled me aside and gave me a short summary of his days of service as the Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association National. He told me what to expect. I expected all and experienced all he told me. I saw wisdom in him. His grey hair was distinguished. I prayed for it and God answered me sooner than I had planned.

After serving in the EXCO of the NBA , Lagos in 2013,I decided to step aside. He noticed and asked me why I made that decision to step aside. I explained, and he understood perfectly, as if he already knew. He encouraged me when I flirted with the idea of contesting an election in my state. He was a good man.

Two years ago, I approached him to write his biography, he gave me some hard copies of his photographs, and was particularly concerned about me not writing anything that would constitute an advert. I still have those photos, though we never found the time to sit down and put it together.

In 2012, Courtroom mail listed the nominees for the Lawyer of the Year, he made the list. He qualified to. His contributions to the legal profession were outstanding.

He gave hope and a sense of belonging to younger lawyers. Obi Clement Okwusogu SAN was indeed a good man. May his soul rest in peace.

Antonio Dasuki Atata, Legal Practitioner, Former Communication Officer, African Regional Forum, International Bar Association