Reminiscing a Legal Luminary, Lucius Nwosu, an Advocate of Environmental Justice

The need for environmental justice has been clamoured by so many people who believed that the existence of a man depends on how the environment is being treated. Lucius Ezeaka Nwosu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) until his death had defended the environment not minding whose gut is involved. Blessing Ibunge writes that the legal luminary was given accolades at a memorial lecture held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State

Legal luminaries and well-meaning Nigerians gathered at the premises of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Port Harcourt, at the weekend, for an inaugural memorial lecture in honour of an erudite and formidable legal practitioner, Lucius Ezeaka Nwosu of blessed memory. As a specialist on Environmental Law, Nwosu received accolades for ensuing that not only was his defense protected the environment, but polluters of the environment were also punished for their offences.

In his remarks at the lecture held at the NBA House, Port Harcourt, the Rivers State Chief Judge, Justice Simeon C. Amadi expressed the need for lawyers to be specialised in their legal defense, noting the committed efforts by the late SAN in ensuring that those who through their activities polluted the environment were properly punished. 

The Chief Judge speaking on the topic for the inaugural lecture “The Use of Court Room Advocacy in Addressing Environmental Issues”, said is apt with the fact that the world is submerged in the mess of environmental problems and its consequential effects. 

He said “The international communities troubled by various types of environmental issues and there is a call for all hands to be on deck to tackle this problem. It is against this backdrop and had become imperative that we the legal profession also use advocacy as a tool to tackle the environmental issues”.

According to Justice Amadi, the law and chief regulator of the society plays very important role in checkmating actions of individual, corporation and government agencies in all issues including environmental issues, therefore “Core true advocacy can only give the legal practice the teeth to clampdown on violators”. 

“With this, we call on individuals, corporations and government agencies to hold accountable for injuries to the environment and human beings dependent on the environment”. He noted that Nwosu fought against environmental degradation and which his representation awarded communities compensation by environmental violators.

In his lecture, Ejembi Eko, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, described Nwosu, a native of Mbaise in Imo State as an eminent legal luminary. He said the late SAN practiced law, in the top brass, from Port Harcourt and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to the Niger Delta creeks. “He was a cynosure and a notable personage in his own right. He was not physically a giant, in the caliber of Goliath. He had passion for philanthropy and was ever ready to help a friend and those in need”. 

Narrating the lifestyle that gave him the feat in legal practice, Eko explained that as a cheerful man who was always ready to assist his less privileged colleagues and others who were either sick or in dire need, Nwosu took the challenge of lifting the lives of young lawyers who could not afford a better life, especially during distress.

He gave an instance that “When an exuberant Governor of Rivers closed the High Courts, under the pretext of “renovation”; his ulterior purpose being actually to frustrate the filing of likely actions challenging his unpopular policies, L.E went out on his own to pay certain categories of junior lawyers stipends for the several months the Governor’s malady lasted.

“Beneath his not-too-large a physique, he had the compassion of an elephant with the heart of a lion. Turning his back at a fight was not in his character. His advocacy was always bold and courageous. He had that gift of humorous repartee, adorned with rustic folk proverbs, to adumbrate on any issue. With these attributes he ruled the jungle of jurisprudence and litigation”.

How Lucius Nwosu specialisation attracted him prominence

The retired justice of the Supreme Court explained that Nwosu was not an ‘all roads’ legal practitioner, that he selected his area of practice and specialised in it.

Eko explained that “His chosen area was generally environmental laws with more emphasis on oil and gas, and related issues. His clients were largely communities ravaged by oil spillage. I never came across an instance or occasion where and when L.E. Nwosu, SAN, ever represented an oil company, in the upstream sector, against individuals or communities. He had disdain for political cases, particularly election and electoral jurisprudence. He made his marks predominantly in the fields of oil and gas, and related matters, within the terrain of environmental laws. 

“In June 1998 L.E, as his colleagues fondly called him, was barely 15 years at the Bar when he filed the case: MONOKPO v. 1.MOBIL PRODUCTION (NIG) UNLIMITED, 2. MOBIL INCORPORATED OF U.S.A., claiming against the two Defendants jointly and 

severally a total of N5billion on behalf of two communities for ecological damages”. 

After years of deliberations on the matter, the court thereafter proceeded to entering judgment in favour of the plaintiffs (Nwosu’s client) in the sums claimed. “The defendants appealed. The Court of Appeal, finding no merits in their appeal, dismissed it. In the further appeal to the Supreme Court: MOBIL PRODUCTION (NIG) UNLIMITED & ANOR v. MONOKPO (2003) LPELR-1886 SC, the apex court, after resolving most of the issues against the Appellants, held that the failure or refusal of the trial judge to consider the pending motion for extension of time within which the second defendant would file his statement of defence amounted to denying him fair hearing, the right to which was his fundamental right 

under the Constitution”.

With the judgement, the MONOKPO Case became a locus classicus. To the credit of the young advocate (Nwosu). “The MONOKPO case includes the incisive and expensive investigations undertaken by L.E, prior to his filing the suits, to establish the links and nexus between Mobil Production (Nig) Unlimited and its overseas parent company, Mobil Incorporated of U.S.A.

Similarly, he committed handsome expenditure to get experts and professional valuers to undertake field assessments of the ecological damages for the purpose of their subsequent evidence. This, in salute to his astute enterprise, had become his proclivity in all other similar cases”. 

Eko further expressed the believe that “His (Nwosu) enterprise and contributions to the body of environmental laws and jurisprudence did not go unnoticed. The Supreme Court, acknowledging L.E’s POLLUTION WATCH v. NNPC (2018) LPELR-50830 SC. His contributions assisted the court deciding, inter alia, that the rights to life, as well as, clean environment, air, water, land and forest, being rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Africa Charter on People’s and Human Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act for the development and safeguard of human communities, vest locus standi on either an individual or the community and even a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), to challenge any nuisance by way of oil pollution or seepage into the river, stream or the underground water providing the community’s source of livelihood and drinking water. 

“Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) had been a major player in oil and gas exploration in Nigeria, particularly in the Niger Delta area. The company entered into lease agreements with the communities that held customary rights of occupancy over parcels of land for the purposes of their business. In SPDC v. AMADI & ORS (2011) LPELR-3204CA, the SPDC, while remaining as a tenant of Okporo community or family, had subsequently, albeit surreptitiously, obtained a statutory right of occupancy wherein the customary right of occupancy of their landlords were purportedly extinguished in favour of the SPDC, who now armed with the statutory right of occupancy was no longer obligated to pay agreed rents to their landlords. 

“L.E., briefed by the customary landowners undertook a thorough pre-litigation forensic investigations that exposed the fact of the SPDC haven SPDC which resulted in both orders of forfeiture against the SPDC and the nullification of the statutory right of occupancy.” 

Concluding his lecture, Eko added that “Nwosu was a good man, a very literate and learned gentleman, a quintessential jurist, a shrewd and astute advocate; and a philanthropist per excellence. The body of the enigmatic Lucius Ezeaka Nwosu, may be lying in the grave; he still lives eternally with us”.

Accolades by Colleagues and Friends 

A prominent Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and a disccusant at the event, Tuduru Ede, described Nwosu as a man who gave his all to humanity, defending the environment, especially the Niger Delta degraded environment.

“Lucius Nwosu was a nice man, a rugged litigator, he fought for the right of oil producing communities who were ravaged by pollution and environmental degradation occasion by oil companies. He gave it  his all and it was good enough”.

He urged the upcoming layers to learn from Nwosu’s experience, his hardwork and what he has left behind.

Another discussant, Prof Victor Akujuru, a professor of environmental violation and land administration with the Rivers State University, said “The late SAN was my friend and I practiced violation with him. He always got me and other scientists together to advise him before he went to litigate. I remembered his intelligence, his generosity, his friendship and care for the poor, especially those who suffered environmental damages.

Mrs Mary Odili, a retired justice of the Supreme Court said “De Lucius was quite kind to all that came across him. Today, we are having the inaugural lecture and I wish it will continue.”

She urged the organisers to make the memorial lecture an annual event “because of the quality contributions of Lucius Nwosu in the legal profession. His style of generosity and human relationship”.

On his part, a former governor of old Rivers State, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, who disclosed that Nwosu was his personal lawyer, said “He stood by me after I left office. He was a courageous man, virtually most of his legal representation were pro-bono”. 

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