Hon. Onueze C. J. Okocha, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former National President of Nigerian Bar Association, who turned 65 years old recently, is forty years at the bar. In this exclusive encounter with the Publisher of Notable Outcome, Iheanyi Ezinwo, in Port Harcourt, the proud recipient of Member, Federal Republic; Grand Service Star of Rivers State, among other awards, says he has been lucky, and has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, with no other field left to conquer in the Nigerian Bar or in the legal profession. Notable Outcome sought to know if the distinguished lawyer has been able to achieve the aspirations that informed his preference for law as a profession, and to what extent? His response is loaded. Enjoy it and be inspired.
I will say yes. Undoubtedly, unequivocally. And I give thanks and praise to the almighty God. I have, to my own greatest amazement, with all gratitude to God, succeeded in the legal profession. I was called to the Bar in June of 1978. At 12 years post call, by December of 1990, I was appointed the Honourable Attorney General of Rivers State.
Before then I had managed to be elected as Secretary of the Port Harcourt branch of Nigerian Bar Association in the year 1986. After that I became Attorney General in 1990 and I served in the last military administration of the third republic- so called Third Republic came on board on January 2, 1992.
So from 1990 to 1992, I was Attorney General of Rivers State. After being Attorney General of Rivers State in the year 1994, that is like 16 years post call, I became chairman of Nigerian Bar Association, Port Harcourt branch. That Port Harcourt branch was the sole branch covering the entirety of Rivers State. You know, it was in 1996 that Bayelsa state was created. So, I was the chairman of the one branch of the Nigerian Bar Association covering the whole Rivers State. And in the year 1995, just 17 years post call, I was elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
I was the second Port Harcourt based lawyer to be so appointed but the 4th of Rivers State origin after one: Dr. N. B. Graham Douglas, who was Attorney General of Rivers State and later Attorney General of the federation; two: Gally Brown Peterside, an eminent lawyer from Opobo, who was based in Jos; three: Godwin Alaye Graham Douglas, who was based here in Port Harcourt- he was the first Port Harcourt based lawyer who was appointed Senior Advocate of Nigeria in the year 1987.
And look at me, at 17 years post call in the year 1995, I became the second Port Harcourt based lawyer to be appointed Senior Advocate of Nigeria. And you know, incidentally, I was the first Ikwerre lawyer to be appointed Senior Advocate of Nigeria. And it didn’t stop there, in the year 2000, I was elected the president of Nigerian Bar Association: and you know, they styled me the millennium president because it was in the millennium year that I was elected, and I was the first Nigerian trained lawyer to be elected President of the Bar Association in Nigeria.
Previously, all who were presidents of Nigerian Bar Association were trained in England.
They were called to the Bar in England, returned and enrolled in the Supreme Court of Nigeria. I was the first lawyer properly trained in Nigeria, or properly so called Nigerian trained because I studied for my first degree at University of Ife in Nigeria, and I went for the Law School in Lagos. I was called to the Bar in 1978. I became a member of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, a commission that appoints Federal Judges and Justices in 2000, and I served in that capacity until 2005.
Again, it didn’t stop there, I was appointed a member of National Judicial Council, first term, 2010-2012; second term , 2012 -2014. National Judicial Council, NJC, appoints states Judges, Chief Judges, President of Customary Court of Appeal and then state Judges for both High Court of the state and customary courts of the state. And NJC also receives recommendations for appointments to superior courts, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria, appointments to the Federal High Courts, National Industrial Court and, as I said, the state Courts of superior jurisdiction. And I served on the NJC until 2014.
In 2012, I was appointed chairman of the Council of Legal Education. Council of Legal Education is the Council that runs the Nigerian Law School. I was chairman of the Council for four years. And then, you know, the crowning achievement of any lawyer is to be a Life Bencher. The body of benchers is the most honourable body in the legal profession. It is the body that has the authority to call new entrants to the Nigerian Bar. And I became a Life Bencher in January of 2007.So, practically speaking, there is no other field left to conquer in the Nigerian Bar or in the legal profession.
I have chosen the Bar as my career path. Some choose the Judiciary as their career path; they can rise to be Chief Justice of Nigeria. But we at the Bar, once you made SAN, you have reached the echelon but then I didn’t stop there. After being SAN, I became president of Nigerian Bar Association; I became member, Federal Judicial Service Commission; was appointed chairman of the Council of Legal Education; I became member, National Judicial Council and I was appointed Life Bencher.
So my brother, there is no more field to conquer. My son was interviewed recently and he said no, the only thing his father has not been is Attorney General of the Federation, and he said also chairman of Body of Benchers. My brother, I think I have been lucky. I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams in the legal profession and I give God all the glory.
This is the first part of the interview. Meanwhile, Ikwerre lawyers, under the auspices of Okpo Club, are celebrating the 40 years of legal practice of Hon. OCJ Okocha, SAN, on Tuesday, July 24, 2018 at Obi Wali International Conference Centre in Port Harcourt.