My Obsession with this Man, Prof Ernest Ojukwu SAN by Onyebuchi Ememanka
For those who do not understand my apparent obsession with the man, Prof Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, I will tell you why. This is a man who represents the finest virtues of hard work and a deep sense of personal integrity.
Born without any silver spoon whatsoever to parents who were teachers, Ernest Ojukwu took a decision very early in life to pursue a path of decency and greatness. He started from the very scratch. When he became a lawyer, he chose Aba as his base. This surprised many people because having graduated from Ife, the natural expectation was that he would head to Lagos, the headquarters of law practice in Nigeria. But he returned to Aba instead and within a few years, he had carved a niche for himself as a young man who has a clear path.
His tenures as Secretary and later Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Aba Branch remain till today a reference point in Bar administration. Seamlessly combining his practice with his first love, law teaching, Ernest multitasked with ease. When he was appointed Dean of Faculty of Law at Abia State University, he must have been the youngest dean in Nigeria. Judging from his current age, that appointment came when he was in his mid-30s! Yet, he discharged the assignment with the alacrity of a War General.
Those of us who passed through him while he was Dean will recall that there was an absolute zero tolerance for indiscipline and laxity. Lectures were held on time; exams were conducted religiously. There was no single incident of exam paper leakage. Laws and regulations were enforced to the letter. Ernest simply got the job done! Throughout his time as Dean, the Abia State University (ABSU) Law Faculty shone at the Law School. This is a verifiable fact!
When the Government decided to decentralize the Nigerian Law School by setting up campuses at Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Enugu, the need arose for trusted hands to run these campuses. The choice of Ernest was clear. If you want to get the job done, look for Ernest.
He ran the Enugu Campus of the Law School with his trademark creed of hard work and diligence. His presence at Enugu influenced my choice of campus. He would recall me one year after to come and do my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) there with him.
The one year I worked under him at the Law School remains my biggest and most profound learning curve. That period prepared me for the challenges of life.
Ernest has an unbelievable capacity for work. The man never gets tired. Working with him is no child’s play. Woe betides you if you are not prepared. As Deputy Director-General of the Nigerian Law School, Ernest midwifed and oversaw the implementation of Clinical Legal Education, a scheme that placed more emphasis on practical training of lawyers. I was privileged to be part of the foundation of that scheme when he appointed me Project Manager of the Campus Law Clinic at the Law School.
Ernest championed and successfully pushed for the total overhaul of the Law School curriculum. Today, legal education has taken a whole new turn in Nigeria … the strategy and approach has changed … all thanks to Ernest.
His life revolves around the legal profession. He is passionate about it. Of course, his wife is a Judge of the Federal High Court.
Perhaps, the most intriguing thing about him is that in spite of his impeccable credentials, he has stayed away from Nigerian politics. In his entire life, Ernest has never hobnobbed with politicians. He has never held any political appointment; he has never solicited any. The only politics he does is that of the Nigerian Bar Association. He is currently the Chairman of the NBA Academic Forum. He is also the Founder and President of NULAI Nigeria – the Network of University Legal Aid Institutions, the body that champions reforms in legal education.
On a personal note, Ernest Ojukwu as Dean fought for and ensured the participation of the ABSU Law Faculty at the All Africa Moot Court Competition held in Pretoria, South Africa and the lot fell on me to represent the faculty – an assignment I carried out with Ojukwu style alacrity.
Ernest, as Head of the Law School brought me to the Enugu Law School, ‘took the risk’ of asking an ordinary Youth Corp member to teach a law School class. I later learnt from older colleagues who experienced him as students or staff or colleagues that he loves to take risks in investing in young persons. By that action, I had the privilege of interacting with people from all over Nigeria. Those fellows are all lawyers today operating in different spheres of life and I am proud to say that there is no part of this country where I do not have friends. Not only that, he asked me to represent the Law School on the Board of the Enugu State Legal Aid Centre, an initiative of the DFID of Britain with representatives from a cross section of professional groups. As a corps member, I had the privilege of traveling across the country studying how legal aid initiatives work. I had very close interaction then with Sullivan Chime, former Enugu State Governor who was then the Attorney-General of the State, Anthony Ani, the current Attorney-General of Enugu State who was the then Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Enugu Branch, as well as Prof Joy Ezeilo, who was then Enugu State Commissioner for Women Affairs. I owe a lot to Ernest Ojukwu….a whole whole lot!
Onyebuchi Ememanka, a lawyer is Senior Special Assistant to Abia State Governor on Public Communications. He was formerly Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Samsung Heavy Tech., Lagos