By BARTHOLOMEW MADUKWE
Chief Morah Ekwunoh, a lawyer in this interview, spoke on pro-bono services, nothing that lawyers need to engage in free legal services to help indigents litigants.
Can you shed light on the free legal opinion that forced the British authorities to reverse their refusal of Entry Visas to two adopted Nigerian children?
The refusal was purportedly anchored on what was described as “Immigration Rules” and “Human Rights Ground,” among others, using adoption processes as a cover for getting undeserved favour towards granting immigrant visas to the children. The couple’s closeness to the children was cut short, such that if they get to London, they will look like strangers, which was not in the interest of the children.
The Immigration Appeal Tribunal, per Curium Judge Frankish, sitting at Bennett House, in London, while dismissing the appeal over refusal to grant visas, concluded most ridiculously that the remedy open and available to the children or the parents was issuance in Nigeria, of unambiguous federal order and a UK adoption.
Overwhelmed by complete state of hopelessness and frustration, Mr Peter Moss of Bates Wells and Braithwaite, London-based firm of Solicitors acting for the children and their parents instructed us to render expert opinion on the validity and legality of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal’s ruling in relation to adoptions carried out in Nigeria.
Fortunately, our legal opinion formed the fulcrum upon which the British authorities were forced to reverse themselves, by issuing entry visas to the children without “issuance in Nigeria of unambiguous federal order and a UK adoption.” The children, as a result, are now happily in the warm embrace of their adopted parents.
Did you receive any commendation for your effort?
Yes. For instance, there was the judicial commendations by some judges, like Justice Tijani Abubakar, then of the Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division, now of the Court of Appeal, where he commended in the following terms, “I must say that this court is impressed with the gracious offer of Chief Ekwunoh to stand in for the accused person. This is commendable, and I urge other private lawyer to offer similar aid to indigent accused persons.”
You have rendered many Pro Bono services both in Nigeria and outside the country. What have you gain in doing so?
The pains and pleasures of involvement in legal assistance or Pro Bono are of hybrid nature, while some taste sweet, others taste bitter. The sweet side comprise of the inner satisfaction, that is, using law as an instrument of social engineering.
In the area of pains, there are situations where Pro Bono services caused me pain. A better example was in a case where some rich, but fraudulent politicians had obtained from a hapless man, huge sum of money, under false, fraudulent pretenses and representations that they would procure Visa to Europe for him, including resident and work permits.
I took up the matter and to my utmost surprise, they (politicians) had mobilized their friends in the police, including top officers, who turned me, who is the hunter into the hunted, through their subjection of my person to relentless harassment, threats of arrest, humiliation and subjection to other inhuman and degrading treatments. All carried out with the sole intent of forcing me to abandoning my client.
But respite came my way through the fiat and instrumentality of Justice Ibrahim Auta, now the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, who perpetually restrained the police authorities, as well as their civilian collaborators, from their evil actions towards me. Aside, the court ordered them to tender public apology and payment of N3million to me as general, exemplary and aggravated damages.