By Awa Kalu

On very few but special occasions, this column has been devoted to paying tribute to some of the very astute legal minds that have had very profound impact on legal and constitutional development in this country. In that connection, the deaths of Chief Rotimi Williams, SAN, erstwhile doyen of the Nigerian Bar, Clement Akpamgbo, SAN, former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Justice I.C.K. Pats-Acholonu, then Justice of the Supreme Court and his colleague, Hon. Justice Ejiwunmi, to name but a few, merited elaborate tributes.

Today, it is with a deep sense of loss that I treat the death of a man who gave me the very first opportunity to practice law upon my discharge from the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC. Having concluded the mandatory national service, the question one had to consider was what next?

*Aondoakaa

By a combination of circumstances, getting a job proved slightly elusive even in those days contrary to the assumption of present day job seekers that life has suddenly become difficult. A handful of legal practitioners had indicated their willingness to take me in but changed their minds for one reason or the other and thus, I ended up in the Chambers of I.N. Umezuruike Esq., SAN, quite fortuitously.

Although my tenure in his Chambers lasted only for a year before I had to leave for further studies, the experience under his tutelage was extremely rewarding. His patience in guiding a green horn was refreshing.

His attention to detail and his painstaking devotion to the multifarious roles as solicitor and also as advocate struck me as exceptional even at that young age. Above all, his fatherly mien could not be missed by anyone who devilled in his Chambers. He always weighed up various angles before he took any position on what the law was or ought to be. Aba, the Enyimba city, where the late Senior Advocate of Nigeria had his practice, has always been identified as a haven for eminent legal practitioners although the hazards of present day existence in that great city are now worrisome and well documented.

No indolent lawyer could ‘make his bones’ in that city, which in the past boasted the likes of late Justices Udo Udoma, Chukwunweike Idigbe and Uche Omo, very distinguished Justices of the Supreme Court in their time and accomplished Barristers any day!

Apart from the late Israel Umezurike, Aba has nurtured and indeed moulded several Senior Advocates of Nigeria such as Chief U. Udechukwu (Ugo), Chief Chuks Muoma, Awa Kalu, Obiora Obianwu Esq., Chief Chris Uche, Chief Dona Udogu and Chief Solo Akuma even though a good number of these gentlemen now practice elsewhere. Indisputably, Aba as a commercial city also baked very very hot lawyers who are either sitting as Judges, Magistrates or successfully practicing at the Bar or otherwise engaged in other fields of endeavour.

Anyone who is in doubt about the deceased’s credentials in litigation may have recourse to the Law Reports. For instance, Nwankwo v. Nwankwo [1995] 5 NWLR (Pt. 394) 153 (in which the deceased was Counsel from the inception of proceedings at the High Court to its final determination at the Supreme Court) decides unequivocally that ‘a breach by a public officer of any of the provisions of the code of conduct set out in the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979…does not confer a civil right on any citizen for which he can sue for but only attracts the sanction provided in paragraph 12 of the said Fifth Schedule…’

International Agric. Ind. (Nig.) Ltd. & Anor. v Chika Bros. Ltd. [1990] 1 N.S.C.C. 66, another Supreme Court decision in which the deceased took part, is warrant for the novel conclusion (at the time of the decision) that the minutes of a company need not be kept in a bound book but may be recorded in loose leaf books or in any other manner in accordance with accepted usage, provided adequate precaution is taken for guarding against falsification.

In that case, the Supreme Court held admissible the ‘Minute Book’ even though it had typed loose sheets of the minutes pasted on the Minutes Book. The apex Court took judicial notice of the fact that the usual plan adopted for taking minutes is for the secretary to make notes at each meeting of what passes and subsequently to enter the particulars in a proper minute book ready for reading and signature by the Chairman after they have been read and approved at the succeeding meeting.

There is yet another angle to Nwankwo v. Nwankwo [1993] 5 NWLR (Pt. 293) 281, an interlocutory appeal to the Supreme Court, which establishes rather robustly that ‘once a ruling or the judgment of a lower court appealed against is in the record of appeal already transmitted to the appellate Court, it will be unnecessary to exhibit the ruling or judgment in support of any interlocutory application before a further appellate Court’. It was explained that ‘this is to obviate unnecessary duplication of the record, since the complete record must have been before the Court and the appeal has been entered’. These are but a few of the cases in which his vigorous exploits as Barrister are recorded.

Late Israel Umezuruike, SAN, was born on June 30, 1932 and upon the completion of his primary school education, took to teaching, as was usual in those days. He had a stint at the then Department of Customs and Excise in the course of which he also took tutorials at the then Yaba College (later Yaba College of Technology) resulting in his passing, in flying colours, all his papers leading to the GCE (Advanced level) Certificate. Community development through communal self help has been the hallmark of the Igbos and this proved potent in capacity building for Ohuhu Youths in Lagos in young Israel’s time.

The Ohuhu Community in Lagos, after a competitive selection examination conducted by European Education Officers led to the fulfilment of his burning ambition to broaden his horizon. His success in that examination paved way for his departure to the United Kingdom to study Law at the prestigious Kings College of the University of London of course sponsored by the scholarship scheme of the Ohuhu Community, Lagos. Upon graduation with Honours in 1964, he was subsequently called to the English Bar at the Inner Temple the same year, after which he returned to the country. He later enrolled as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on the 30th April, 1965. His first job as a young lawyer was as a State Counsel in the Ministry of Finance, in the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria.

His experience in that position was short-lived on account of the Nigerian Civil War, which punctuated the pace of not just his generation but of many others. Upon the cessation of hostilities, he took up appointment as the pioneer Company Secretary/Legal Adviser of the Co-operative and Commerce Bank of Eastern Nigeria Ltd. and when he was done, he set up his very successful practice, I.N. Umezuruike & Associates in Aba, Abia State. He was very active at the Aba Bar and later served as a member of the then National Judicial Service Commission and the Council of Legal Education where he participated in the accreditation of virtually all the older ‘new’ generation Universities.

His numerous engagements both in litigation and other spheres of the legal profession was rewarded with his elevation to the coveted rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee in 1995, thus making him the only pre-civil war lawyer in Aba to be so honoured.

It is possible to go on and on and even to pour encomiums on the deceased but at this juncture, it is only necessary to note that late Israel Umezuruike’s sojourn on earth ended in far away London, on 18th July, 2010 after expert and dedicated Doctors and other medical personnel had exhausted all known means to save his life. Do not be curious about the cause of his death but be educated by the words of J. Boswell who in his work ‘Life of Johnson’ devoted to Samuel Johnson (1709-84), British Lexicographer, claimed that ‘it matters not how a man dies, but how he lives.

The act of dying is not of importance. It lasts so short a time’! The Oxford Book of Death by D.J. Enrique also attributes to Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet; 1694-1778), the kindly advice that ‘The human race is the only one that knows it must die, and it knows this only through experience. A child brought up alone and transported to a desert island would have no more idea of death than a cat or a plant’.

We are human and we do not inhabit a desert island and so we know that legal icon, Chief Israel Umezuruike, SAN, community leader, a man of his people, benefactor to many, philanthropist, soft spoken, calm, elegant and God-fearing man has departed this sinful world. The death of good persons strikes fear in many minds. According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), French Philosopher, ‘He who pretends to look on death without fear lies. All men are afraid of dying, this is the great law of sentient beings, without which the entire human species would soon be destroyed’.

He is survived by his widow, Mrs. Mercy Nwanganga Umezuruike, three sons, Chima, Chibueze and Obinna and a daughter, Ijeoma. There are three daughters-in-law, Dorothy, Peggy and Adaeze. Chief (Barrister) Ifeanyi Iboko (the fourth man) is the only son-in-law and is the husband of Ijeoma, a lawyer in her own right, just as Chima. In all, there are ten grand children, two brothers, and a host of other relatives too numerous to mention that he has left behind to grieve and to mourn his irreparable loss.

All of us who are dumb-struck by the death of the pillar of his community, Abia State and indeed Nigeria must be comforted by the words of Hymns, Ancient & Modern, 181: ‘His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour, the bud may have a bitter taste but sweet will be the flower; Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His Grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.’

In its last stanza, the Author of the Hymn professes that ‘Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan His work in vain, God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain’. Yes indeed! To his entire family, I say fear not for the Lord is with you and to the late learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria, whose final journey starts today. I say, Adieu.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.