By BOLUWAJI OBAHOPO with additional information from Sanplatform press
James Enojo Ocholi, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN),was born on 26th November 1960. He hails from Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi state. James Ocholi studied law at the University of Jos and was called to the Bar in 1986.
James Ocholi was a Public Counsel from 1987-1988 in the firm of D.D Peter Achimusi in Idah, Kogi State and thereafter left for private practice. In December of 2007, he was conferred with the prestigious title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
James Ocholi specializes in incorporation of companies; constitutional and commercial law, and conveyance; as well as private and public international law. He has worked as Consultant to Governments, parastatals, banks, financial institutions and corporate bodies.
He was the Deputy National Legal Adviser (interim) of the APC and later became the Kogi State Coordinator of Buhari/Osinbajo Presidential Campaign organisation.
From Grass to Grace
On the 26th of November 1960 the baby Ocholi was born to the couple, Mr. and Mrs. James Momoh Odoh at Idah in the present Kogi State in the then Northern Region of Nigeria, West Africa. He was the second child and the first boy in the family of four girls and two boys. However by reason of early death of the grandparents and uncles, the father took responsibility of the extended family as was the common practice in the African setting, so the house was always full. The resultant stress on his father’s purse meant the children lived marginally and barely had two meals a day. It was in this setting the kid went to public schools and subsequently to a mission high school in the area.
Pa James was a staff of the Native Authority in the Agric Department and rose to the position of acting treasurer. He was a devout Christian, an elder in the local church and a strict disciplinarian. The children therefore were not exposed to the usual vices associated with children in the neighbourhood. By virtue of the high school the young Ocholi attended he was further kept under strict moral discipline and subjected to good ethical behaviour such that he was not exposed to unwholesome self indulgence. Even if he had mischievous tendencies as all teenagers and adolescents do, the social atmosphere in the family prevented him from exhibiting any.
The Early Encounter with God.
In 1974 while in class two of Ochaja Secondary School, Dekina, at an evening school meeting at the school assembly hall, a Christian staff nurse from a neighbouring town was invited to speak to the students. Ocholi had an unusual experience and for the first time he understood that being born to a Christian family did not make one a Christian so he consciously made a decision to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. He went forward in response to an alter call and accepted Jesus. This singular experience marked the turning point in his life. He suddenly realized that being brilliant in school is not just enough to guarantee success in life.
In 1978 the young Ocholi lost his father shortly after graduation from High School. As a result, he became the family’s breadwinner even when he was not old enough to marry. His meager salary of one hundred and twenty five naira per month was barely enough to put basic meals on the table for the entire family.
By sheer grace of God, the teenager (Ocholi) was able to secure a scholarship from the then Benue state Government and this enabled him to go through and graduate as a lawyer from University of Jos in 1985. He finished from the Nigerian Law School in 1986 and he was admitted to the Nigerian Bar in 1986. After the one year compulsory Youth services in Calabar, Cross River State of Nigeria he declined offers of paid employment because he needed to cater for the younger siblings and the mother who had gone through difficult times while he was in school.
According to the young lawyer he remembered his little sister while in his final year who wrote to him wondering why his education was taking so long and asked “Brother, when will you finish University so we can eat meat”. So he discerned that the challenges waiting for him required an entrepreneurial approach.
By divine arrangement he had met his wife while in school and they were planning to get married and start a family after his National Youth Corps Service. It became obvious that he needed to make his way and strive for a successful career to meet the financial demands on him. He then started his practice in the small city of Ankpa the wife’s home city and the most commercial centre in Igalaland of Nigeria at the time. He had no start up capital and was barely able to put a table and two chairs as his only office furniture. It was at this critical time that he got married to his wife of over 21 years.
In Ocholis words:
“In Blessing Fatima Ocholi I have seen the benefits of being married to a woman who loves God. She not only came into my life when I had nothing but all through by her prayers and steadfast support she became one of the pillars of my success as she partook in the challenges of my professional pursuit”.
In addition the marriage has been blessed with five wonderful children; Ojone Peace, Aaron Enojo jr, Joshua Eb‘ojo, Uyo Blessing jr and Ele Excellent.
It was also at this time that he got introduced to the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International and became the Pioneer President of the Ankpa Chapter which became the mother chapter to over 35 Chapters. The Fellowship has had a lot of impact in his personal and professional life and brought him in contact with men of high standing who also love to serve God.
Overcoming the storm
For days on end barrister Ocholi spent his time reading Bible and law books which were indeed few as he couldn’t afford many because of his lean finances. He waited for briefs which were not forthcoming. When eventually a few briefs trickled in he had a devastating experience as he lost his first ten cases at the customary area and magistrate courts level. This appeared damaging to his aspiring practice as no one would like to patronize a lawyer with a penchant for losing cases.
Rather than fall into despair the barrister decided to appeal against the decisions to the high Court. At the hearing of the appeals all the judgments’ were overturned in his clients’ favor and indeed some of the judgments were reported extensively. As a result his reputation was enhanced, God using seemingly damaging events to set one up on the path of success and acclaim. This was his first major experience of God’s divine arrangement i.e. turning around an ugly situation for one’s good. From this time onwards his practice flourished from one level to another in all the hierarchy of Courts in Nigeria up to and including the Supreme Court.
God’s Guidance and Inspiration
In 1998 he felt God leading him to relocate from Ankpa to one of the major cities of Nigeria. He and His wife began to pray and they felt God leading them to relocate to Lagos. However Lagos presented a lot of problems including office accommodation. In addition there was a lot of distraction to the movement. It happened that that same year while handling a high profile chieftaincy case at the Court of Appeal, Kaduna he came in contact with Mr. Kehinde Onafowokan, a quintessential Senior Advocate of Nigeria who was to become very influential in his life. He was retained to lead him and a few other lawyers in that case. He saw and admired the strength of Ocholi’s advocacy and asked him where Ankpa was on the face of the map. He told him that he was not meant to practice in a little village. In addition he told him that he had the potential to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (the equivalent of the Queen’s Counsel). This was the first time that his eyes opened to the possibility of attaining the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
To cut a long story short Onafowokan (SAN) invited him to Lagos and offered him an office accommodation free of charge to start his law practice in Lagos at the ground floor of a mansion at 5 Military street, Onikan, Lagos Island. He accepted the offer and moved to Lagos recognizing the offer as the hand of God.
Expression of Gratitude
Lagos was to be a major turning point in his life as not only did briefs begin to come in at a rapid rate but he began to be exposed to high profile, corporate, criminal and political briefs. The nature of these briefs brought him in close contact with seasoned Senior Advocates of Nigeria on the opposite side and by implication further exposed him in his law practice. Onafowokan(SAN) who at this time had become a father – figure to barrister Ocholi offered that the young man handled all his cases at the Supreme court, Abuja because the SAN was no longer disposed to hectic travels.
This singular offer was one of the greatest boosts that the aspiring Ocholi needed if he would attain the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria which required his handling a sizeable number of cases at the Supreme Court among other Courts. He was excited at the offer and he felt it was God paving a way for him.
Shortly thereafter as he was preparing for these cases Onafowokan(SAN) died and all his promises could not be actualized.
Undoubtedly the sudden passing away of this great mentor and father created a vacuum in Ocholi’s life and career. As he felt it was no longer humanly possible to move forward, he once again turned to God in prayer and declared his confidence in Him that if He brought him thus far in his practice He was more than able to take him to a glorious future and that if He allowed the door to close He had a better door for him.
That prayer was answered as he left for another office secured at 24 Macarthy Street, Onikan, Lagos Island. He also trusted God to provide opportunities, wisdom and grace for him to conduct cases from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and finally to the Supreme Court, more so when at this stage he had no godfather. The cases came and he successfully conducted them at all levels of the judicial hierarchy.
Shortly after the Lord laid on his heart to relocate to Abuja, the Federal Capital of Nigeria where his practice moved on to a higher level. All the movements put a lot of pressure on his family but his wife rose to the occasion and that lightened the burden.
The Conferment of Senior Advocate of Nigeria(SAN) on Ocholi James
In 2006 Mr. Ocholi applied for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria but was not successful. However as he said the Lord assured him that he was going to get it so in 2007 he applied again. In a keenly but fairly contested process he was successful and on 12th December 2007 he stood among distinguished legal luminaries in the hallowed chambers of the Apex Court, the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the city of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital as he was conferred with highest and prestigious rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria. This born stammerer, with financially disadvantaged background, loaded with responsibility without the benefit of a godfather in the profession had entered the highest rank that a lawyer in Nigeria could attain, a rank so high that only about that time, 250 living Nigerian hold in the legal profession.
This feat is certainly not his personal making, it is the hand of God “who takes a man from the dunghill and makes him to seat among the princes”.
Ocholi contested for Kogi Governorship election under the defunct Congress for Progress Change in 2011 and later under the All Progressive Congress in 2014. Though opposition arose to hs choice as Mnster designate by Buhari (being from the same Local Govenment with the governor, Capt. Idris. Wada), but Still scaled through and was assigned the Labour and Productivity potfolio.
The Enojo James Ocholi (SAN), who was born on 26th November 1960., from Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi state, whose education denies his families meat in their soup studied law at the University of Jos, got called to the Bar in 1986, become Public Counsel from 1987-1988 in the firm of D.D Peter Achimusi in Idah, Kogi State, specialises in incorporation of companies; constitutional and commercial law, and conveyance; as well as private and public international law; worked as Consultant to Governments, parastatals, banks, financial institutions and corporate bodies; was Deputy National Legal Adviser (interim) of the APC and later became Kogi State Coordinator of Buhari/Osinbajo Presidential Campaign organisation; once served as National Secretary of The Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International in Nigeria.
Late Ocholi was a Notary Public of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Pro-chancellor and chairman of Council of the Salem University, Lokoja, once the chairman of Disciplinary Committee of Nigeria Bar Association, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; principal partner of the law firm of Ocholi James & Associates and until is death the State Minister for Labour and Productivity.