By Charles Kumolu
WHILE luck could be attributed to most success stories in life, that can’t be attributed to the sojourn of the Head, Sapphire Partners, Mr. Noble Uchechukwu. Right from his humble birth in Eastern Nigeria to his present successful status in Lagos, it has been a story powered by the absolute determination to defeat the circumstances of his birth. This resolve, which saw him hawking plantains on the streets of Owerri and having a life-changing encounter in the process, has remained one of the forces driving Uchechukwu. Today, he is a successful attorney with a focus on Oil and Gas, Corporate Governance, Mediation and Commercial litigation. His narrative, perhaps, offers key lessons that could inspire many.
IN the begining: I come from Mbriri, a town in Imo State. I was born in Owerri to the family of late Reginald Iwuagwu. I am the last of eight surviving children. I was born by parents who were not rich. I had a very humble and challenging childhood. I grew up in a part of Owerri called Royce Road. It was not a rich settlement. I went to one of the poorest schools then in Owerri, Water Side Primary School. It was a school that produced highly successful people. From there I moved to Emmanuel College, Owerri, where I finished my secondary school. I trekked to school in both primary and secondary school. While I was in SS1, my father had stroke that got him nearly bedridden and he died after five years. It is a family where we had to sell almost everything that we owned just to keep my father alive. My mother was a petty trader, who sold plantains and salad ingredients. So the Noble you are seeing today hawked plantains on the streets of Owerri. There are places I went to and found people, who were my early customers when I was hawking plantain. I also noticed that some people, who hawked plantain with me were not as successful as I am in life.
On hawking plantains
Some dropped by the wayside while some could not complete their schooling. But I did. I did all those things, not from a point of view of punishment or denial of child rights as we have it today. I did that not as an abuse from my parents. I did that because I have a mother, who was struggling to pay our school fees. I never got sent home any day for failure to pay school fees or inability to buy anything. She struggled to train us. I remember that there are times that I will come back home in my university days and my mother will start crying, saying that my elder brother had come and she gave him all she had or that another person had come and she had settled the person with all the money at home. Those were my humble beginnings. But there was a drive in me. Each day, my mother say to me that I will be great. As a little child I could talk, debate and argue. I was the President of many clubs in secondary school. I was involved in so many activities in school and church. I just knew that by handwork, one can be anything in life.
On becoming a lawyer: In those days when I used to hawk, somewhere around Mbano Street in Aladinnma where a lot of judges lived, I could point at the house of almost every judge then. I drew inspiration from them. There was a day in 1983 during the political campaign of that year when I stopped at Mbaise Road at the office of the NPP. I had the privilege of seeing Senator Arthur Nzeribe standing alongside Dr. RBK Okafor with a glass of Champagne. He was in a white native attire and white sandals. The image stuck and I admired them from a distance.
Shortly, Dr. Sam Mbakwe, who was the governor of Imo State emerged, I immediately told myself that I was going to be great. I was hawking planting the day I had this encounter. Those were my driving forces. At that stage, I was already conscious of politics and law. And my peers called me a pocket lawyer. I remembered writing that I was going to be a lawyer in my first composition in primary three. I thank God that grace was available for me and I stuck to it. I later studied law at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus. I was involved in mute trials and competitions as a law student. I held so many student leadership positions in the law faculty. I also belonged to a group called the Eastern Youth Forum which was one of the groups that made up the G34 that metamorphosed to PDP. I was the secretary of the forum. I started practice at the chambers of Chief Nwakanma, SAN, who was my mentor. When I moved into Lagos I joined the law firm of Cecilia Okafor and Associates. I became a partner in the firm and changed it to Sapphire Partners. I am currently the Principal Partner. I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, UK, and other bodies.
How do you think your story can inspire others?
There are so many lessons. My father died when I was in year one in the University. My elder sister, who was stepping in to sponsor me in school died the next year. It was a traumatic time for me. I studied law without owning a single law textbook because there was no money to buy any. The lesson is that nothing should be able to stop anyone in life. There is no force or power that is strong enough to stop a man that is determined on being somebody. You can’t stop a man who knows where he is going.
I feel disappointed when people give excuses because they reduce a man. They diminish a man. There is nothing anyone cannot do if the person is willing and ready. There are opportunities out there. When opportunity meets with preparedness, it is called luck. The lesson is that people should prepare themselves for what they want to be. People say they could not go to school because there was no money. One can blame his parents for the circumstances of his birth but when the person turns 18, the person is fully responsible for what he makes out of his life. If you are 21 or 18 and no one is paying school fees for you, go out there and pay school fees for yourself. My father was not born rich but before he died, he had nine Diplomas from the UK. He did correspondence courses. He was reading on his own and teaching his peers. The younger generation should read books instead of spending more time watching television or doing nothing on the social media.
Every time counts. It does not matter how someone was born. Today, people are giving up because of difficulties, but that is wrong because difficulties make people. You find wealth when you look out for an opportunity. I find it inspiring that Indians and Chinese are everywhere because they don’t look for jobs. What they do is to look for a big shop anywhere they find themselves and set up shops to provide services that are lacking in that environment. When I started in the first Chambers where I worked, I started without a salary. When the learned SAN found out that I had something to offer, he started giving me stipends for my transport. When I worked at the law firm of a human rights activist, Joe Eke in Owerri there was no salary. I tell people not to look at money first, rather they should equip themselves first. Knowledge will bring money later. Some of my mates that gave up are always surprised at what I am today. The younger generation should seek to do the right thing by working on integrity. Cutting corners has a very short lifespan. Integrity will keep and sustain anyone.
Adding value to clients
I don’t think I have achieved much because success is a journey. However, my greatest achievement is that my today is better than my yesterday and my tomorrow definitely will be better than my today. My only competition in life is the competition I am having with my past so that my future will be better. My greatest achievement is adding value anywhere I find myself.
Looking back and finding people, who were indigent but went to the universities because I paid their fees, makes me glad. I am also glad that some people picked up their gauntlet and moved on after hearing me. It also feels good that I am adding value to my clients, whose businesses are booming. It is also the same with the feeling that comes with knowing that many families are feeding as a result of the work I do. These are the things I consider as achievements but I am still on a journey. I am on that journey and I am on the wings of grace and each state that I get to, God opens more vistas.
On moving ahead
It is simple: You are dead when you give up. The first thing is never to give up. The strength to move ahead is inside of you. It might not come from anybody or what people tell you. Until you tell yourself from the inside of you that you have got all it takes to move on, you will remain in difficulties. I find it interesting that the advice or whatever anybody says to you is not enough to make you move until you move. It begins with mindset. People should have the mindset of a victor and a survivor. It is never over until you begin, the best way to begin is to begin and you cannot reinvent the wheel. The Bible says that people should not despise the days of little beginnings. I once interviewed a young graduate, who needed a job in my firm and I asked him how much he wanted to be paid. Behold, he said the least he would start with is N250, 000.