Obi Nwakanma

Lucius Ezeakamadu Nwosu was a force of nature. Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Counsellor and defender of the poor and the powerless; a true lion at the bar, Nwosu died suddenly and quietly three weeks ago in Abuja.

The rumble stirred by his sudden and unexpected death continues to linger, but as in all things, the universe is indifferent. It moves on quickly. Yet Lucius Nwosu’s life was consequential and memorable. And his death demonstrates forcefully to us that we must all be prepared for the exit at any given time.

That life itself is unpredictable. Time, fragile. His quiet and peaceful exit was uncharacteristic of Lucius. He was not a man who did things quietly. Nor even peacefully. Built like a dagger – short, taut and precise – when Lucius entered a place, you took notice. He brought into it the sharp edginess of a knife. He filled a room with brilliant and recondite energy. There was a dramatic quality to his existence, and you would expect that he would leave with a bang, not peacefully and in sleep. Yet, when we think of it carefully, the bang was in shock.

The unpredictable and unexpected nature of his passing had the force of thunder. For instance, we had a meeting with Zoom on Sunday. He was his very ebullient, humorous, and argumentative self. By Monday, he went sleep and never woke. The Igbo would say, that is how he and his “Chi” made their covenant. We submit always to our divine guide – our “Chi” – that indwelling God of whom the Igbo think, all humans are endowed. Odinala – the sacred, and very ancient religion of the Igbo teaches, and holds to be true, that “Chi onye n’edu ya.” That simply means that a man is accompanied through life by his divine self.

The Igbo believe in the divinity of the self. They actually name their children, “Chinedu” or in some versions, “Ehiedu” or in some instances, they call their children, “Munachiso,” which fully translated means, “I walk in the company of my god.” The lost translation could also be, “I and my god are one.” That is why the Igbo believe, and Odinala teaches the concept of “Ehi” – each day as the awakening of divine light. “Ehi” is the opening of the sun’s door that the divine might emerge. The Igbo still say, “Ehi Chi boro.” “Ehi Chi Wara.” “Ehi Chi owa.”

 All these mean, “The day is God’s awakening.” As a matter of fact, the Igbo go so far as to say, “Chi bu ututu” – God is morning light, or literally, “God is the morning awakened.” Sometimes in a plea to this sacred divine, the Igbo name their children, “Echi ejile” or “Chi ejile”  or  “Chi ejina” – all of them literally meaning, “may night not come,” but which theologically, and in the high poetic pulse of the Igbo language does actually mean, “may the divine light not depart earth.” Because each departure, as the sun’s door closes, leaves man literally at the mercy of chaos. God arrives and reveals himself to the earth at the awakening of the sun daily, according to Igbo (Odinala) belief.

The day is in fact an embodiment of the divine. And so to the Igbo, who often describe themselves as “Children of God,” and believe in their direct descendancy with the divine, the arrival of each day, “Ehi”, (sometimes also called “Ubochi”) is a renewal of their divine selves – through the awakening of their “Chi” – their indwelling God. Every day, until night descends with the veil of darkness, embodies hope, possibility and self-renewal. That is why to the Igbo, there is neither envy of, nor intimidation by another’s good fortune or station in this life.

“Their Chi is awake” – Chi ya Muanya – the Igbo would often say in admiration if such an individual lives the honest good life. But for another who strives and strives, but nothing works, the Igbo also say, do not blame such a one: “that is how they and their Chi made their covenant.” But nothing to the Igbo is permanent.

Neither poverty, nor wealth, nor status, nor existence itself. Life is a dynamo of daily awakening, and depending on the life force in you, your “Chi,” anything could happen. If a man is poor in this incarnation, in the next, he swears, he would be so rich, wealth itself will feel shame for running from him in this incarnation. This promise of the next life is what indemnifies the Igbo against subservience and indignity. It is also what drives his moral life. There is only one constant in the Igbo belief system: it is that no man is born lord of the other. “Onweghi onye wu Chi Ibe ya” – the Igbo say.

They even give their children the name – “Onyewuchi.” It is a name framed as a question: “Who is it that can claim to be the lord of another?” Because the name is rhetorical, the answer is brilliantly inherent. The more direct, uncluttered version of this name is, ”Ezeakamadu.” And it means, that not even a high title confers superiority on one human over another. Basically, all men are born equal and are uniquely endowed by their “Chi.” There is no man, therefore, irrespective of presumed status, who has a right to mistreat, or presume priority over another.

 Lucius Ezeakamadu Nwosu lived the full force of his name. He abhorred cant, and he detested injustice and oppression. He fought for the dignity of the human person. He was of light – like his name, “Lucius” suggests, even though those whom he fought in court, the oil barons and production companies, particularly Shell Petroleum, called him “Lucifer Nwosu.” But that was out of pure pique and frustration for the relentless force he brought in his advocacy for the victims of their grotesque and unregulated operations in Nigeria.

Born in Port-Harcourt (or “Para-Kot” as the old-timers would call it) in 1953, Lucius Nwosu embodied the wefts and wafts of that city. He loved that city which his Igbo folk call, “Igweocha.” He was a thorough “Pitakwa” boy. He was enraged by the misfortune that oil brought to this “garden city” of his birth. There are no gardens left in Port Harcourt and sooth now falls from the skies on everything from its polluted environment. Proximity to this environmental anomaly and tragedy compelled Lucius Nwosu to act rather than flee. Nwosu began schooling in Ogoni land, a year before the civil war broke out.

He was later admitted to the Government College Umuahia at the war’s end; a school that his own father had attended just before it was closed by another war – the Second World War. The Nigerian civil war had a great psychological effect on Lucius.

Reduced to temporary indigence from the circumstance of postwar deprivation, Nwosu swore never to forget, and as he once said to me, “I never forget.” He studied Law at the University of Nigeria Law School in Enugu and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1981. From then on, he devoted his legal mind to fighting for environmental justice.

Two things drove him: he had access to a throve of family documents which his father, a prewar Shell employee secured, and he was hurt by the destruction of the pristine ecology and environment he knew as a child by the ravages of crude oil production.

Where his fellow Umuahian alumnus, the writer and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa used his literary power to draw the world’s attention to the destruction of the Niger Delta, particularly his Ogoni Community, Lucius Nwosu deployed his immense legal mind and talent to fight the oil companies directly in court.

He was a fierce advocate for the victims of environmental degradation. He won a series of substantial compensatory reliefs for these communities in courts by taking on these giant oil corporations whom everyone else feared. At first, it was like the battle between David and Goliath, for no one dared take on these over-resourced and over-protected giants. But in time, the oil companies in the Niger Delta quaked at the name, Lucius Nwosu. He was the most consequential environmental lawyer of his generation.

But the day a man is born is also the beginning of his death. “Ehi” might be our day of renewal, but it is also our day of reckoning, because whatever arrives with the sun also departs with the sun. That is the cycle of our lives. Lucius Ezeakamadu Nwosu, to all intents and purposes, has completed the cycle allotted him. He always knew that this day will come, and by all indications, he was prepared for it. He was a luminous character: maverick, humorous, and deeply humane.

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