By Awa Kalu
I first met the late Professor U.U Uche, when I was a young lecturer at the University of Lagos. Prof, as I later learnt to call him, had recently returned from his stint in various capacities overseas.
He had just established legal practice with late Chief Ojo Maduekwe( who himself later flourished in various capacities) in the firm name, U.U Uche & Associates.
That first meeting was occasioned by lateEmekaEzera, who as a postgraduate student at the Harvard University, had come on a visit to Nigeria. Emeka walked into my office while I was reading a chapter in one of Professor Ben Nwabueze’sepic trilogy titled “Constitutionalism In The Emergent States”. LateEmeka was the son of the late Professor Kalu Ezera, a member of the Federal House of Representatives in the First Republic who died soon after the Nigerian Civil War.
Seeing and delighted by what I was reading, Emeka asked me if I had met Professor Ben Nwabueze and when I replied in the negative, he promised to take me to someone who would make it easy for me to meet the erudite Professor Nwabueze.
On an appointed date, Emeka took me to the very imposing (at the time) Western House, where Professor U.U Uche had his practice. I was introduced to him, and while he was trying to discover who I was (in the Ohafia way) Chief Ojo Maduekwe came back from Court and gave me a big hug. Seeing the kind of hug I received from late Chief Ojo Maduekwe, the late Prof. took more active interest in me and became more magnanimous in realizing that at that time, I was struggling to make my “bones”in academics. As the discussion became friendlier and more interesting, the late Prof. instantly offered me a mild consultancy which brought an opportunity to appreciate fondly, the distance between academics and practice. The challenge was for me at the time to study live files and to provide opinion on recondite points of law arising from the case at hand. Each time I returned an opinion, Prof., encouraged me in a soft and sonorous voice with enthusiastic encomiums.
I had a group of young men, at the time, who craved Prof’s company and insightful guidance, either in his office on weekdays or as occasion warranted, in his home in Victoria Island. We found him not only profound in the depth of his knowledge, but as well as in the breadth of information he was willing to convey to us, a younger generation. He was a man of candour and wisdom. I had the singular opportunity later in life when as Attorney General of Abia State, I had a misunderstanding with Late Chief Ojo Maduekwe who had risen to the exalted height of Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.I n a nutshell, it was Prof who upon learning of the dispute flew to Umuahia to learn from me, first hand of the facts leading to the disagreement and overnight, he provided guidance on how to resolve the issues without much rancour or bitterness. I dare say that when it came to such mediation, the Late Prof was incomparable.
Born on the 7th November, 1934, Professor U.U Uche hailed from Okon, a major community in Ohafia, Abia State. He had his early education at the Aggrey Memorial College, Arochukwu, after which he attended the Teachers Training College, Uyo (now capital of Akwa IbomState). Thereafter, he received University education at the University of Ghana, Accra, the venerated Oxford, England and took a Ph.D in law from the University of London. As is very well known, any legal training that combined the traditions of Ghana, Oxford and London could not but result in anything less than what Professor Uche’s academic sojourn represented. He blazed the trail. He was later called to the English Bar at the Grey’s Inn, London in 1963 and was enrolled as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1965. Thereafter, he tasted legal practice in the thriving law office of the then Barrister A.K Uche of blessed memory. A.K Uche also of Ohafia extraction, was a First Republic Parliamentarian and was later translated as a judge of the High Court ofthe Old Imo State.
To dwell on Professor U.U Uche’s sojourn whether as a distinguished member of the Ivory Tower or as a Consultant would require the reader to wade through several pages of paper with diligence and patience.
Accordingly, it would suffice to note his distinguished teaching career as a lecturer in African Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, between 1965- 1976; his distinguished service as Counsel with the famous Dingle-foot and Desmond Ackner(1967-1972);as well as his Distinguished service as a Professor of Public law at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. Part of Professor Uche’s stint includes his very visible footsteps as a visiting Professor at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, 1977-1978. He shared his very vast knowledge in service as a Consultant to several international institutions and these include, as Senior Legal Consultant, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development(UNCTAD); former Chairman, Board of Directors, Centre for African Legal Studies, Nairobi, Kenya; Member, Board of Directors, Development Law and Policy Program, Centre for Population and Family Health, Columbia University, New York and also as member, British Institute of International and Comparative Law, London. As a commercial lawyer of repute, Prof. also served on the Board of Directors of the defunct African Continental Bank (A.C.B) – a bank in which people had immense confidence and trust.
Prof. was not only a man of robust ideas, he was a leader of men and proved his leadership credentials when he was President, Otu Oka Iwu- a prestigious association of Igbo lawyers which functions as a think tank as well as a mild pressure group which resolves teething problems concerning the large crop of Igbo lawyers based in Lagos. Prof. was a great family man, a devout Christian (of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion) he was also a great philanthropist who did good to a number of people. He was a wonderful mentor and a great life-coach who developed me and an innumerable number of young shall grow.
In a number of tributes I have written for legal luminaries in the past, I never failed to note through the famous hymn Only Remembered, that when any person dies, he or she will only be remembered by what he or she had done. Prof. will surely be remembered, seeing that he is survived by a strong and formidable family- his Widow, Chief Mrs Gladys Uche and Six (6) solid Children; Pastor (Mrs) Pearl Moses (Nee Uche)- Solicitor/Director of Compliance, Setfords Law Limited, United Kingdom; DrChidiUche- Managing Director of Jacksonville Urgent Care LLC, Florida U.S.A; Ms. Ola Uche- Solicitor with Property Portfolio, United Kingdom; MrUzombaUche- Product Design Engineer and Master Technician, United Kingdom; Dr (Mrs) IjeomaOnyeator (Nee Uche) – Senior Anchor/Producer, Channels Television; several grandchildren and great grandchildren.
In the full panoply of what the learned Professor was, of what he had accomplished, the legacy he left behind, and the equally accomplished family that will miss him most, Prof. will surely be remembered.Adieu,Prof U.U Uche – Revered Community Leader, Big Daddy , Teacher of Illustrious Men and Women, Handsome, amiable, Distinguished and erudite Professor. Safe journey and fare thee well.