By Romanus Okoye
It was a festival of accolades as foremost lawyer, chairman, Council of Legal Education (CLE), Chief Emeka Ngige, turned 60 recently.
Ngige’s initial reluctance to mark the milestone anniversary due to the mood of the nation was torpedoed by friends and associates, among others.
In fact, Ngige, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, would later confess during his “thank-you speech” at the birthday ceremony that it was a poser by his amiable wife, Ogoo, on his tenure as CLE chairman that turned the tide. What followed became the highlight of the ceremony, the unveiling of the “Nigerian Law School Support Initiative,” a project after Ngige’s heart. It is designed to revamp decaying infrastructure at the Nigerian Law School.
His words: “My wife, children and I wish to start by thanking God Almighty who made the event of today possible. Within the family, we had been discussing on the propriety of anyone celebrating anything nowadays, in the light of the challenges our dear country and, indeed, the whole world is facing today.
“However, a thought must have flashed through my wife’s mind when she asked, ‘How many years is the tenure of a chairman of Council of Legal Education?’ I said, four years. After some silence, she quipped: ‘Nna, from May 28, 2021, you just have two years to go. You must try and leave a lasting positive legacy at the Law School before your tenure ends. I was struck by this flash of inspiration and we started thinking of what could be done to make this chairmanship memorable.
“Following extensive consultations that I had with the director-general of the Nigerian Law School, Prof. Isa Hayatu Chiroma, SAN, and the chairman of my committee of friends, Mr. Chijioke Okoli, SAN,, the idea of a Nigeria Law School Support Initiative was mooted. The initiative was designed to be unveiled at the occasion of my 60th birthday. Initially, we thought of holding the event in Abuja but, along the line, we decided that Lagos, my state of residence since 1986, should be the appropriate venue. My committee of friends had less than a month to prepare and package what has been presented to you today. We cannot thank God Almighty enough.”
The day kicked off with a thanksgiving Mass at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, Yaba, Lagos. The celebration then moved to the Nigerian Law School for the ceremony and the unveiling of the Law School Rebuilding Initiative. Held at the exquisitely decorated Adetokunbo Ademola Hall, the event also had many leading lights, especially of the legal profession, in attendance. They include Justice Samuel Oseji, a classmate of the celebrant, who represented the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR; chairman of Body of Benchers, Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour (rtd); the longest served Deputy Senate President, Prof. Ike Ekweremadu; president of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Monica Dongbam-Mensen, represented by the presiding justice, Lagos Division, Justice Joseph Ikyegh; president, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olumide Akpata; former NBA president and vice-chairman, Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN; and chairman of Yabatech governing council, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, who also doubled as chairman on the occasion.
Others were Prof. Zach Adangor, SAN, who represented Rivers State governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike; Mr. Uche Ihediwa, who represented the governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu; Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Enlightenment, Mr. C-Don Adinuba; and former director-general of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, Mrs. Sally Uwechue-Mbanefo.
Among the guests who joined virtually were former chairman of the Body of Benchers, Owelle George Uwechue, SAN, who was the “Father of the Day,” chairman of the ICPC, and Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, SAN, among many other SANs, benchers and bar leaders.
While Nollywood star and lawyer, Kanayo O. Kanayo, compered the event alongside senior lawyer, Ms. Tolani Edu-Adeola, Nigerian Law School director-general played the role of a perfect chief host, even as cerebral lawyer, Prof. Gbolahan Elias, SAN, delivered a scintillating anniversary lecture on “The Nigerian Law School, Infrastructure and the Future of Law: Stakeholders As Catalysts for Development.”
The naira rain for the rebuilding of the decaying Nigerian Law School infrastructure was then set in motion with the unveiling of the Nigerian Law School Support Initiative. Many guests expressed shock at the dilapidated facilities at the Nigerian Law School, beamed into the hall and the spill-over outdoor tent on the school’s lawns from strategically positioned LED screens.
While many corporate bodies and individuals donated generously towards the initiative, Air Peace Airline, one of Africa’s largest airlines, where Ngige is a director, turned out to be the stand-out donor during the unveiling ceremony. Its chairman/CEO, Chief Allen Onyema, also a ranking lawyer, reeled out several projects to be undertaken for the five campuses of the Nigerian Law School as well as its headquarters in Abuja, totalling over N40 million.
Other notable donors were the Wike-led Rivers State government (N20m); Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN (N20m); Nigerian Law School Class of 1985 (N18m); Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN (N10m); Mr. Ahmed Raji, SAN (N10m); Abia State government (N5m); Prof. Fabian Ajogwu, SAN (N5m), and Engr. Emeka Okwuosa, chairman/CEO, Oilserve Nigeria Limited (N5m).