Law News
NBA Mourns as Most Senior Member Dies without SAN Award

It was a rueful moment for the Umuahia chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as its most senior member and former chairman was buried at the weekend without receiving the revered title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) after 49 years of sterling legal practice.

Chief John Obonna, who was enrolled as a solicitor and advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in July 1966 distinguished himself in private legal practice and died December 13, 2015 at the age of 81 but the conferment of SAN eluded him each time he was shortlisted for the honour.

At a special high court session held in his honour, his colleagues, while paying tributes to the man described as “lawyers’ lawyer” due to his towering legal stature, could not comprehend why those that served under his tutelage ended up as SANs and judges while he was denied such elevations.

But Chief Okey Amaechi (SAN), who passed through the tutelage of the late senior lawyer, explained that Chief Obonna was a victim of “malicious petitions” by some lawyers which not only robbed him of the chance to become a SAN but also scuttled his nomination to become a judge in 1977/78.

“Beginning from early 1980s to 1988, Obonna was being shortlisted for SANship every year, right from the time only three persons were appointed every year to when the number was increased to five,” he said, adding,  “but on each occasion just before announcement many malicious petitions would start flying to halt his conferment.”

According to Amaechi, many of the petitions injurious to late Chief Obonna’s quest to become a SAN “ Were written by Umuahia based legal practitioners without any just cause, and many others were procured.”

He noted that none of the petitions detracted from late Obonna’s “luminous garlands of success” as a legal practitioner even without receiving the SAN title.

However the Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, added another dimension to the reason the most senior lawyer in Umuahia NBA died without becoming SAN, saying that Obonna’s protracted illness which commenced in 1995/96 contributed to denying him SANship.

According to her, the late lawyer was shortlisted from 1983 till the time his illness started, adding that “he was the quintessential tough guy of the legal profession within our shores”.

The CJ said  aside from Obonna’s private legal practice, which was “full of verve and vitality (with) his normally very rich, serviceable and resourceful legal clientele” he also practiced philanthropy.

“He had a philanthropic practice of ventilating the grievances and pursuing the rights and entitlements of the weak, less privileged, indigent and vulnerable individuals or groups and or of defending them ex gratia against the strong and mighty in our society,” Justice Uzokwe said.

In his speech, the Abia State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Umeh Kalu, said the late most senior lawyer “eternally expressed his hopes and desires for good governance (and) had absolute zero tolerance for irregularities in whatever guise.

“He was an intellectually profound, peculiarly versatile and remarkable personality, who loved debates and never suffered fools gladly,” said the AG of the legal icon who practiced from his Nwaulari Chambers on Azikiwe road Umuahia.

Chairman of Umuahia NBA, A.C.  Okoroafor said during the over four decades Chief Obonna held sway as a seasoned advocate “he perfected the art of forensic oratory (hence) his submissions in court were directed to teach, delight and at the same time move the Bar, Bench and gallery into childlike admiration”.

Former governor of the state, Senator Theodore Orji, paid glowing tribute to the late London-trained, Ibeku-born lawyer, saying that Obonna “in those early days was a light house to our people, giving direction  to many youths who imbibed the culture that education  was the answer to many questions.”

The interment of Obonna at his Ohokobe Ndume country home in Umuahia North Local Government was preceded by a commendation service at St Mary’s Anglican Church.

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