Courtroom Mail has obtained a historic tribute to Chief Emmanuel Ofulue written by Zik C Obi 11. It is not just a tribute but a piece of history.
A TRIBUTE TO LATE CHIEF SIR EMMANUEL OFULUE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, NBA LAGOS BRANCH – THE GIANT WHO LED THE PREMIER BRANCH’S FIGHT TO STOP THE PERMANENT CLOSURE OF THE NIGERIAN LAW SCHOOL, VICTORIA ISLAND , LAGOS CAMPUS AND THE SALE OR ALIENATION OF THE PREMISES. BY ZIK C. OBI II ESQ.
The late Chief Sir Emmanuel Ofulue was the Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association Lagos Branch – the Premier Branch – in 1998 when the late General Sanni Abacha’s Administration decided to scrap the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos Campus and subsequently, sell or alienate of the premises of the Nigerian Law School in Victoria Island, Lagos following the establishment of the Bwari-Abuja as the new main and only Campus of the Nigerian Law School. The Federal Government had decided to carve up the premises and give or sell them to certain institutions including the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), the International Labour Organisation, the Industrial Arbitration Tribunal and some private companies.
Following the news of the determination of the Federal Government to proceed with the scrapping of the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos and the sale or alienation of the Law School premises, the then Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Mrs. Hariat Balogun, (who had made so much effort to try to dissuade the Federal Government from scrapping the Nigerian Law School in Lagos and selling or alienating the premises), summoned a meeting of the Body of Benchers on 8th October 1998 where a decision was taken by the said Body to write letters to the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) and the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos advising them that they would be “destroying the Legal Profession” if they did not withdraw their application for the acquisition of the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island Lagos premises. Immediately after the letters were written and dispatched to the said two institutions, the then Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation countermanded the decision of the Body of Benchers and instructed the then Secretary of the Body of Benchers (who was a Principal State Counsel under the Federal Ministry of Justice) to withdraw the said letters which directive the Secretary promptly complied with.
The late Chief Ofulue then decided to bring up the decision of the Federal Government to scrap the Nigerian Law School Lagos Campus and the proposed sale or alienation of the premises at one of the NBA Lagos Branch monthly meetings where Mrs. Hairat Balogun, who was present at the meeting, also briefed the meeting on the consequences of the scrapping of the said Lagos campus when there were very many students still awaiting admission into the Nigerian Law School and also the proposed sale of the premises and after exhaustive discussions of the matter, a decision was immediately taken by the Lagos Branch to challenge in court, the said scrapping and the proposed sale in view of the number of law graduates awaiting admission into the Nigerian Law School and unable to gain admission. Chief Ofulue immediately swung into action, discussed the matter with me and requested me to act as one of the counsels in the matter which I accepted to do pro bono without any hesitation whatsoever and both of us then approached the late Chief G. O. K Ajayi SAN who agreed to act as leading counsel also pro bono to challenge in court the scrapping of the Nigerian Law School Lagos Campus and the proposed sale or alienation of the premises.
Pursuant to that decision, the SUIT NO. FHC/L/CS/92/99: (1) CHIEF EMMANUEL OFULUE (Chairman Lagos Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association for himself and on behalf of other members of the Lagos Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association) and (2)
FOLASADE COKER (For herself and on behalf of the other Law Graduates of Nigerian Universities now awaiting admission into the Nigerian Law School) vs (1) THE
HON. ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION, (2) THE COUNCIL OF LEGAL EDUCATION, (3) MRS. HARIAT BALOGUN (Chairperson, Body of
Benchers) & (4) THE BODY OF BENCHERS was filed together with a Motion on Notice at the Federal High Court Lagos on 29th January, 1999. The reliefs claimed by the plaintiffs in the suit were as follows:-
“1. A declaration that as long as there continues to be a back-log of qualified Law Graduates who cannot be now admitted promptly for the mandatory training at the Bwari Campus of the Law School, the 2nd defendant Council is bound to provide such training in its other premises at Victoria Island, Lagos and cannot frustrate this obligation either by a pre-emptive sale of the same to third parties or by surrendering possession thereof to institutions or individual not performing the statutory functions imposed upon the said Council.
- An Injunction restraining the Federal Government and its Agencies, the Defendants their servants and/or agents from taking possession of or alienating or otherwise parting with the possession of the Nigerian Law School premises at Victoria Island Lagos or any portion thereof to any institution or person not entrusted by Law with the performance of the duties and functions imposed on the 2nd Defendant by the Legal Education Act.
- An Injunction restraining the Federal Government and its Agencies, the Defendants their servants and/or agents from taking possession of or alienating or otherwise parting with the possession of the Nigerian Law School premises at Victoria Island Lagos or any portion thereof until it has completed the provision of Legal training to all qualified Law Graduates making up the current as well as the anticipated back-log of students awaiting such training.
- A mandatory injunction directing the 2nd Defendant Council forthwith to commence the provision of training facilities for qualified Law Graduates at the Victoria Island premises of the Nigerian Law School until at least, such time as those facilities can be conveniently provided promptly for all qualified Law Graduates elsewhere.”
On 3rd February 1999, Hon. Justice Dan Abutu, in spite of the opposition by the counsel for the Federal Government & the Council of Legal Education challenging the locus standi of the plaintiffs, made an Interim Order restraining the Federal Government, the Defendants, their servants or privies from selling, alienating or otherwise parting with the possession of the Nigerian Law School premises in Victoria Island Lagos. The counsel for Mrs. Hairat Balogun did not oppose the grant of the Order of Interim Injunction. The late Chief Ofulue had insisted on personally deposing to the affidavit in support of the motion for injunction. Immediately thereafter, the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Council of Legal Education and the Body of Benchers filed an appeal against the said Federal High Court ruling.
The handing over ceremony of the Nigerian Law School Lagos premises to the proposed new owners by the representatives of the Federal Government was scheduled to take place on Wednesday, 3rd March 1999 despite the subsisting order of Interim Injunction. On that morning, a team from the NIALS led by its Director-General was at the Victoria Island
Lagos Law School premises to take over but other interest groups opposed to the sale and journalists were also there. Chief Ofulue and his counsel, Zik Obi Esq. led the NBA Lagos Branch members to the Law School Lagos premises; Mrs. Hariat Balogun, Chairperson of
the Body of Benchers (who was opposed to the scrapping of the campus and the sale of the premises) was also there with some members of the Body of Benchers. We all confronted and challenged the Federal Government and the NIALS representatives insisting that they should, obey the interim court order stopping the sale and transfer copies of which we distributed there. As Chief Ofulue, Mrs. Balogun and other members of the Branch stood their ground in opposition, the Federal Government representatives were forced to suspend the planned handover. Thereafter, we continued with the court proceedings and after a few more court appearances, the Federal Government now headed by General Abdulsalam Abubakar and with a new Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation reviewed the matter and decided to back down on its decision to scrap the Nigerian Law School, Lagos campus and sell off or alienate the premises and shortly thereafter the Council of Legal Education re-opened the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos campus and admitted some of the awaiting students. At that time there had been a heavy backlog of students waiting for admission and the Council of Legal Education was compelled to introduce the two or three streams per day in an attempt to clear the backlog. The decision to retain and reopen the Nigerian Law School Lagos Campus was followed later with the establishment of new campuses of the Nigerian Law School in some other parts of the Federation like Kano, Enugu, Yenagoa (Bayelsa State) Following the said re-opening of the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos campus, the NBA Lagos Branch having come out victorious, resolved at its monthly meeting of 14th February 2000, to discontinue the suit and following the communication of the said resolution to us, I filed a Notice of Discontinuance of the suit on 14th March 2000 and when the matter came up in court again on 22nd March 2000, it was formally struck out.
We all at the NBA Lagos Branch and the entire Legal Profession and particularly lawyers who were called to Bar after 1999 owe a lot of thanks and gratitude to Chief Ofulue for spear-heading the fight to keep open the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos. We are also grateful to Mrs. Hairat Balogun for the very principled stand that she took in the
matter. If not for the successful fight by the NBA Lagos Branch to save the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus, it is highly probable that there would today be only one Law School campus in Abuja and the Nigerian Law School Campuses in Enugu, Bayelsa and Kano, etc may not have come into existence and many law graduates would not have had the opportunity to attend the Nigerian Law School and be called to Bar in Nigeria.. The late Chief G. O. K. Ajayi SAN and I offered our professional services to the Branch pro bono and received letters of appreciation from Dr. Kole Abayomi, the then Secretary to the Council of Legal Education and Hon Justice Adesuyi Olateru-Olagbegi in his capacity as the then Chairman, NBA Lagos Branch for our services in the matter.
During the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Council of Legal Education and the establishment of the Nigerian Law School, I personally wrote the then Chairman, Council of Legal Education requesting that the Council “use the opportunity of the 50th Anniversary to honour Chief Emmanuel Ofulue, former Chairman, NBA Lagos Branch, who was the initiator of, and the main plaintiff in, the suit, Chief G. O. K. Ajayi SAN and of course, myself, for our efforts in saving the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos campus from being closed down permanently and the premises sold off or alienated to third parties by the Federal Government of Nigeria under the Late General Sanni Abacha”. I did not get a response to that letter and I am not aware that any of those mentioned (except perhaps Mrs. Hairat Balogun being a life Bencher and former Chair, Body
of Benchers) was invited to, or honoured at, the said 50th Anniversary. I pray Almighty God that the late Chief Ofulue, who was not honoured for his fight for the Nigerian
Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos during his lifetime, will be honoured posthumously someday.
Chief Sir Emmanuel Ofulue was a great man, a very dedicated and committed member of the legal profession. May Almighty God grant all members of the Ofulue family the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss and they should please accept our heartfelt condolences and may our ever good and faithful Lord continue to grant his soul eternal rest, Amen.
ZIK C. OBI II ESQ, A LAWYER, WAS PRESIDENT OF OTU OKA IWU (2009-2016)