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‘How grand-dad, mum influenced my becoming a lawyer’

Imran Musa
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Having ‘Justice’ as part of your name is no guarantee that one is destined for a life in the legal sector. But Chito Justice Onyeama’s mum, nudged on by his grandfather – the late Justice of the Supreme Court Charles Onyeama – perhaps saw the future. ‘Chito’ a 2017 alumni of the Enugu State University (ESUT) shares this story and others with ROBERT EGBE.

A novellist’s son

My name is Onyeama Chito Justice. I’m from Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State. My parents are separated. They have been for almost 30-years now. I am the fourth son. My father is a novelist and a publisher, while my mother is a businesswoman.

Fear of senior boys

I attended the University Primary School, Enugu, Enugu Campus. I also attended Federal Government College (FGC), Enugu — having partly attended Konigen Des Friendes College, Enugu. I have an eclectic brew of memories during my pre-tertiary school days. The most nostalgic must be the ‘horrible days’ in boarding school (what we colloquially termed ‘Dorm’), back in FGC, Enugu. I nostalgically recall the horrible days we slept in classes, under trees, and even in bushes all for fear of ‘Senior Boys’! Back then, upon the slightest sight of a cluster of boys, a senior would let out a long drawn-out scream of summons that often came with shortly numbered counts. This meant that we would drop whatever we were doing and run like demons to the direction of the scream! The thought of ‘shirking away’ was often considered a deadly one!

Long lineage of lawyers

I attended The Enugu State University (ESUT). I had a myriad of challenges! First of all, I am inclined to see myself as a young man provided with a rare privilege to compete against others in an expensive league, but, unfortunately, without needed orientation and weaponry—so to speak. I veritably came from ‘law’ itself (tongue-in-cheek). I have a great deal of legal luminaries in my family. It’s a proud fact to revel in, for me! My grandfather was a once Supreme Court judge and was the first Nigerian judge of the ICJ and The International Tribunal of The World Bank. His younger cousin, my Uncle, The late Hon. Justice Anthony Nnaemezie Aniagolu was also a Supreme-Court judge. His younger brother, the late Hon. Justice Byron Onyeama was a fierce and venerated High Court judge. However, I also happen to have a good deal of uncles and aunts who were/are successful Nigerian lawyers.

Mum’s role in choice of Law

To be candid, I should say that my mother in her intelligence and insight played the biggest role in motivating me to study Law. My mother, I can vividly recall, had a seemingly close father-and-daughter relationship with my late grandfather. My mother, upon summons by my grandfather through his secretary, often visited his office-chambers in the 90s. And she often went carrying me along. My mother has always been consistent with the narrative that my late grandfather had promised to protect and fight for her both ‘in life and in death’—more or less, six months before he would pass on. My mother would always add that he prevailed on her to put me in the line of ‘Justices’. My mother would christen me ‘Justice’ — although I was told that it would stir epic outrage amongst some circles!

This narrative was bought by a great many. I grew up hearing it and subconsciously believing it to be an eventuality. People cheered me up with my name—‘Justice’—as though they also had a firm belief in its futuristic fulfilment. I must confess all these served and still serve as an incredible and inexplicable mental push for me! I did not know what I might become — no one is God, but that kind of early instilment of a great positive belief in my subconscious as a child, proved and is proving incredibly great.

Law School was not as difficult as university

It was not as difficult as my university, I must confess. Everything was, to a relatively better extent, put in place. There were no negotiations of ‘basic academic standards’. I can only concede to having had a terrible mental fatigue at an advanced point in the year. I became apathetic to any further long-reading, mental rigours! I needed a First-Class passionately, because that would have come as a weapon to get back at my alma-mata for their many acts of professional indiscretions!

Law School didn’t stop me from unwinding

I was able to find time for recreational activities. I had my Law School in Abuja. So, right adjacent its campus gate are some hotels —Elim Suites, Lovitoes (and some other whose name seems to have fizzled past my memory). I often visited Lovitoz during the weekends to see football matches and also on Fridays to bask in the euphoria of its club-house.

Call to Bar

My Call to Bar was celebrated quite well. I was at my Uncle’s (a serving Nigerian minister). I had good memories with friends. Pictures and fares were had.

How I overcame panic on my first day in court

My first day in a court room was quite memorable! I was handed a file and directed to go and move a contentious Application at The Federal High Court, Ikoyi. I was told that I was to appear before, My Lord, The Hon.Justice Okon Abang. The thought of that task—appearing before such an erudite and fierce judge—caused a surging wave of apprehension to grip me in a cold panic! It was a contentious Garnishee Application. I recall that when my matter was called and I was to announce appearance and move my application, I was assailed by multiple stares from senior lawyers. I hadn’t even said anything when it had started to seem like my ears were hearing muffled mischievous laughter from behind. At that point my heart had started on a jazz-rhythm! The fiery-looking Justice Okon Abang would shoot such penetrating stare—his eyes looking like those of a hawk! Counsel on the other side, having sensed my timidity, wanted to feed on my situation. I think that was what provoked anger to switch-on the braveness and confidence in me. Counsel mischievously attempted to alter facts, thinking that I was naive to see through his scheme, but I was stung to put up a daring intelligent remonstration, that would earn me the acclaim of the presiding judge and some senior lawyers.

Day I addressed a judge as a magistrate

Embarrassing courtroom experience? Yes, I must confess to have had. I remember misaddressing a judge with the conventional address of a Magistrate. It came as a slip-of-tongue. It elicited loud guffaws amongst observers in court! I felt terribly out of place!

‘Oppressive’ Law School grading system

The grading system was seemingly oppressive than progressive. People swept the board nevertheless, but it didn’t reflect the truest struggles and/or one who had the right attitude towards making the best grade.

Wig, gown are relics of imperialism

To be candid, putting on the wig and gown has a sense of profound prestige that it bestows. But of a truth, it was not designed for our relatively hot climate. It betrays an apparent lack of imagination on our part. I mean, we are still putting on what could pass for a relic of British imperialism. I think it high time we looked within ourselves and did away with it.

Judge, SAN or Professor?

Sometimes I see traits of an ‘SAN’ in me; sometimes I see a ‘jurist’ in me; and while sometimes, I see myself as a professor. However, whichever comes, then may God’s name be praised!


Source: The Nation

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