My Tribute To Obi Okwusogu By Antonio Atata
Posted: 06/Dec/2016

This is not a short story; it is a tribute to a good man whose life cannot be reduced to a few lines even by the best of flash fiction authors.

Last week, my world stood still and perhaps that of thousands of other lawyers who knew him.

He was a good man. He was humble. He had the humility that was scarce among his peers who had his title. He was distinguished. He was so gentle and elements were so mixed in him that nature will stand up and say, this was a man.

My first close contact with him was in the first week of July 2009 at the bar centre of the Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos branch, then in Court of Appeal, Lagos. He was the chairman of the election committee. I was attending a meeting of all contestants in the election. I was not contesting, I was there to represent Chijioke Okoli (now SAN) who was running for Chairman, but couldn’t make it to the meeting. In that meeting, which I consider the most significant meeting in my career as a lawyer, I met two other people who would influence my life positively in the coming years. I met Mr. Taiwo Obayomi Taiwo as he then was, now Justice Taiwo O Taiwo, who was also running for Chairman. I met Mrs. Olufunmi Oluyede, who was running for second vice.

From the first day I introduced myself to Obi Okwusogu, my name never left his lips, he called my surname musically any time he saw me. He made jokes about me being the tallest Ngwa man. It continued like that until the last time I saw him at the beginning of the new legal year, where I took his pictures.

The Tribute Begins Here

Two months before our first meeting, I had made a rascally decision that almost got me bankrupt. I started a publication called Courtroom mail which I published and distributed free of charge. Months later, I was struggling with thoughts of giving up (since all my earnings as a young lawyer were going into this project), when I met him at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos.

I still remember that meeting vividly, I had a matter before Justice Binta Nyako. I dropped my wig and gown and ran off to distribute copies of courtroom mail in the other court rooms, when I saw him coming in the opposite direction. That edition of courtroom mail was supposed to be the last. I was burnt out. I had given up. My last desire was to make sure I distributed the three thousand copies as much as I could. I was emotionally charged that morning, knowing that my failure will begin the moment I gave out the last copy.

I walked pass him murmuring greetings, not out of disrespect but out of the conviction that he will not recognise me. ATATA! He shouted, I froze and it dawned on me that I had goofed. The tallest Ngwa man! He continued cheerfully. I greeted him and he started talking in a smooth beautiful Onitsha dialect. Suddenly, he stopped and stared at me for a few seconds. I felt his gaze pierce through the facade on my face which pretended to be happy. He might have seen my soul. He held me and led me to a quiet corner of the court and we got talking.

He brought up the issue of my writing and praised it. I knew he was just laying a foundation to get close to what he saw beyond my weak smiles.

I was raised the African way and in Africa, men don’t cry. I resisted all his attempts to get close to that soft spot. He was trying to get to somewhere I knew I needed someone to get to. I spoke with a dramatic confidence which I struggled to put up. His smiles were not difficult to interprete. He was seeing my nakedness with the eyes of an elder. I am an avid fan of hip hop . In hip hop, I picked up a lot of life’s lessons .One of them says that you should never get emotional with your hustling, whether you fail or succeed. It was obvious that I was headed for failure that day, it was just a matter of hours; I was not ready to break that rule. I never succumbed to his enquiries, but that edition which was supposed to be the last one didn’t become the last one after that second meeting. We met other people along the way who vulcanised us (courtroom mail) to life and inflated us with the strength to keep walking.

Until now, we are yet to publish the last edition and wouldn’t publish the last in the nearest future. He died the week we were promoting courtroom mail in East Africa. He was a good man.

In 2011, I became the assistant Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Lagos Branch. In one of the monthly meetings of the branch, he pulled me aside and gave me a short summary of his days of service as the Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association National. He told me what to expect. I expected all and experienced all he told me. I saw wisdom in him. His grey hair was distinguished. I prayed for it and God answered me sooner than I had planned.

After serving in the EXCO of the NBA , Lagos in 2013,I decided to step aside. He noticed and asked me why I made that decision to step aside. I explained, and he understood perfectly, as if he already knew. He encouraged me when I flirted with the idea of contesting an election in my state. He was a good man.

Two years ago, I approached him to write his biography, he gave me some hard copies of his photographs, and was particularly concerned about me not writing anything that would constitute an advert. I still have those photos, though we never found the time to sit down and put it together.

In 2012, Courtroom mail listed the nominees for the Lawyer of the Year, he made the list. He qualified to. His contributions to the legal profession were outstanding.

He gave hope and a sense of belonging to younger lawyers. Obi Clement Okwusogu SAN was indeed a good man. May his soul rest in peace.

Antonio Dasuki Atata, Legal Practitioner, Former Communication Officer, African Regional Forum, International Bar Association