Our Personality of the week is Barr. Paul Chukwuka Eze Dunkwu Esq., A renowned Barrister of the early 1960s in Agbor. In his interview with Lawrence Uche and Obasi Emmanuel, he spoke about his life, Legal practice, experience during the civil war and the good old days…
Let’s meet you sir
I am Paul Chukwuka Eze Dunkwu Esq, born on March 29th 1929, to the family of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Okeleke Dunkwu.
Tell us about your childhood days and education?
I grew up in Zaria and attended St Patrick’s Catholic School, Zaria. I left elementary school in 1944, had my secondary education at Ibadan Boys High School and finished class five in 1949. My dad was so particular about his children, he even went extra miles to get teachers to take his children on extra class. Then, I will be grumbling, “This man, go and read your own, leave me alone”, I never knew he was doing me a big favour. He was just an illiterate who managed to fix himself in the railway engineering department; my mum was a housewife who earned more from her trade. I sincerely wish my dad is alive today, to see that his efforts paid off.
When you finished class five in 1949, what next?
In those days, labour officers were sent to approved secondary schools to select candidates for clerical and technical positions. Salary of clerical officers was £84 while technical officers was £96. I consequently opted for the railways induced by my father who was in the engineering department. There were four departments in the railway then: locomotive department, engineering, traffic and motor department. I was sent from school to traffic training school, Ebute Metta and after six months course and training, I passed the final examination and was transferred to Zaria as station staff, that is, staff clerk. After two months, I was posted to Nguru, now Jigawa state as goods clerk. The hours of duty were between 7-12pm and 2-5pm. We handled goods like dry fish and dry meat packaged to different parts of the country. Due to the bulk merchandise, many people usually went behind to induce our boss, the goods’ master to enable us to work overtime always with no break, to quicken the dispatch of perishable items. My dad was bitter as he did not want me to be involved in bribe taking so, he made sure I was transferred to a non money making section. Then I was transferred to Kafanchan. At the telegraph section, I became a Trade Guard and Train Ticket Collector after my father had retired. After a year, I wrote to the headquarters in Ebute Metta, that I wanted a transfer to Ebute metta, Lagos. Amazingly, I got transferred but at that time, bribery was not rampant.
What led to your studying law or going into the legal practice?
Before my transfer, I had what appeared to be a crushing blow when one day I was going from Jos to Kafanchan in a passenger train and was the Guard/TTC in charge. Some recalcitrant persons wanted to board the train while it was moving, a risk if not prevented, I would be held responsible for any accident that might occur.
Someone petitioned the railway authorities and the authorities allowed the police to charge me to Magistrate Court, Kafanchan. One Onitsha indigene, Magistrate Odogwu, who was then dreaded was the magistrate. At the court appearance, I stood and represented myself instead of obtaining a lawyer. After the trial and submission, the magistrate commended me and asked if I was reading law and I said I was not. He then said very well, discharged and acquitted.
Moved by the commendation, on getting to Lagos I started by and sending money to Barclays Bank, Fenchurch Street, London. In Lagos, I was in the Raiding Squad, a new department created to check all passenger trains on tickets collection from Lagos to Kano to Port-Harcourt to Jos; a team of six and I was the only non-Yoruba. I was making a lot of money as allowances; I later resigned in 1958 and left for London via a French Ship. I had to brush myself up as I never read any book back then since leaving school. I did ordinary Level and advanced Level, before enrolling in the University of London and branched off to Holborn Law College, Holborn. Passed inter LLB- 1962, LLB part 1, LLB part 2. Subsequently, I passed my bar examinations in September 1963.
Did you attend your law school there or here in Nigeria?
There were no law schools here in Nigeria then. There is what we call Inner Temple and you have to do Latin in the exams. Fortunately for me, I already had idea of Latin in my secondary school which aided my success in the exam. I did National Service in the Royal Air Force, London for three years and on leaving, I completed my education in Holborn School of London.
At what point did marriage set in?
While I was in London, they asked if I was married or had dependents back in Nigeria. I informed them of the lady I had plans to marry, then, I told them I had a wife, and they sent a lot of money to her regularly. Unfortunately, I heard she got pregnant and I stopped the funding. I later got married to another woman and had Nkechi and Alistair with her. On her return to Nigeria two years later after she had studied in Pitman’s College, Southampton Road, London, Maria divorced me. At this period, the civil war set in and we all scampered for our lives. Years later, I got married again.
How did you start your legal practice?
I returned to Nigeria in 1964, I had a brief legal practice with CIC Kerry of Akwukwu-Igbo in Benin City. That was where I started my practice. All this was before the war. When the war came, I was in Asaba.
Tell us your experience during the war?
CIC Kerry drove me to collect my children Nkechi and Alistair from Ikeja Airport from my friend, Peter Obi, an Air-Throttle controller. Their mother had sent them home. I settled in Asaba to enable me take care of my children in Okpanam. I was cooking and doing all the domestic chores since they were still very tender, until the war broke out. Nkechi was staying with one Mrs. Obiago and her three children who took refuge in Ibusa, while Alistair and I held up at Peter Isamade’s house with his mother. He had already fled with his children to the East. The war brought me back to Okpanam, having managed to escape from Asaba. My only luck was that I didn’t rush to the East as many people did out of fear; and many of them were killed; I would have been killed too.
I remember one time, when the Nigerian Army – four of them searched all the premises of Asaba, I managed to join the Yoruba people in Asaba sent to their various places in the West. I was dropped at Okpanam by these Yoruba friends. At that time, one Major Iyke Nwachukwu was just passing to Asaba. He stopped and the soldiers with him took me hostage into their vehicle that dropped me in army Garrison stationed in Ezediagwu’s house which was literarily deserted. I was held for two nights; each night, they would bring out some persons to be killed. I could not sleep those two nights at all. On interview, I stated that I am a Lawyer in Practice at Asaba and have to return to my town, Okpanam. They decided to convey me to my father’s house. Incidentally, my father, my mother and a friend of hers did not run away into the bush like so many Okpanam indigenes did. My picture as a legal practitioner was hanging visibly on the wall. They believed me but warned that should any Biafra soldier come to stir up any more trouble, I would be held responsible.
Your first step after the War?
Fortunately, everywhere in Okpanam was calm. Some Nigerian soldiers started visiting us and being friendly. I decided to take a trip to Agbor to see if I could continue my practice. I stayed with one Mr. G.C. Ohen in Agbor, whom I met in London in our student days. He had a flourishing legal practice in Ubiaja and had his chambers in Agbor. I stayed and worked with him for a while and then returned to Okpanam and then, back to Agbor; the movement continued like that till I got my own place and Chamber in Agbor.
SEE ALSO: THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE RULE OF LAW
You became a very prominent Lawyer in Agbor. What made you choose to go into the legal practice with your family in Agbor?
G.C. Ohen gave me briefs to Ubiaja and sometimes in Agbor Magistrate Court when he was not available. My legal practice started to grow. So, I decided to take my family to Agbor; around Owa. I got an accommodation in Kola’s house along Abraka Road, at 98, Abraka Road, Owa. I came down with Umeadi, Nwaka, Nkechi, Alistair, Collins, Bene and one Abua from Oboalogba village. I enrolled the children at Baptist Primary School, Owa; but Abua and Bene in a commercial school. My practice expanded and I had many Juniors. I built two houses, one in Melekwe and the other in Owa-Nta Street. Since it was nearer to my Chambers, my former residence on rent (Kola’s House) was converted to my Chambers and office. One Mrs. Cordelia Ndidi Ofili Nee convinced me to buy shares with any amount I could afford just as her husband was doing. I eventually did and I remain grateful to her for her concern.
Aside your legal practice, were you ever appointed into any managerial or administrative position?
Consequent upon my wide legal practice and my detribalized pathos, I was close to some Esan legal practitioners. Incidentally, I was in the same University with one James Sadoh, who was a cousin to Chief Anthony Enahoro. Chief Enahoro was then the Minister for Information in the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon and Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In the course of my legal briefs, I also met with Chief Anthony Anenih, then Divisional Police Officer and his nephew, James Obeahon Esq (both of blessed memories). Sometimes in 1969, Chief Enahoro asked Obeahon to recommend a legal practitioner to be appointed Board Member with the Federal Government. I became the first Director in NICON (National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria). I served two terms, four years each. I travelled widely abroad; Rome, Egypt, Istanbul, Ghana. It started on Broad Street, Lagos but now opened up in Abuja.
You had so many Clients that wanted you as their lawyer then and so many lawyers worked under you. What was the attraction?
Generosity is very important. When you are generous, it opens your ways. Anytime there is a difficult matter, I don’t hide the technicalities from my juniors. I expose my files to them and put authorities on them so that when you are handling it, you see authorities on it. You can even copy them. I try as much as possible to be honest. When I charge you N20, I try so much to work for you more than I have charged you. When we go to court, I know those that will support and those that will negate it. I don’t do so much of talking. I am so technical, watching both sides and seeing their shortcomings, I try so much to promote their shortcomings as very impressive while I work on the shortcomings to their disadvantage. And I like to finish my work on time, not relying on adjournment all the time. When I am done with one, I have time for another. Secondly, I don’t take or give bribe and I don’t mind returning a file if it is on the basis of bribery this is because, when we win the case, it will be assumed that it is because of the bribe and not due to my efforts, thereby making caricature of my intelligence.
Mention a few individuals and companies you stood in court for back then?
The Obi of Agbor, Obi Ikenchukwu; not his son. The son only inherited me. He took interest in me, all conveyances went through me. Others were; Ibude, Iyare, Imudia, Nwachukwu, Steve Ashien’s Central Industry Ltd, Dr. George Orewa’s Crest Biscuits Industry, Snow White Pulp and Paper Mill Ltd owned by Steve Ashien, Afri-Ovis Fowarding Agency, and a few others. Somehow all the cases they had, I always got them out. There was also Momoh & sons Ltd Timber Industries. On leaving politics as Legal Adviser, Momoh gave me a brief and I took over the case file of a Warri High Court case and I won on a technicality. Momoh was so elated that we had to travel to London for a week’s holiday all expenses paid by him. He even introduced me to Oba of Agbede as his counsel.
You were not in a hurry and there were not too many lawyers in the legal practice at that time for you to choose a mentor. What motivated and kept you going on the terrain?
It is spiritual. Nobody actually posed as a mentor. I could directly tap from the few lawyers that were often well dressed and properly organized that we saw in those days.
Were you a member of any society, club or association outside your legal practice?
I was a Rotarian. I was in Rotary Conference, Canada, Toronto, Kenya and East Africa Rotary conferences.
You established a Technical School here in Agbor some years ago, tell us about it?
I was in court one day and the owner of JJ Simons and Chief Nwaeze a Nigerian from Onitsha had an issue on the ownership of the school. The Nigerian sued him to court claiming to be a part owner of the school and wanted to be getting his share from the school proceeds. “If you are paid monthly will you be okay?” Praise asked him. He said yes that he did not want all, he only wanted his share of money gotten from the school. Hon Arthur Prest then demanded for a lawyer in Asaba that will manage the school and be paid N34,000 monthly. He appointed me and begged me not to reject the offer to oversee the school. I managed the school till the war came.
I transferred it to Agbor. The man again sued me for transferring it to Agbor asking me to return it to Asaba. I explained to him that he should let it mature a bit before moving it back to Asaba, its original place. He agreed and we resolved it. Three months later, the government came and took over the school and turned it to Agbor Technical College. It was called Electro Technical Trade School. Then
How did you venture into politics?
It was by accident; not deliberate. I always like my legal practice. It was buoyant and I had juniors. I was defending politicians without strings and I just happened to like Ambrose Ali when I heard he went to St. Patrick’s College, Asaba; and because he liked education and often talked about it. Ali had a principle that no child must be an illiterate because they don’t have money to go to school, that endeared me to him.
One Ibude was charged to court for possession of arms, I defended him and got him out and two others, discharged Ali heard about it and was interested because Ibude was really active in their party, UPN, and really helped the party to win. Ibude and I were not really friends but there was something he did that I would not forget; he gave me two plots of land. I gave one to my brother and took the other. After the Coup, I said I was returning to legal practice; although, I had met so many people and I wasn’t going back to politics. Humprey Iweriebon (Ogidi) was a member of the House of Assemblies then after going up and down to form another party, SDP along with Anenih and Yar’Adua. We later disagreed and thus, the duo left to form another party. I considered the whole process of politicking. Then I said to myself, “Enough is Enough.” I can’t be on the road every day and time especially, coming back at night. I had to quit politics and never went back even though they came around to request I come back.
You were once a politician; rate the politics of then and now?
Firstly, politicians of today are full of lies, I don’t know why speaking the truth is difficult for them now. They are meant to improve lives of citizens but that duty has been neglected. The old politicians were truthful, maybe not to themselves but totally to the people. If for instance, one tells an old politician to help him get a position, the old politician would ask if he has the qualification. If he is not qualified for that section, the politician would see where he can fit into and then make call to send him across but now, they will ask what area he comes from, has he worked before? They would find different excuses not to help a young person.
Are you a SAN?
No, I am afraid of it. I want a simple life, I don’t like segregation, I am unhappy about it. I can even take them to court if need be. We don’t have it in Ghana or American. Nigeria just carried it from London. If you work hard, even if you are in the bush, people will come. To attach SAN to some people is just a game of segregation.
Why did you decide to come back to Nigeria and not work in London?
This place is very rich; then and even now. People are waiting to get employment, nobody thinks of starting something. For example, while I was in practice after 12years, I could have been a judge but I don’t know how to sit in a place. I can’t write as judges do. I don’t really like sitting in a place and writing, I get tired. I take notes in and I understand it. I find it difficult writing maybe because God has given me a retentive memory. No matter the volume of books I read, I always recall the content promptly when I need it. In those days, they beg you to make options on the job you would like to do, especially if you are educated, but now, Nigerians can’t even stay in their country due to insensitive government.
You lost your wife few years ago, how have you coped?
What can I do? There is nothing I can do! I just have to be grateful to God. You don’t expect anybody who has gotten to this age and stage in his life to be looking for another wife.
You are 90 years now, to be celebrated soon. What do we expect?
I am 90+. My children, grand children and great grandchildren want to celebrate me on June 29. So you should expect goodies. Infact chop and quench and don’t forget that the venue is my house; it is the recreation centre.
At 90, what have you to say to God and to everybody as you are still agile and healthy; not lying down, using a walking stick nor even reading with eye glass?
It is God’s grace. Never think you are so important. Don’t discriminate like saying this is a junior officer, he is not my level or this person is too small to interact with because God does not discriminate. He dishes out his blessings to all of us and we are the only creatures He made in his image and likeness. My gratitude is that above everything else, I am alive and alert. I still have juniors in the chambers and when they are looking for something, I give them without stress.
Do you still remember some colleagues you share ideas with?
Yes, Chief P. A. Dunkwu, Nosike Ikpo, Nwachukwu, Odogwu of Okpanam and many others I can’t remember all of them now.
I am a Christian, of the Roman Catholic faith precisely.
Advice to Youths?
If you are too much in a hurry, you will die early. That is why they die at 24, 35, 45. My children are never in a hurry and they are doing well by the grace of God.
Who are your mentors?
Back then in Zaria, I only admired lawyers but I don’t think I have mentors.
I eat anything, but not eba or akpu. I eat pounded yam rarely because I don’t eat heavy food again, I used to eat pounded yam often but now, it is no longer so. I sometimes take Amala when I discovered it is lighter.
Nooo, I know I will die, I will go. I am not afraid; good, sweet or bitter. Praise the Lord, even when my wife died I wasn’t bitter because I believe everything that happens is God’s will.
There are many of them. I can’t even scale them
Honesty and selflessness
Dishonesty and selfish people
How do you relax?
Can’t do without reading
You said you disliked reading while growing up, how did you develop interest in reading?
When I went to Britain, I discovered that if you don’t like to read in advance, they will throw you away. There was this lecturer; when he starts, in one hour, he doesn’t stop until after one hour. Then he walks away. If you are not fast or have not come across the topic before, you would be totally lost. That was how my reading habit was initiated.
Advice for readers generally?
For the younger ones, they are the leaders of tomorrow but how can they be when the older ones have refused to create spaces for them? The two leading political parties still fielded old people when the youths are still waiting for another tomorrow.
To the youths, I would remind them that honesty remains the best legacy no matter what the country portrays now especially when it is backed up with hardwork.
If you were to live all over again, would you have loved to change anything you did?
I would say no because each is a stepping stone. Everything I did, if I had done it earlier or later, I might have missed my steps and probably not be where I am today but God has it all perfected. I traveled in the same ship to London with late Bola Ige, that was after he had graduated from U.I. and also worked in Shell for about 4years before going to study law.
Why did you travel by ship and not by air?
I was not in a hurry; it took me three weeks to get to England. Like I said earlier, if one is too much in a hurry, he/she would die early.