Our Personality is Barr. Joseph Obiananma Ojobu, a former Local Government Council Chairman who was recently appointed a member, Delta State Judicial Commission.
In this interview with Lawrence Uche, he shares his success story, career, family life and other issues.
Can we meet you Sir?
I am Joseph Obiananma Ojobu, Born on October 2nd 1955 at Mbiri, in Ika North East to the family of Mr And Mrs Francis Ojobu . We were a Family of six children; I had a sister and five brothers. My father hailed from Mbiri. He was a devout Catholic and a civil servant. He served as a teacher from 1941 to 1982. My mum was from Obior, she was a fulltime house wife who did everything she could to support her family.
Background and Education?
My dad being a teacher was transferred regularly from one shool to another and the family had to move along with him to every place he was posted to. I started my primary education at Otolokpo Primary school in 1961,where I had my primary one, moved to Charles Burr in 1962 for my primary two, St John Primary school now Odiri in 1963 for my primary three, to Akumazi, and then St Joseph Catholic School where I had my primary four and five classes. In 1966 I ended my primary education at Ukpeghoro primary school Umunede and proceeded to St Pius Grammar School Onitsha-Ugbo for my secondary education and finished in 1974. I taught in Aren Primary School Mbiri from 1974 to 1975 before going for my Higher School Certificate (HSC) at the Institute of continuing Education, Benin city between 1975 and 1977. After my HSC, I was employed to teach at St Anthony’s College Ubulu-Uku. In 1979 I gained admission to the University of Maiduguri to study law and graduated in 1982. I proceeded to law school in Lagos at Ozumba Mbadiwe Avenue, Victorial Island between 1982 to 1983. I was called to bar in 1983 and enrolled in the supreme court in the same year.
Tell us about your days in Primary and secondary schools?
It was quite splendid, except that my primary education was scattered from one school to another following my father’s postings, but in a way, I was glad because I gathered new experiences and was able to excel in each of the school I attended. It was more interesting at St Pius because I started and finished in the same school. We had several principals while I was there. We were admitted into class one by Chief Izah, he left in 1969, Mr. Ogadi took over, then Mr Utulu to Mr Iwuanya who was the last principal before my graduation from the school.
Are you Aware Chief Izah is late now?
Yes I am, during his burial ceremony, most of the old students were represented massively by some of us and we did what we could in his honor. We had old students like Ibe Kachuikwu, Ezeoba, Jerry Ossai, Prof. Sylvester Monye, the two Elumelus and many others. We had very committed and hardworking teachers who instilled a lot of seriousness into many of us.
Barr. Ojubo what took you all the way to the University of Maiduguri?
Well I just wanted to feel the northern part of the country. All my life I had been in the south so I wanted to see how the north feels like. I opted for the University of Maiduguri and I enjoyed it very much. Professor Jubril Aminu was the Vice Chancellor then.
How was the financing while in the University?
University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) was a federal university and like every other federal University as at that time, it was relatively free, the only thing we paid for was students union levy and one or two other levies which were very affordable. The accommodation was free, the meal ticket was affordable and it lasted me for months. We didn’t have to pay for many of the things we enjoyed. Even if my father was prepared to train me, we had bursary then from the then Governor of Bendel state, Prof. Ambrose Ali on a yearly basis and it was more than enough to take care of me. During my first year, I got six hundred naira as bursary, sent two hundred naira home to my father and saved four hundred naira. It was more than enough for me. The following year we had five hundred naira bursary and it continued like that till I graduated. I had no reason to disturb my father for money. We enjoyed schooling in Maiduguri then, everything was virtually free.
What prompted your studying Law?
While I was teaching at St. Anthony’s College, Ubulu-Uku then, I had read government, economics and geography during my HSCE, I already had vast knowledge of several legal terms, the Principal then Mr Akaraiwe called me and said having listened to some of our conversations in the staff room, he had seen my potentials and advised me to go in for law degree. He then informed me that he as a principal as at that time was also reading law, that advice propelled my interest. He was the first and only person that propelled my interest into reading law and I thank God that I listened to him and am a lawyer today.
Barr. Ojubo how did you feel at graduation?
I felt very happy, I even went to greet him in the school where he was teaching and informed him that the seed he sowed had germinated. He was very happy to receive that news. In fact today one of his sons is now a lawyer too practicing in Enugu, his advice was a divine providence in my life.
If you were to choose a University again would you like to go back to UNIMAID?
I will love to go back there all over again; the quantity of food, quality of education, library and even administration of the school are second to none. Things were so coordinated in UNIMAID. If I am to go for my Masters and PhD, I would go back to UNIMAID. The only scary thing now is the Boko Haram. It was not there during our time in University of Maiduguri. Borno State used to be very peaceful as at that time.
How and where did you begin your legal career?
I did my National Youth Service in Akure, Ondo State at the Legislative Chamber of the State’s House of Assembly in 1984 before the interruption by the military which brought civilian government to an end and dissolved the house. Thereafter I joined a private firms’ Ogedemgbe and co to complete my NYSC scheme. I came back to Agbor in 1984 after my service year, started Law Practice in the Chambers of N.J Onwuemezie now late. I was with him from August 1984 to December 1984. I left his chambers in January 1985 and joined J.k Agholor and co. where I was till October 1985. On leaving J.K Agholor’s chambers, I opened my own legal chambers and started my private legal practice in the same year.
Which of the Chambers gave you exposure into the legal practice?
Oh that was J.K Agholor’s Chambers.
When you were with J.K Agholor, was there a particular experience that gave you a huge impression in the legal profession?
J.k Agholor was a very busy lawyer, he had most of his big briefs outside Agbor, each time he had small briefs within Agbor, he often gave me the opportunity to go and cover it that was how I got exposed in my practice in law. He was indeed a very kind man and magnanimous. I learnt a lot from him that has helped me in my practice, when I established my chambers. I will forever remain grateful to him.
Can you say that about the first Chambers you worked with (Onwuemezie’s chamber)?
My experience with Onwuemezie was not an interesting one at all. I worked with him for five months and he never paid me a kobo and he sent me packing, even when I went home for Christmas I had to borrow money to go home, it was that bad.
Leaving J.K Agholor in 1985 what directed your path to being a member of the caretaker committee?
When I left Agholor’s chambers and started my own practice. I delved into politics while I was still practicing. I coordinated campaign for Nduka Obaigbena who was contesting with Ofulue to be a member of the constitutional conference. He won with a landslide margin and became a member of the constitutional conference. Obaigbena saw that I was doing very well in politics, so when the time came to select caretaker committee for the local government, he personally drafted my name. I was to be the chairman of the committee, but because Buzugbe was a retired military man, he had an upper hand.
Barr. Ojubo, what led you into politics?
Well in 1993, I was appointed as a member of the caretaker committee of Ika North East Local Government Area, a position I occupied till 1996. I was a foundation member of the Peoples Democratic Party, the first state Executive member from my Local government in 1997. In 1998 I contested for the chairmanship position of Ika North East Local Government, won in December 1998 and was sworn-in on the 2nd of June 1999. My tenure ended on June 3rd 2002. After my political activities, I returned to my legal practice here in Agbor and ever since, I have been in active Legal Practice and self employed until this recent appointment in the year 2019 as a member of the Judicial commission of Delta State by his Excellency Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’.
What was your position while in the Caretaker Committee?
I was a member for health; the chairman of the caretaker committee was late Colonel Buzugbe.
What were some of your achievements as a Local Government Chairman?
As the first state executive member of the PDP from my local government, I had to resign my position in order to contest for the chairmanship position which I won. When I came in, there was no Secretariat in place for the council; my first primary assignment was to provide a Secretariat for the council. We constructed so many culverts within the LGA, brought in so many sanitary measures to keep the LGA clean. There were only two vehicles working when I came in, more than 28 were dilapidated and parked. I repaired them all and made them active again, the tipper which had been abandoned for years was also reactivated; a pay loader was purchased by me also put in place to enhance evacuation of refuse and ensure cleanliness of the area. We also got the graders working, repaired the mobile vans and got them on the road again. We reactivated the Public health Centre and declared Free Medical Care for residents which were very beneficial to my people as at that time. I boosted the IGR and Check-mated the inflow and outflow of cash.
If you look into the charts during my time as the chairman, you would realize that my IGR was higher than that of our predecessors. I made sure that I paid salaries promptly; from the 20th to the 22nd of each month salaries have been paid. We were never in arrears of salaries even when we received zero allocations. This was because I had a method of reserving a full month’s salary ahead of allocations. We also renovated some of the schools and markets in my jurisdiction using the little available resources. I sank borehole at Mbiri However my government met with some challenges of which I was out of office for about a year due to some internal squabbles and then returned to complete my tenure in 2002.
How were you able to Pay Salaries promptly, what was the magic?
When I came on board, I made sure that I reserved two month’s salaries ahead, at the end of the first month, we paid for that month and reserved for the next month without touching it for other purposes. Before allocation comes in the next month I already have made payments on for that month. So when it comes, I will pull out the next month’s salary and reserve it ahead. My people were very happy having their salaries before the end of the month
Does that mean you met some good amount of money on ground when you came on board?
Well the take off grant was inadequate but we were able to save for two months adding the internally generated revenue. I had the foresight that we may run into some financial hitches and since the salary of my workers was a priority for me, I had to device that system. It is not that we had sufficient fund.
What was the problem that kept you out of office as the local government chairman for a year?
At that time there were political maneuverings by the leadership of the party (PDP), to be Precise, by Iweriebor of blessed memory who felt he could not be defeated in elections by anybody. There was a political display within the party then when he (Iweiebor) outsmarted the now Governor (Ifeanyi Okowa) who was seconding Tony Nzeogu for the Council Chairman while he was seconding Samuel Obi. When the primary elections were conducted, it was obvious Tony won but when it was time to announce the results, Iweriebor maneuvered and slotted in Samuel Obi’s name as the winner of that PDP primary election. Okowa felt aggrieved and shopped for someone that would defeat Iweriebor’s maneuverings to prove to him (Iweriebor) that he was not the master of elections within that area.
I agreed to contest under APP, a new party formed and I resigned my position from the PDP. With the joint effort of Okowa and myself, we were able to win. Along the line, Iweriebor and some aggrieved PDP members were able to malign me before the then Governor, James Ibori, telling him I was supporting his opponent Ogboru and other false stories. At this point, they drafted 10 PDP councilors and 4 APP councilors of which three were converted to the PDP and had a sitting; I was faulted and subsequently suspended from the council. After some time, the Governor discovered that there was no truth in what they were saying and Instructed that I be recalled as chairman and that was how I returned to finish my tenure. I had these problems because Iweriebor refused to forgive and the different political dramas evolved.
At that period, the widely known purported reason attached to your suspension was linked to a particular road project which they alleged you misappropriated the fund; please clear the air on that?
It has nothing to do with any road project; they only used that road as blackmail. The road is Alika street which they were talking about was a street I awarded it to one Mr. Arinze to construct, he was paid the first batch and did not deliver. I travelled to France and returned to find that the job he was giving to do has been abandoned. I called him and gave him two weeks to complete the job. At the end of two the weeks, he could not deliver, so I called an executive meeting and we revoked the contract and gave it to someone else. Anything they said about the road in line with my suspension is simply calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it. At the end everything was probed and I was not found culpable of any road issue, all those talks were just to find a defense for my suspension.
Your nucleus family?
I got married in the year 1879 to Cecilia Ojobu (Nee Okoh) who is also from Mbiri . She is currently a head teacher in a primary school at Emuhu. By the grace of God, we are blessed with seven children. One of my sons is a lawyer and that makes me feel very proud.
Who are your role models/mentors?
P.C.E Dunkwu, I admire him a lot, he is a very pragmatic, straight forward and honest person, Barr. Ohen was also my mentor. I learnt a lot from him as well. They both had strong Influence on me in the practice of law.
How do you feel being a lawyer over the years?
Becoming a lawyer was the best decision I have ever taken. It is the best thing that ever happened to me , that was why I ensured that my first son comes into the profession too. I am very happy and I don’t know if there is any other profession that would have made me feel more fulfilled.
You mentioned that you started Practice from Onwuemezie’s chambers and you were not treated well. At that early point of your career, how did you feel being a lawyer?
I still felt I had the future in my hands and that those issues were mere temporary challenges and even if he was not paying me, I was enjoying my practice, doing my researches equipping and improving myself.
If you were to go back to being the local government chairman, what will you do differently?
I will definitely improve on my past records. It is important to leave your footprints on the sand of time.
What is your advice for those in charge of the local government now?
They are doing their best with the limited resources. I will advise them not to relent in doing their best to see to the welfare of the people within their Local Government Areas.
Are there regrets or things you could not achieve as a Local Government Chairman?
Yes, there was a very large amount of money which we were supposed to draw from Julius Berger company, the company owed us over 300 million naira, we had a meeting and they agreed to pay and when they refused to pay, I took them to court but before the case ended my tenure was over, I don’t know what happened to the case after I left the office; I only realized the case was no longer followed up. How the matter went between my successor and the company I do not know, but I believe if my tenure had not ended, I would have had the opportunity to draw out that debt from Julius Berger and do so much more for my people with the money in which I would have been remembered for. That is my only regret.
How much have you given back to the society?
While I was the council chairman, I did the best I could; I appointed supervisors and employed several workers without collecting money from anybody for whatsoever reason. I built the secretariat the council is using today. In my legal practice, many of the cases I have handled were on Pro-bono that is, free of charge, just to help people who do not have the financial strength to follow a case and fight for what is truly theirs. I have resolved many conflicts and disputes and have done a lot to put smiles on people’s faces.
If you do most of your cases on Pro-bono, how then do you earn money to live the standard life that you live now?
It’s not all the cases I do that are On Pro-bono, I still do many cases that sustain my living and help me take care of my home. I am also a farmer, I have a very large palm Plantation at Mbiri, I inherited some from my father and then planted some and it is giving me so much money. In this year alone, I have planted about 500 stands and I am still planting, I am nursing about 2000 seedlings of oil palm. I also delved into a few other businesses that helps me erk a living.
Is your dad still alive?
No, my dad died in the year 1997 while I lost my mother in the year 1988.
How do you feel whenever you win any free case in court?
I feel very happy and satisfied; my clients appreciate me a lot. There is an instance of a woman from Ogwuashi-Uku, a parishioner in Mary Immaculate Catholic church who lost her husband. the Husbands family was trying to put her into so much torture telling her not to bury her husband until she swears to a shrine and do some other diabolic practices. I stood against it even when my fellow Knights were saying we should allow her swear to the oath for peace to reign, I disagreed and told them that we would not compromise our faith. The woman took them to court; I had to take over the case from the lawyer who was handling it because he was even handling it on a wrong premise which would have killed the case. She did not contract me for the case because she felt I was too expensive for her to pay. I took over the matter and filed it in a high court. I didn’t even ask her for transport fare, neither consultancy fee nor charged her for my services, I did it fully on Pro-bono and I won the case for her. When she won the case, the high court directed the DPO to give her coverage to go bury her husband. That was how her husband was successfully buried without her swearing to that oath. Her family has always remained grateful, every time and anywhere they see me, they would often say, “We are still very grateful” and that gives me so much joy.
Does that make you a Human Right Activist?
No, I am not a human right activist per say, because I do not practice under that platform, but I have done much more that some human right activists, I have done so many of such cases for people, especially when they are being oppressed , I take their cases upon myself and fight for them. I am not under the platform of human right but that does not stop me from doing what other human right lawyers do.
Are you a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)?
I am not because I have not applied. I am more than qualified to apply but my environment is not very fertile for me to apply because if I do now, I can only go to high courts, I will not be able to do most of this cases I do on pro-bono in the magistrate court again and then we don’t have many high courts here in Agbor and so I will be limited in a way. I have not applied maybe in due course if the environment is favorable I would. This is my 36th year at the bar and one is qualified to be a SAN after 10years of active service at the bar.
You have been in the law practice for 36 years, how many lawyers have gone through your chambers?
So many, more than 50 lawyers have passed through my chambers, some of them directly from law school, others during NYSC and many more began their law practice from my chamber before they moved on to establish their own chambers. Some of them are on the bench now. The Chief Registrar of Customary Court of appeal, Barrister Dele Okafor was in my chambers, Morka the President of Court of Appeal, Etumudon who is now in the bench of an area court and many others were also in my chambers. I feel like a grandmaster in the field of law having given birth to so many great lawyers and still in the game, I am very happy.
What would you like to be remembered for?
For the truth and uprightness in the pursuit of my profession.
If you were to live your life all over again, would you like to be a lawyer again?
Yes, I would want to return as a lawyer all over again because it is only in the law profession that other professionals always want to get into. You would see a doctor coming to read law, a mathematician also applying to read law but you would hardly see a lawyer going into other profession. The only thing is that I would not want to limit my practice to Agbor alone; I would extend it to bigger cities because if I had done that, by now I would have been a SAN. I was confined to Agbor and it didn’t quite go well with me.
Do you expect your son who is a barrister to take over from you?
My son has been a lawyer since 2015 and he has been practicing on his own, He can only take over from me when I am dead or have retired from active practice. We invest a lot into this profession and would be happy to have our children take over when we are gone.
There are many lawyers now, are they all doing well?
There have been many lawyers before and will continue to be, but as many that are hardworking will succeed.
Will you encourage people to go into the law Profession?
Oh I have encouraged so many people to go into it and some of them are doing very fine.
You have just been appointed a member, Delta State Judicial Commission, how did you come about it?
Well it pleased the governor to give me that appointment and he did and I am grateful for it.
Compare the politics of now with those days when you were a Local Government chairman?
Politics have ever remained politics; it depends on how you play your own. Look at the life of the current Governor of the state. He started as a Secretary to Local Government, after that he was a chairman then a commissioner, then a secretary to the state Government. He became a senator and now a governor. Some of those that started politics with us those times have fizzled out while some are still around. The only problem is that some people play very dirty politics.
How would you rate Governor Okowa?
Oh! I would rate him very high; he has outshined his predecessors in infrastructural development. He is a product for national politics. If someone like him were to be a president of Nigeria today, I believe Nigeria would be in a better position.
What gives you joy?
Service to God and humanity
What makes you feel pain?
The bloodbath and killings of innocent citizens in Nigeria by herdsmen and Boko Haram, the state of kidnappings and banditry get me very worried.
What suggestion do you have for the Government on these issues of security concerns?
The government should sit up and brainstorm on the best way to tackle these security problems. They should be more decisive and assertive in their decisions and not compound problems by spreading cattle colonies.
Do you subscribe to restructuring?
Oh yes, it is very timely, if not carried out, the continuous oneness of the country is threatened.
What is your most memorable event?
When I was called to bar, the first cases I handled during my NYSC days in Akure and my time as a Local Government Chairman.
How was your first day in court?
It was quite interesting. I was not jittery. I did not panic because I was a Student Union leader while in the University. I was used to addressing the audience.
How do you relax?
Well in this our profession, we hardly relax. I relax in my chambers. Even when I am at home, I still go into research because that is the only thing that sustains a lawyer. If you leave the law the law leaves you. Although once in a while I go on Vacation with my family especially for the supreme conference in America, it is majorly because of the conference that I had to go as a Knight of St John Catholic Church.
What is your best food?
Pounded yam with Egusi soup, I also love vegetable soup especially Ukazi. My best fruit is mango.
What was your most regrettable event?
Losing my mother, I lost her when I was only four years into practice. She did not enjoy me enough.
Advice for politicians?
They should be upright in their political game and try to play clean politics. Leaders should always come to a consensus before arriving at a decision to avoid political rancor.
Advice to non politicians?
They should be civic citizens, exercise franchise during elections and pay their taxes.
Advice to the youths?
The youths that feel traveling through the desert to Europe is an option have misfired. They should refrain from such act, there are youths making it here in Nigeria. Let them endeavour to acquire skills or education so as to be able to earn a living. I also started from a very humble background and in a very rough way. Our youths are too much in a hurry to make money and it is not good. There is no future in Yahoo business, those into it should desist from that and start doing things that will give them integrity; it matters a lot. They should refrain from Yahoo and rituals and get themselves towards doing meaningful businesses.
Advice to parents?
Parents who advise their children to go into crime are only misleading them. If they look beyond their noses, they would realize that making money without a foundation is like a hanging house which can collapse at anytime. Parents should often take pride in ensuring discipline on their children and reprimand them when they go wrong.
Advice to elders?
They should keep advising the children and the youths and stop encouraging them when they are doing evil things because of money.