There is a general perception that catholic priests are only confined to administering the church’s sacraments and generally providing pastoral care to their parishioners; how wrong!
DNL Partners was privileged to meet Rev. Fr. Bar. Stanislaus Nnakenyi a very dynamic and humble catholic priest who is also a member of the bar. He gave us a peek into his journey as a priest and a lawyer in this interesting and insightful interview.
May we know you sir
My name is Rev. Fr. Obiniigwe Nnamdiebere Stanislaus Nnakenyi, I was born in Ekwulumili, Nnewi South, Anambra State.
You are a Priest and a legal practitioner, which of this two was the first childhood ambition?
Priesthood. I was called like Samuel and I answered. As I moved on and through the formation years the proper discernment came. With regards to law, the desire to study law came during my formation years.
So which of these two eventually came first? Were you ordained a priest before being called to the Nigerian Bar?
After my first degree in philosophy, I was wondering if I could still be a priest and become a lawyer and I was wondering what if it was not possible to combine the two. On one hand I had gone far in my priestly formation and cannot turn back because my call is remains the essence of my existence and on the other hand the passion to study law was growing. So I researched and found out it was possible and that was a big relief. I decided to complete my formation years and then go into study of law. So I was ordained a priest before I went into the pursuit of law degree.
When did you eventually enroll for your law degree and which University and Law school did you attend?
I had wanted to enter the university immediately after my ordination but I was told by my bishop to have at least two years pastoral experience. Within those two years, I had my PGD in Education and Psychology. Immediately after the expiration of the two years I applied for JAMB, went through post UME and was offered admission to study law in University of Ibadan (The first and the best…soaring high) and went to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus for my law school. So two years after my ordination as a catholic priest, I became a law student.
How was the law student experience for you?
It was a mixture of feelings. Sometimes exiting, at other times challenging. However the greatest challenge came with law school. I read as if my life depended on it. I left no stone unturned. Law school was really tasking. In law school I learnt once more that hardwork and effort pay. I could not imagine myself sitting for lecture from 9am -4pm Monday to Friday back to back until I got into the Nigerian Law School. It was challenging, interesting, a mixture of feelings and experience. I like to use this funny theory of life to describe law school experience. I likened Law school to a complete Christian life cycle where everything we were thought would be aspects of life and how to be a true human matured person. Bar final can be likened to death. Passing bar final is qualification for heaven, call to bar entrance to heaven, failure is not being qualified to enter heaven and re-sit is purgatory where you pass to purge yourself to enter heaven. Practicing law is being in heaven and enjoyment of its glories and hard work one made as input while on earth. Everything can be used as life analysis.
How was the experience amongst your peers in the University and Law School when they discovered you were a Reverend Father?
I was free with them but we had mutual respect. In UI law department had young and elders’ forum. They knew I was a priest and respected me on that level. There was always restrain in discussing ‘extra ordinary youthful’ social issues around me. It didn’t bother me much because it gave me the opportunity to be more focused. I was in the hostel during my entire studies and I tried very much to just be like everyone around because in truth, we are the same. I avoided anything that would cause any unnecessary reverence; I did my laundry, fetched my water, did things for myself and tried to discuss issues with them which are of interest to me. There was no detachment howsoever. I was a human being before becoming a priest and even after becoming one, I remained human and I remained myself.
Were you carrying out your priestly duties like celebrating masses, counseling, hearing confession and all that during this period?
Yes. I attached myself to a parish. I went to celebrate masses and hear confessions. I also had to mentor and counsel a few of those that came around. In the university it was a balanced mix. Catholics, Pentecostals, muslims, and other denominations and faith. In law school I saw more Catholics and I was also always available for my priestly duties. Confessions, mass, etc.
Would you consider yourself lucky to be both a priest and legal practitioner?
Yes. I am very favoured and lucky and I count it all a privilege and a special blessing from God. You know, in the olden days, Theology, Medicine and Law were regarded as core courses you study to be called learned. I have studied two of that.
Again, there are three persons you cannot afford to lie to; your medical doctor, who takes care of your health; your lawyer, who would have to be properly informed to defend your case and your pastor, priest and spiritual leader, because he takes care of your spiritual well being. I am glad and privileged to be a minister of double service. Minister in the temple of justice and temple of God. I continue to pray for the grace of perseverance and sustainability.
Is there any particular area where your training as a legal practitioner influenced your priesthood and vice versa? Please share any experience that comes to mind.
There has been tremendous positive influence. Armed with both training, I am able to appreciate and understand human beings more from both the legal and spiritual angle. I am able to apply the two principles of natural justice; the rule against bias (nemo iudex in causa sua) and the right to fair hearing (audi alteram partem) to give balance view on issues. I advise my priest brothers now to always hear the other party. I now understand that there is an option of using ADR to resolve issues between parties. In fact you understand the scripture well with legal application. I am also able to appreciate the conflict between the law and spirituality with regards to criminal penalty of punishment and spiritual mandate of conversion, forgiveness and true repentance.
What is your goal for the profession?
I want to be well grounded. I haven’t stopped learning the law. Meanwhile, I want to make people conscious of their rights. I am interested in grassroot emancipation. Awareness that allows law to protect and not destroy. I want to be able to train advocates for justice. I want to touch as many lives as I can within the period God has given. I have so much aspiration but I have to take it one at a time. God is the ultimate guide and where he directs and leads I follow. For now I am focusing on developing myself the more, every other thing would unfold naturally. Our God is a God of principle and order!
Is there room for you to achieve you goals in the profession while a Rev Father?
Yes there is. I am a testimony to that. I am already enjoying that leverage to achieve my full goal and potential while still a priest and I am enjoying every bit of it.
As a Priest, are you allowed by the catholic church to set up your private legal practice or join a paid employment as a legal practitioner?
There is no law prohibiting me from doing that. There are priests in paid employment. There are priests who are legal practitioners. The church encourages it as far as you do not allow it to conflict with preaching and living the gospel and administering the sacrament which is your first call and overall mandates.
Whenever there is conflict between your calling as a Priest and a Legal Practitioner, which one would you abandon?
Law is an aspect of God’s mandate. Law is a living subject that helps the society to be in harmony. I am not sure there is any way if I am practicing law in the right way there would be conflict which would put me in a position to make a choice between the two aspects of life. Any law that is contrary to the priestly calling would naturally be a wrong law and should be opposed. Morality and law are linked and they are both aspect of life that advance godliness. I do not see a possibility of such conflict. But in the unlikely event that I have to choose between the law and my calling as a priest, I would not think twice. I owe my life and everything to my calling because it is from God who is the ultimate.
Thank you so much for your time Father. We are most grateful.
I am grateful too.
Rev. Fr. Nnakenyi on his call to bar.
Rev. Fr. Nnakenyi with colleagues.
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