It was a festival of accolades as foremost Bar Leader and Chairman of the Council of Legal Education (CLE), Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) turned 60 years last Sunday. Born on July 11, 1961 Ngige’s initial reluctance to mark the milestone anniversary due to the mood of the nation was torpedoed by friends and associates among others.
In fact, Ngige would later confess during his “Thank You Speech” at the birthday ceremony that it was a poser by his amiable wife, Ogoo on his tenure as CLE Chairman that turned the tide. What followed next became the highlight of the birthday ceremony – the unveiling of the “Nigerian Law School Support Initiative.” A project after Ngige’s heart, it is designed to revamp the decaying infrastructure at the Nigerian Law School.
His words: “My wife, children and I wish to start by thanking God Almighty who made the event of today possible. Within the family, we had been discussing on the propriety of anyone celebrating anything nowadays, in light of the challenges our dear country and indeed the whole world is facing today.
“However, a thought must have flashed through my wife’s mind when she asked, “How many years is the tenure of a Chairman of Council of Legal Education?” I said, “4 years”. After some silence, she quipped: ‘Nna, from 28th of May, 2021, you just have two years to go. You must try and leave a lasting positive legacy at the Law School before your tenure ends’. I was struck by this flash of inspiration and we started thinking of what can be done to make this chairmanship memorable.
“Following extensive consultations that I had with the DG of the Nigerian Law School, Prof. Isa Hayatu Chiroma SAN and the Chairman of my Committee of Friends, Mr. Chijioke Okoli SAN, the idea of a ‘Nigeria Law School Support Initiative’ was mooted. The initiative was designed to be unveiled at the occasion of my 60th birthday. Initially, we thought of holding the event in Abuja but along the line, we decided that Lagos – my State of Residence since 1986 – should be the appropriate venue. My Committee of Friends had less than a month to prepare and package what has been presented to you today. We cannot thank God Almighty enough.”
The day actually kicked off with a Thanksgiving Mass at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, Yaba, Lagos. Among the dignitaries that attended the church service were Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, former Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi and former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami.
The hybrid anniversary celebration then moved to the Nigerian Law School for the birthday ceremony and the unveiling of the Law School rebuilding initiative. Held at the exquisitely decorated Adetokunbo Ademola Hall, the event also had many leading lights especially of the legal profession in attendance. They include Justice Samuel Oseji, a classmate of the celebrant, who represented the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad (CFR); Chairman of Body of Benchers, Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour (Rtd); the longest serving Deputy Senate President, Prof. Ike Ekweremadu; President of Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Monica Dongbam-Mensen represented by the Presiding Justice, Lagos Division, Justice Joseph Ikyegh; President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olumide Akpata; former NBA President and Vice Chairman, Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, and Chairman of YABATECH Governing Council, Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN who also doubled as Chairman of the Occasion.
Others were Prof. Zach Adangor SAN who represented Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike; Mr Uche Ihediwa who represented the Governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Enlightenment , Mr. C-Don Adinuba, former Director-General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mrs. Sally Uwechue-Mbanefo.
Among the guests who joined virtually were former Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Owelle George Uwechue SAN who was the “Father of the Day;” Chairman of ICPC, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye SAN among many other Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Benchers and Bar Leaders.
While legendary Nollywood star-turned-lawyer, Bar. Kanayo O. Kanayo compered the event alongside senior lawyer, Ms. Tolani Edu-Adeola, Nigerian Law School Director-General played the role of a perfect Chief Host, even as cerebral lawyer, Prof. Gbolahan Elias SAN delivered a scintillating Anniversary Lecture on “The Nigerian Law School, infrastructure and the future of law: Stakeholders as catalysts for development.”
The Naira rain for the rebuilding of the decaying Nigerian Law School infrastructure was then set in motion with the unveiling of the “Nigerian Law School Support Initiative.” Many guests expressed shock at the dilapidated facilities at the Nigerian Law School, beamed into the hall and the spill-over outdoor tent on the school’s green lawns from strategically positioned LED screens.
While many corporate bodies and individuals donated generously towards the initiative, Air Peace Airline, one of Africa’s largest airlines where Ngige is a Director, turned out to be the stand-out donor during the unveiling ceremony. Its Chairman/CEO, Chief Allen Onyema, also a ranking lawyer, reeled out several projects to be undertaken for the five campuses of the Law School as well as its headquarters in Abuja totaling over N40 million.
Other notable donors were Mr. Nyesom Wike-led Rivers State Government (N20 Million); Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe SAN (N20 Million); Nigerian Law School Class of 1985 (N18 Million); Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN (N10 Million); Mr. Ahmed Raji SAN (N10 Million); Abia State Government (N5 Million); Prof. Fabian Ajogwu SAN (N5 Million), and Engr. Emeka Okwuosa, Chairman/CEO, Oilserve Nigeria Limited (N5 Million).
With a documentary on “Ikemba: A Legal Leviathan @ 60” and melodious tunes wafting from iconic saxophonist BeeJay Sax, the stage was set for the celebrant to step forward with his lovely wife and son to cut his birthday cake. Bar leader and leading arbitrator, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama SAN then gave an endearing toast for his longtime friend while several groups tried to outshine each other in presenting gifts to the celebrant.
Earlier in the day, Ngige was besieged with sundry birthday messages, with President Muhammadu Buhari “rejoicing with family and friends on the milestone” recorded by Ngige. According to a press statement by his Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu: “The President notes, with commendation, contributions of the legal luminary to the study and practice of law in Nigeria, donating books and materials to Law Schools, and serving on National Executive of NBA for more than 25 years, during which he represented the association as a member of the Body of Benchers.
“President Buhari affirms that Chief Ngige played a significant role in ensuring fairness and justice for the state and citizens by accepting to join the team of private legal professionals that prosecuted cases at the Failed Banks Tribunal and other significant cases for the Federal Government, largely related to recovery of public funds and property.
“As the lawyer, who holds the chieftaincy title of “Ikemba N’Alor” turns 60, the President congratulates him for many achievements that have attracted recognitions and awards for diligence over many years of service.
“President Buhari joins family members of Chief Ngige, his friends and all well-wishers in praying for longer life, good health and strength to continue in good works.”
Others who have also felicitated with the leading litigator include Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad; Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu SAN; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha; Attorney-General & Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami; Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), Council of Legal Education and many Nigerian Law School Alumni classes.
In his goodwill message, Justice Muhammad described Ngige as a “legal icon and quintessential philanthropist,” adding that he is a “man of honour and dignity” whose lifestyle “has been a formidable fountain of inspiration to people from all walks of life.”
His words: “A life of scholarship. A life of commitment to the development of his fatherland. A life of service to humanity. A life of absolute submission to the dictates of the almighty God and his conscience. Those are the exceptional attributes that aptly epitomise the 60-year voyage of this legal icon and quintessential philanthropist at whose instance we are all gathered here today.”
Said Justice Muhammad: “My friend and learned colleague, Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, who is currently the Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, is a man of honour and dignity. His lifestyle has been a formidable fountain of inspiration to people from all walks of life. He is a man who briskly deploys wisdom and unassailable intellectual strength whenever he is confronted with herculean challenges. Interestingly, to the best of my knowledge, he has never faltered in any task assigned to him, especially in the enviable position he currently holds in the Council of Legal Education.
“The legal luminary whose 60th birthday we are celebrating today has accomplished so much in life within the short time he has so far spent. He has become a strong tower and a paragon of intellectual prowess that the younger generation of lawyers from Nigeria and beyond could conveniently draw inspiration and strength.”
“His profundity and dexterity are pointedly a vehement salute to industry and excellence which ultimately culminated in the giant strides he has recorded within and outside the shores of Nigeria. To the expansive clan of his admirers, Chief Ngige, SAN is a dogged promoter of equity and fairness; and evidently an outstanding combatant in the campaign against injustice. He is a man that is richly endowed with immense savvy and graciously blessed with inimitable creative acumen which he generously engages in his daily social intercourse. His intellectual accomplishments have tremendously crystallized the legal profession by erecting virile pillars of knowledge and confidence in the minds of both legal practitioners and law students.”
On his part, Governor Akeredolu, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said: “My great brother and learned friend in the life of Mortals, commemoration of the day of first contact with the Earthly plane comes once in a yearly calendar.
“As you celebrate your 60th Birthday today, I heartily wish you a very happy birthday and prayers for scores of healthy, prosperous and peaceful returns of the day. May you have all the joy your heart can hold, all the smiles a day can bring, all the Blessings a life can unfold.
“CONGRATULATIONS. All honour, glory and adoration belong to the Lord for seeing you to this age. As we say in Yoruba, Asodunmodun, àsosùmòsù, igba odun odun kan. More grace.”
In his congratulatory letter dated July 2, 2021, the Mr. Boss Mustapha said: “This occasion indeed requires giving thanks and adoration to the Most High for bestowing His favours and mercies upon you.
“Your achievements and contributions over the years towards the growth and development of the legal profession is far reaching. You have used your role as the Chairman, Council of Legal Education to effectively ensure that legal education receives the desired attention needed in order to take the legal profession to its desired destination. I strongly believe given your wealth of experience, you will do more towards the growth, development and progress of the legal profession and Nigeria at large.
“Additionally, I wish to attest to the fact you have contributed much to humanity both publicly and privately over the years. This is evidenced in the number of high profile cases you have handled and won convincingly while maintaining humanity and integrity. You are indeed a blessing not just to the legal profession but to the nation. For these and much more, we are grateful to God for witnessing this great day in good health.”
On his part, Malami said: “Your birthday calls for the celebration of your life and the remarkable achievements you have recorded over the years. As a thorough-bred legal practitioner with a track record of professional excellence, your invaluable contributions towards the progress of our noble profession over the years have not gone unnoticed hence the various appointments both in the legal profession and other bodies.
“Indeed, you have distinguished yourself as a renowned, selfless, industrious and committed lawyer whose foray into the legal profession has benefitted our dear nation tremendously.
“While wishing you continuous success in all your future endeavours, it is my prayer that Almighty God will preserve you for many more years and in good health so that the legal profession and the nation in general will continue to benefit from your wealth of experience.”
Aside from family members, associates and leading lawyers, birthday messages were also received from Nigerian Law School Class of 1985; Independent National Electoral Commission (Imo State); Mr. Allen Onyema; University of Nigeria Law Class of 1984; Otu Oka Iwu (Law Society); National Association of Catholic Lawyers (NACL), and Alor People’s Assembly among others.