LATE SIR CLEMENT OBIORA AKPAMGBO (SAN): EXIT OF A COLOSSUS
On Tuesday, 21st day of November 2006, I was a sad man. It was the day that I heard the news of the death of a hero of mine in the legal profession. It was a very miserable day for me and most of my professional colleagues scattered all over the world who had come in contact with him. A friend of mine broke the sad news to me that the learned SAN has passed away two days earlier on the 19th of November, 2006, at a hospital in Virginia, some miles away from my abode in Washington DC area.
Sir Clement Akpamgbo was, in my humble opinion, the most accomplished and unarguably the best Attorney General and Minister of Justice that Nigeria has ever produced. He is one of the few that actually produced results as the Chief Law Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He revived the Justice Journal and the Laws of Federation of Nigeria. During his tenure, he aggressively sought the unification of the Criminal and Evidence Laws of Nigeria and the review of the complicated Land Use Act. He also laid foundation for the Failed banks Tribunal, financial reforms in Nigeria and the establishment of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). He also prepared the highly improved welfare package for the judges and magistrates in Nigeria.
In spite of his accolades and legions of achievements, he remained low-keyed and humble. He was the Chairman, Enugu Branch of Nigerian Bar Association; he was also President of Nigerian Bar Association; a Life Bencher and Chairman Body of Benchers; Chairman Council of Legal Education; and attorney General and Minister of Justice, Federal Republic of Nigeria. I will add here that he was a Visiting professor, Faculty of Law, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State and of course one of the leading Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
He was an advocate with great distinction. Friends and adversaries alike bear testimony to his very methodical and deliberate approach to advocacy. Judges and most especially Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court justices all come to the same conclusion that his appellate briefs were phenomenal. His briefs made the jobs of the Justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court Justices very simple. He was very meticulous. Whether he was appearing as an attorney to any party or just an amicus curie (friend of the court), his briefs and presentations always aid the justices in arriving at their decisions.
I do not consider myself qualified to write about this great legal scholar and advocate. However, it is my burning desire to share my experiences as a student of this great Nigerian. During my days as a law student, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra state, Sir Clement Akpamgbo (SAN) was a visiting professor of law in our school. His services were, however, free of charge. He remained the most learned, articulate, humble, gracious, decent, honest and witty professor of law that I have ever been privileged to by taught by. It was a great honor and privilege for us to have him as one of our lecturers. He epitomized excellence, hard work, integrity and generosity.
His humility was made manifest the way he carried himself. Though he was already an Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, he never came to school with all the fanfare and paraphernalia of office thereby unlike what happens in the kind of world we live in. He neither used siren nor come with a retinue of official cars and security. He only showed up with his driver and/or his police orderly. On the first day we officially met him for our class he just introduced himself as "Mr C. O. Akpamgbo, your lecturer in Advocacy". There was a day he showed up to class with attorneys’ vest with bib to match. He was very apologetic and explained to us that it was due to the tight scheduling between his court of appeal appearance and class, and assured us that it would never happen again. We understood and were all marveled at his simplicity. He never disappointed or fail to show up for class despite his very tight schedule as the Justice Minister. Even when he could not make it, he always made sure that a junior in his chambers came to our school to deliver his message and negotiate with us a convinient time for the class. Our class with him was mostly marathon and on weekends and at anytime that was convenient to him. We would always show up anytime to imbibe the legal knowledge he always gave out freely to us.
Sir Akpamgbo was always cheerful, slow to anger and even when provoked by students, he remained graceful and never lost his cool. I could remember vividly the day he was irritated by some disgruntled students action against the faculty. He was furious and threatened to terminate his services which like I earlier said, was free of charge. After he finished venting his annoyance, one of our class orators, one Daniel Nwokolo, stood up and apologized on behalf of the class. When he was about to complete his pleadings for mercy from the learned SAN, he stated:
"In conclusion, sir, I implore you to forgive and forget.....and if not for anything else, so that your reward would be great in heaven."
When the class orator completed his speech and I must say, a practice in advocacy, the learned SAN said "I want those rewards here on earth, at least an advance". The whole class bursted out laughing and that was the end of the matter. And with his characteristic "gentlemen, let’s get on" he continued his lectures.
He was a legal guru to students and fellow staff. His Latin was impeccable and inspiring and motivated most of us that wanted to go into serious law practice after graduation. He taught the courses, Advocacy and Law of Evidence with great passion and clarity. The Law of Evidence considered as a nemesis to many of our students were made simple thanks to his ingenuity. He was always accessible to us and encouraged us to ask any question about any topic in law and in the general issue of the day. We always look forward to his motivational "question time". I always remember the first case he gave us and emphasized that we study and master it since it would help us sear in our memory, the rule of admissibility of evidence.
The case was Madukolu Vs Nkemdilim. Every time I hear that case mentioned, I remember the learned SAN.
He possessed the sterling gift of the garb. It does not matter how hostile or friendly his audience was, he always possessed the skills to hold his listeners glued to their seats. I could remember the day he came to Nigerian Law School after we had graduated; for the Annual Law Week Lectures. That was in 1997. Some of our student attorneys were still sore because of Sir Akpamgbo’s service to IBB. They accused him of producing Decree 107 (Suspension and Modification Decree) of 1993 that removed the courts’ jurisdiction to entertain any question in relation to annulment of the election. When he came for his lectures on "Pleadings", some of the Law School students from the west left the class. However, when he began his lectures, the initially aggrieved students started returning in large numbers to hear him speak. He was marvelous! Many people that did not know him heard that he was good, but little did they know how good he was as a lecturer and as an accomplished advocate. Some started chanting "Power Clems" "Power Clems" "Akpa Bullet"!!. "Umu Awka" as Unizik students were fondly called started chanting "Nzogbu Nzogbu Enyimba Enyi"
During the days of IBB and Abacha’s dictatorship and when he was the Attorney General, he was widely criticized for "churning out" or "manufacturing" decrees for the dictator. He remained steadfast in his conviction. There was a day we asked him why was very diligent in his service to the military as AG even when the whole nation was against continued military dictatorship. He told us "Gentlemen, I will always be honest with you. Whenever you choose to serve the government, whether military or civilian, be prepared to give your best or get out" He was as brutally sincere as he was blunt. He told us that he was accused of manufacturing decrees after decrees and asked us whether we knew about what a certain decree was all about. We had never heard of that particular decree before, and he said: "It was the decree that made your school, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, a Federal university". The applause was instantaneous.
Like him or not, you will never say much bad things about him. He loved and was highly dedicated to the law and to his students. As we mourn his death and celebrate his eventful life, we that he touched our life directly will always say "thank you". Thank you for your elegantia juris (elegance in the law). Though you are no more, the lives you have touched would always remember you. The candle you kindled in many lives will forever profess your brand of practice.
Nigeria has lost a formidable propagator of the law. Anambra state and the entire Igboland has lost a gem. Enugwu-Ukwu and the entire Umu-Nri Clan has lost our valued son, barely one year after Nri lost another of our legal giants, Chief Philip Ezebilo Umeadi (Ozomma of Nri and Okwulora of Umunri).
Finally, as his gentle soul rests in peace, all that are privileged to worship in the temple of justice will never forget that he were a great Chief Law Officer and Grand Minister in Justice’s temple.