Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, has revealed how his life as a legal luminary and successes in election cases were shaped by his late father, Justice Chuba Ikpeazu.
He has won several high profile cases, including restoring the mandate of former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, in 2006.
Ikpeazu also represented the Governor of Osun State, Ademola Adeleke, and saw to the recent restoration of his victory by the Supreme Court.
Born to late Justice Chuba Ikpeazu in 1959, the senior lawyer told THE WHISTLER in an interview at his chambers in Abuja, that watching his father spend three days at his chambers without coming out imparted the attitude of a go-getter and self discipline in him.
He said his father would give his best, including selling important assets so as to study law abroad.
“You have to know Chuba Ikpeazu. He was called to Bar and he was a self-made man.
“He had to go to school, come out, work and make some money to go back to school every year; that was how he kept on going.
“Eventually he went to the School of Dispensary and had a dispensary and from there, the idea of studying law was brought to him.
“He had to sell off all the items he had but he still fell short, however he had two cousins, Obi and Akunaobi, who were good and God-sent for they were very close to my father.
“After selling his items he still fell short of money, so the residue of the money he needed to travel, they (his cousins) gave him and he travelled out to read law.
“From nowhere, from a son of nobody, he became rich and eventually got his Master’s in LLB(Bachelor of Laws), and came back to Nigeria and started practicing as a lawyer in 1946.”
Ikpeazu said his father became a Queens Counsel (equivalent of Senior Advocate of Nigeria) as a result of hardwork and maintained the highest standard when he became a judge.
“He was co-opted into being a judge because their set received a promise that they will proceed to the Supreme Court.
“That was the set of D. Alexander, F. Williams; they were made judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos.”
Ikpeazu added, “Growing up under his (father’s) roof taught me discipline in many ways. He worked and led by example, he worked very hard.
“He would lock himself in the chambers and stay for three days and he would now come out clearly tired and all that.
“He taught me discipline, learning how to work, determining, setting an objective and ensuring that you obtain that objective,” Ikpeazu added, saying he was currently doing his best to match the exploits and legacy of his late father.
Touching on the legal profession and the kind of law graduates produced from the Nigerian Law School, Ikpeazu who periodically teaches, said the institution upholds the highest ethics and the standard they profess and teach should be enough to guide all lawyers when they join practice.
THE WHISTLER reports that in July 2022, 1,561 students participated in the Nigerian Law School final examination but 809 failed; in 2021, 681 failed to pass as well.
Asked whether the Nigerian Law School is to be blamed for such failures and if it has implications for the new crop of legal practitioners, Ikpeazu said in terms of the standards, one cannot really isolate the Nigerian Law School.
He explained that a proper cross-section should be undertaken on the standards set by relevant educational institutions before one can determine where a problem lies between professional schools and universities in the country.
“I am periodically invited to the Nigerian Law School as a lecturer and I deem it a great privilege to be invited to lecture specifically on election petitions which happens to be an area (not just limiting my practice there) where I have had some extensive exposure in that regard.
“So when a lawyer joins legal practice, it is their commencement at the base of the ladder,” he said, adding that the likes of the Law School DG, Isa Chiroma, Emeka Ngige, SAN, and several others have set a high standard for the institution.
But he advised junior lawyers and fresh law graduates to explore working in chambers renowned for integrity, saying it would impact them more like his father’s chamber and work schedule imparted on him.
“The Nigerian law school, to me, is upholding the highest possible standard.
“If one is lucky to work in good chambers, people of high integrity, then it will impart on the conduct of that lawyer proceeding through his career,” said the senior lawyer.
Regarding his defence in the latest case involving the Enugu State governor-elect, Peter Mbah at the Tribunal, Ikpeazu said he accepted to join the legal team because he believes his client won the election.
“First of all, I must be honest. I am part of the legal team defending him. We won’t be defending the petition if we feel that there is nothing to defend.
“The lawyers defending the petition are lawyers with very high integrity, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, Dr Alex Izinyon SAN, Damian Dodo SAN and a lot of very superb lawyers with proven integrity.
“The petitions are founded on several grounds; like all petitions, the duty is on the petitioner to prove all the allegations they have laid down,” he added.
Asked why Nigerians don’t see a lot of SANs line up to lead public interest or human rights issues as seen with high profile political cases, he said the reason was due to massive attention drawn towards politics in Nigeria.
He explained that politics has the attention of most Nigerians and the media, adding that public interest and human rights cases that he and several colleagues lead are underreported.
“When that public interest action is filed, most people will not hear about it. There are lawyers, very Senior Advocates of Nigeria who engage in public interest litigation,” he said.