I knew him by reputation. He is the man behind the hugely famous case in libel, Iloabuchi v. Iloabuchi, and of course the politically earth-shattering case, Onuorah v. KRPC, among others. These cases and the major dramatic personnel involved in them, had already sufficiently made some lasting impression on me. So when at the last CLASFON national conference in Uyo, a friend asked me to meet him somewhere at the Ewet Housing Estate area of Uyo, I was not prepared for the surprise that awaited me; a lifetime opportunity to meet Arthur Obi Okafor (SAN).
He was seated at the corner of the room, but he simply dominated the entire space. He had this imposing imperial ambiance about him that attracts your attention and keeps it a few seconds longer than is necessary. He looked handsome in this masculine comeliness of a Roman sculpture.
“Meet Arthur Obi Okafor SAN,” my friend Sammy said.
He rose; an imposing 6 or 7 feet of human grace! We shook hands, eye locked in unspoken moment of mutual assessment. In that split second, I thought about the cases he had argued that I have read; I looked out for that hardiness that often comes with scholarship, but I only saw smiles and noticed a gentle pressure of an assured handshake.
Pleasantries over, three more lawyers joined us and our discussions traversed all areas of life. We shared moments of sober reflections on the national question, we discussed all the concerns, the highs and lows of our national life; we discussed the NBA and the strategic burden the association carries on behalf of the unity of our country. He had burning dreams for Nigeria’s greatness. He came out a patriot, compassionate and a man of immense confidence. He was a delight to listen to. He had this smooth and soothing voice that lulled you as you assimilate the enormous wisdom that proceeds from his mouth.
Soon, one of the CLASFON delegates, a young lawyer from Lagos, delved into the concerns and aspirations of young practitioners and then sought to know the nearest route to success in the profession. The learned silk took some few seconds of silence and then descended into what could as well have been a lecture on the principles of success for young lawyers. As he spoke, about ten pairs of eyes in the room followed his every move, with an equal number of ears trained at him.
“The journey to success is not a 100 meter dash. You need one step at a time, but your eyes must be firmly fixed at the direction you are headed”, he said with eyes moving round the room engaging his audience.
“So the number one principle is focus. If you lose focus, you are bound to have a more tortuous journey to your destination, which is success; your eyes must be on the ball and the goal post. Early in my own life’s journey, my principal, late Dr. Chimezie Ikeazor, in drilling this principle into me, asked, “what would you want to be, a Judge or a Senior Advocate?” I said an SAN and he said, ‘set that as your goal post’. I did and that became my guiding star,” he revealed, waving those long hands.
“Number two is honesty. When a client has the opportunity of briefing one of two lawyers, a client is more inclined to brief a lawyer that is honest than a brilliant lawyer, who not honest. A client would rather go with an honest lawyer than a first class brain, who is dishonest; except if the client is the dubious type,” he lectured looking up to ensure his lessons are sinking.
“But you have to know”, he continued, “that dubious ones (clients) are fewer than honest clients and naturally honest clients would go for honest lawyers. Be the honest lawyer”
“You must be humble. You must treat your clients with respect. They are your greatest strength. Do not throw your weight around with them,” he said.
“You must work hard and smart. Hard work do not kill, what kills is the work left undone. So work hard, when you have a job to be done, do it. Find a way to do every work that comes your way, even when there is no money; take every brief seriously because You never can tell the one that will make you.
“Be consistent and persevering, both work together. Let the people know you for consistent patterns of goodness and attitudes. If for instance you open your office by 7 am everyday, be consistent with it. Wether there is a case or not, be sure to open that office by 7 am. One client would tell the other, ‘go there by even 7 am you will find him there’ and when they come you are there. It leaves great impressions. Carve an image of consistency about you. Consistency combines with perseverance. Maintain the bulldog attitude of never say never. It is this attitude to do what you can and allow God do His own that will make your success sustainable and enduring.
“Remember that the scripture says ‘open your mouth and I will fill it’. Your ability to follow the principles of success through is what the scripture means by ‘open your mouth’. It is God and not you that will now fill the open mouth. So when you follow up on your success principles, (open mouth) learn to wait for God to give you success,(fill it). It is when you want to do yours and God’s own all on your own that you run into trouble.
“As far as I am concerned, your destiny is not in the hands of any man. Your destiny is in Gods hands, but you must first open your mouth for it to be filled. When you obey God and apply the principles of success, it will just be a question of time before you hit the roofs of success. So do not allow any man to sow the seeds of fear, nor to browbeat you into thinking that without him you cannot make it. You can; yes you can because principles are universal laws”.
I looked at the young man from Lagos, his eyes were misty with stifled tears of admiration. A session of selfies followed and the young lawyers left, impressed with the deep sip off a living spring of wisdom; product of many years of successful life’s journey and an equally many years of successfully mentoring young lawyers to success.
It is an evening I will always relish and I have no doubts that my young friends feel the same way.