What life has taught me at 47, and my future plans for Nigeria/Nigerians, by Emeka Ugwuonye

Posted by News Express | 1 December 2013 | 4,974 times

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No moment could be more opportune than now, to share with friends, supporters and well-wishers some of my thoughts and personal experiences about life and human civilisation.

Before advancing, I make the point of reminding my friends that I was born rich, but raised poor. I was born in peace, but raised in war, and have existed in a precarious world of uncertainties, great expectations and challenges. I have seen the extremes of life – once poor to a point where the next meal was not guaranteed and once so well off to a point where I could wine and dine with the wealthiest elites of the world. I was at one time unsure of my high school education, and at another time, an assistant professor at Harvard University. I have been at one point the lawyer representing Nigerian Government in the United States and interacting with the country’s leaders at the highest levels. Yet, I have also been a suspect being prosecuted by the government of the same Nigeria.

I have therefore come to live with the parallel passions where I have constantly weighed the options on my mind – whether to love or to hate my country of birth. These prevarications notwithstanding, I have chosen to continue to love Nigeria and the peoples of Nigeria. But I must admit that Nigeria is not an easy country to love. Like an irresponsible bride, Nigeria seeks to destroy those who love her while rewarding and favouring those who hate and undermine her interest. To love a country that gave you war as an infant, a country that gave you no scholarships as a youth, a country that closed down the universities even when you managed to pay your way through, a country where leaders steal ravenously the commonwealth of the people: to love a country like that is definitely not an easy task. But every Nigerian must come to terms one way or the other with his or her faith in Nigeria. I have chosen to love and to fight for Nigeria and to protect the rights of its peoples. And I reaffirm that today.

Each person grows up thinking and planning how he would live his or her life, what profession to belong to, what kind of work to do, etc. But it is really not us that would choose where we end up in life. Some forces above us tend to make that final call for us. I never thought I was going to end up a human rights lawyer. In fact, I had declined to take specialist courses in human rights law at law school. I had rather specialised on corporate and international finance law.

I had assumed that it was for others to protect the rights of the downtrodden. I had thought it was enough and sufficiently righteous to simply wish the poor and the impoverished people well. I never thought it was for me to fight for the weak against the mercenary tendencies of an oppressive state. It seemed more natural for me to join the rapacious elite to exploit the weak and the vulnerable members of our community, and not to seek to champion the cause of freedom. But some forces above me led me in the path I am following now – to advocate for those who have no one to advocate for them, and in the process help avoid the doom and destruction facing our country and our peoples.

In my own experience, I finally came to understand what President John F. Kennedy meant when he urged the Americans to ask what they could do for their country, rather than what their country could do for them. That is the ultimate spirit of public service. That is the spirit I am filled with at this time and stage in my life. Now I can understand what Jesus of Nazareth meant when he said that to lead, one must prepare to serve. For me, the only way to lead is through service. “Whatever you do unto one of the least of these, you do unto Me!” That must be each man’s guiding principle. I learned that it is not by helping myself that I would attain greatness, but rather it is by helping the least among us. It is honorable to serve, and serve I shall.

I have asked myself: What is the greatest challenge we face in Nigeria today? It is a long list, ranging from a vicious insurgency to an equally debilitating militancy, crimes, corruption, bad and failed governance and massive abuse of power and suppression of the rights of the people. We must redress these vices that tear our society apart and threaten our collective wellbeing. I shall dedicate more of my time and resources to using the legal system and public advocacy to redress corruption and fight for the rights of the people. I take this position because I understand the value of liberty, having once lost mine. I understand the dangers of poverty, having once been poor. And I understand the value of prosperity, having prospered myself.

Whereas the violation of rights and abuse of power manifest in infinite number of ways, the recent effort by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to carry out indiscriminate and provocative investigations of Nigerian judges still sitting on the bench poses the gravest danger to the independence of the Nigerian judiciary and, by a logical extension, the entire notion of separation of power and checks and balances in our system of government. I shall therefore be filing appropriate papers in the courts as soon as possible to challenge the EFCC and to resist such a blatant and mind-boggling encroachment on our basic liberties and freedoms.

Further, I shall be investing much of my time in the future into dissemination of legal information through conventional and non-conventional media, training of lawyers and paralegal personnel, building law offices and legal resource centres based on new approaches and the inclusive technology of the internet and the social media. These efforts shall be geared toward broadening access to justice in this country. I insist that those who suffer injustices in this country must have a way to protect and defend their rights. Justice should flow like mighty waters, even though today all we have is a scotching desert and massive deprivations of justice.

The success of these new initiatives would necessarily involve building new partnerships and alliances locally and internationally. Therefore, partnership opportunities and convergence of factors are matters of great interest to me and to those to be working with me on any of the projects in which I will be involved.

I end this message by thanking my friends and family for their immense support. It would have been impossible to aspire in any direction without their love and encouragement. We survived colonialism. We survived war. We survived military rule in this country. And we shall survive all forms of injustices that still linger in our country today. God bless you all.

•Being Emeka Ugwuonye’s message to friends and supporters as the lawyer and activist, whose photo appears alongside this piece, turned 47 on Friday, November 29, 2013. Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire, is the Group Founder/Principal Administrator of Due Process Advocates (DPA) as well as President/CEO at Eculaw Group.

Source: News Express

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