By Sam Akpe
It started as a mere fantasy. Today, it’s mission accomplished. Let’s go back to 1976; in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. He was in the primary school. Occasionally, he sneaked out into the city during break time; on a walk through the streets, with a classmate.
On this day, something unusual happened. They were chatting, laughing and stopping at every shop to admire the goods, hoping that someday, in future, they would walk inside and come out with baskets of goodies. At every boutique, they naughtily waved at the mannequins. It was fun.
Just as they were about returning to the class, they noticed a big, fenced premises, with people, dressed in white shirts and black suits, emerging from big cars. Each held a black gown—the type worn by church choir members. “What’s happening here?” The two boys asked no one in particular.
Quietly, they tip-toed into the premises, and looked through the big windows. It was a court session. The Judge was seated. Lawyers were arguing. No one else spoke. No laughter. No movement. Extreme decorum. After a few minutes, they quietly walked away, afraid and confused.
With that unplanned visit, a career was born. From that point, they were no longer interested in supermarkets and mannequins. Almost daily, they went straight to the same State High Court to watch proceedings, peeping through the windows.
Although they hardly understood what was going on, they thoroughly enjoyed the courtroom drama comprising the bombastic legal jargons, the gesticulations, and the way lawyers interjected each other while rising to their feet.
Today, as you read this piece, Inam Akpadiaha Wilson, one of the boys in this story, is being inducted as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
After watching those court sessions several times, he made up his mind to become one of them. From primary to secondary schools, he kept dreaming, Today, he is living the dream.
From Onna Peoples High School, Inam had moved over to Government Secondary School, in Eket, where we met. With an unmistakable mischievous smile; plus, a sarcastic sense of humour, he was already behaving like a lawyer—walking with dignified mien. Believe me, he has hasn’t changed one bit.
Twice he took JAMB, and twice he was refused admission to study law. At the third try, he got it, though his score was below the cut-off point. By his confession, it still remains a mystery how he got the admission. But he did. One hurdle jumped.
The next of the hurdles was money. As the fourth child in a large family, with a-civil-servant father, it took the intervention of his uncle for him to pull through. It was not a smooth ride.
Then he became playful and lost focus. Friends started calling him NFA—no future ambition. This happened at what is now the University of Uyo (formerly, University of Cross River State).
One day, a Ghanaian lecturer—now a serving judge in Accra—called him to order: “I’ve been watching you. You’re not focused. You no longer attend classes. You’re all over the place, wasting away. If you continue this way, you will never graduate.”
Inam listened attentively. The man continued: “With your own hand, you are trying to undermine your future. You look like a promising young man, but for some reasons, you’re misdirected. I am telling you now, turn around while it is still possible. Change your ways. Else, you are doomed.” Tough words. Bitter truth.
Inam confessed to me, “That was my turning point. I left him with an undertaking to heed his advice. I assured him that the final list of graduands will have my name on it. Truly, if I had continued along that path, all these would have been but a mere dream. I repented.”
Called to the bar 32 years ago, Inam, as we still call him, started his law practice in Aba as an intern. His desire was to be in Port Harcourt, where he dreamt of walking boldly into the same court that he used to watch proceedings, peeping through the window—the very place where the dream started.
One day, he encountered a SAN, and got awestruck by his demeanor. From the manner the man addressed the court, Inam noticed a touch of extraordinariness.
He confessed: “I saw something different about him; and I said, ‘yeah, I like that. I didn’t know what it would take, but that encounter planted a desire in me. I started dreaming of being like him.” Another dream!
Inam’s journey to the top was soaked in sweat. He described his first initial years in legal practice as hell; “I almost died in the process. There were days I stayed at the bus stop without a dime for transportation. Yet, I was a lawyer, practicing in Lagos. It was that bad.”
In February 1998, he suffered acute typhoid. Admitted in a hospital, he lost blood, grew lean, “in fact, I saw heaven and I thought I had passed on. But I survived it. I had no money to pay the hospital bill. Friends came to my help.”
At a time, some of his friends urged him to leave Lagos. But he stayed on. He chose to die, trying. He saw today from yesterday. His tenacity paid off. Then things started changing as he got hired in big chambers owned by Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
Gradually, he started making court appearances on big cases. With a master degree in the kitty, his approach to legal practice took a new turn. Judges started noticing his intellectual depth, fluency of arguments and incontestable submissions. They were impressed.
From one big chamber to the other, he created undeniable impacts. Perceptually, Inam moved legal practice from a mere profession to the realm of passion. He hit the limelight, arguing and making submissions in the Supreme Court. His qualifications for induction as SAN started accumulating. But he wasn’t in a hurry.
Just before he clocked 32 years in practice, he finally applied. The process, as usual was tedious, unpredictable. He knew he was qualified, but so were others. The applicants were in hundreds until the final interview when they were counted in dozens. It was tension unlimited.
At this stage, the statutory qualifications gave way to other considerations. His interview was on September 27. He later received unofficial confirmation of impressive performance. But then, a decision would still have to be taken on how many persons would be given the rank in 2022.
Fortunately, he was the only surviving candidate from Akwa Ibom; but not the only one from the South South. After the geo-political consideration, the panel set a cut-off mark at 85%. It was time for final elimination. On September 29, the waiting game reached a nerve-cracking point. It was the final day.
Noon passed, no news. Inam was in Abuja, alone in a hotel room. At 6pm, there was still no information. Applicants kept calling each other for updates. Tension rose to boiling point. At about 7:30p.m., he got a call from a SAN, who simply said, “Congratulations, my brother, you made it.”
Confused. Alarmed. Inam replied, “How? Is the list out? I haven’t seen the list. Have you seen it?” Many questions in one breathe.
The senior lawyer replied, “Come on, do you think I’ll just call you to say congratulations when you haven’t made it? You must see the list before you believe me? Okay, I’ll send you the list. You are number 18”
As the first call ended, another SAN called to congratulate him. Inam knew that these two people would not call him if they were not sure, because they were not regular callers.
Finally, the list came out. His name was number 18. Alone in the hotel room, he screamed and jumped. It was a mixture of joy, relief, tears, everything. “Me, a senior advocate?” Yes, mission accomplished.
Before he could wipe the tears off his eyes, the phone started screaming with calls. Things changed so fast.
A few days after the list of new SANs was published, Inam went to Port Harcourt where he had a case at the National Industrial Court. Since he was not yet inducted, he was careful not to announce his presence as SAN.
But a senior lawyer on the other side could not hold back. Just before the first matter was called, he stood up and said to the judge, “My lord, with your kind permission, I wish to inform the court that my learned friend, Inam Wilson, is now a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.”
The judge responded: “Are you serious? Congratulations Mr. Wilson, oh that is well deserved. But why didn’t you announce yourself as a SAN?” Inam replied, “My lord, I have not yet been inducted. I have to wait until that day.” The judge agreed but added, “All the same, you are a senior advocate.”
Inam enjoyed the atmosphere with the same school-boy mischievous smile. Of course, his matter was called immediately, in accordance with the privileges reserved for SANs. He was even accorded the advantage of an early date for the next hearing.
Trust Inam for a little more drama. He went to another court where he had no case at all. Straight to the front, he sat. The presiding judge personally announced, “Mr Inam Wilson, SAN. I notice you. Welcome to my court. I hope you are not here to disrupt my proceedings.” Inam responded: “No my lord, I just came to greet my lord.”
Certainly, this additional credential comes with a burden of its own. In addition to his previous efforts, he must still groom, train, and mentor junior lawyers in the best standards of practice and etiquettes of the profession.
Inam told me as though in confidence: “Now, you can no longer just go to court without enormous preparation because your opinion is supposed to be weighted and well considered.
“When you speak, there’s a presumption in your favor that you are speaking authoritatively—you must speak good law. The audience, the judge and other lawyers are supposed to listen and learn. You must advance the law.”
Curiously, none of Inam’s children is interested in the legal profession. Inam believes the reason is deeply rooted in the nature of the job. He revealed: “Yesterday I was with a few of my colleagues and we were brainstorming over this issue; because it doesn’t seem to be peculiar to me.
“One of the things we found out is that the children have seen us burn the midnight candle; working late nights over the years. They go to bed, daddy is working. They wake up, daddy is working. So, they ask themselves, is this what they must go through as lawyers? For most of them, it’s scary.
“Law consumes you; especially when you aspire to the highest level. It takes over your being. In fact, everything you do is law. Since the children belong to a new generation, they like things easy and breezy. But I’m still praying for them.”
In every journey to the top, the road may not be straight. It comes with detours, contours and breakdowns. But you must not lose your direction. Even when you have veered off, try and bring yourself back on track. Look up. Look ahead.
Inam told me, “You must be disciplined. There is no amount of vision or aspiration you can accomplish without discipline. Discipline is what makes you stay awake all night reading, while others sleep.
“Discipline wakes you up in the morning to prepare because you have a case. Discipline is what tells you watch your mouth, watch your desires. Self-discipline makes you delay gratification and measure your enjoyment. You can’t have it all at the same time.”
Congratulations, my friend.
Akpe, a journalist and communication consultant, lives in Abuja
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