IN my tribute to Senator Uche Chukwumerije, I had posited that “Every age, every generation produces an iconoclast, an eclectic eccentric, a quirky and unusual figure who ironically represents the measure, the values and indeed the essence of that age or generation and becomes the icon of that age or generation .They are not conventional persons, they are peculiar odd, aberrant, curious, capricious ,quaint,queer and even erratic. Somehow, in spite of their unusualness, they remain unusually lovable. They are unusually unobtrusive yet their presence is forceful.” These words are as true for Chukwumerije as they are for Kanu Godwin Agabi who turned 70 on July 9, 2016.
Kanu or KGA as he is fondly known to all first came into my consciousness in 1969. He was a lanky law undergraduate at the University of Lagos and President, Ogoja Provincial Students Union. In spite of the Nigerian Civil War and his studies, he and his friend, Mathew Ojong of blessed memory, went round the secondary schools in old Ogoja Province comprising the six local governments of today’s Cross River Central Senatorial District and the five of today’s Cross River North, mobilizing and motivating students for their future. His passion, energy, physical presence and oratory were captivating. I was among the young secondary students he impressed deeply. After those tours, he became unmistakable and etched on the consciousness of my generation. He was imitated in speech, in gait and in manners. He had become an idol to many of us.
He went on to become a lawyer, having been called to the Nigeria Bar along with Fidelis Ikogo Nnang inJune, 1972 and both chose to set up their law practice in their native Ogoja, in the foot steps of E.T. Ndoma-Egba, who was to become one of the early Justices of the Court of Appeal; Etowah Arikpo who became Attorney General of the old Cross River State and laterChief Judge, and Ochikry Idagbo who became a High Court Judge.
Fidelis Nnang briefly became Deputy Governor of the old Cross River State under the short lived Governorship of Senator Donald Etiebet who succeeded Dr.Clement Isong in 1983, and later High Court Judge.
In his law practice he demonstrated brilliance, hard-work and spartan discipline .Justice Niki Tobi, of blessed memory, then of the Court of Appeal, Enugu once approvingly described Kanu as a ‘ display case’. When Ndoma-Egba, Arikpo and Idagbo left for their various elevations, Kanu took over the legal market in that part of the world, dominated and defined it. He vigorously pursued social causes on the side of the oppressed and did more of pro bono work. Philanthropy is ingrained in his DNA.
It was not a surprise that he became the third Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Cross River State, having been elevated to the rank in September 1997, thus keeping the eminent company of Dr.Okoi Arikpo, Foreign Minister through out the regime of General Yakubu Gowon and Chief Effiom Ekong, Minister (then called Federal Commissioner) for Trade under General Muritala Mohammed’s administration and under whom Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, now an eminent Justice of the Supreme Court, practised and cut his professional teeth.
I joined Kanu in his practice in Ogoja immediately after my National Youth Service in July 1979.Paul Erokoro soon joined, followed by Greg Ngaji . Soon, the practice opened offices in Ikom with Paul running it, and Calabar with me at that end. Many many others were to join. The alumni of that practice would conveniently form a school. Kanu and I were commissioners in the Old Cross River State quickly followed by Paul and Greg. Kanu, Greg and I were to become senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Kanu became a two-time Attorney General of the Federation under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s civilian Presidency, the only Nigerian with that record to my knowledge, and held other portfolios. Kanu, myself and Paul became Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
He has since produced many more Senior Advocates, judges of various jurisdictions, including the current Chief Justice of The Gambia, commissioners, top public servants, including a founding Executive Secretary of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), corporate executives, politicians, lawyers of note, etc. His professional children have since begotten their own children. Biologically and professionally he has become a grandfather; a very proud one too.
As he turns 70, he is not getting old though the joints rebel and refuse to take his orders, he is just getting better and wiser. We celebrate Kanu, we thank God for who and what he has been to too many of us, for his generosity, and pray that God grants him many more peaceful years in good health of body and mind. Happy birthday, Kanu. Congratulations!
- Ndoma-Egba (SAN), a three-term senator, was Leader of the Seventh Senate.