By far, perhaps, the most profound contribution to the Nigerian humanity and its administration of justice system by Chief Chimezie Ikeazor was the founding of the Nigerian Legal Aid Association in 1974.
The civil war just ended, produced a brutalized society with highly elastic conscience, where personal freedom under the law, counted for little. Suspects spent years in prison awaiting trial on presumption of guilt, and authoritarianism ventilated its sadism on the citizenry, under the watchful connivance of the law.
And so, long before it became fashionable to float nebulous NGOs with the calculating pretentiousness characteristic of the practiced politician or faked human rights activism, Chief Ikeazor launched the Nigerian Legal Aid Association. The objective of the association was to provide genuine free legal aid services to the poor by availing him free legal professional services from legal practitioners who are members of the association. I was in effect the Executive Secretary of the fledgling association by virtue of my position as his junior in chambers.
Needless reeling out the myriad birth pangs, the teething aches, the sneers, cynicisms, the financial burdenings associated with the nurturing of the new idea of the free legal aid project in Nigeria into material form.
But Chief Ikeazor’s infectious passion and optimistic commitment to the cause enlisted the strong support of every strata of the Nigerian bar and the bench and he kept up the struggle until the Federal Government promulgated the scheme into law thereby securing free legal aid for indigent citizens of this country.
This is the vintage Ikeazor.
A man with prodigious energy and consuming passion for social justice whose devotion to public service dates back to his civil service assigned duties as Private Secretary to Federal Minister Chief S L Akintola in the early 60’s.
Whether it be in the 70’s, at the famous Langalanga Commission of Inquiry where he acted as Counsel to the Commission; the co-founding of the popular pan-Igbo lawyers’ forum Otu-Okiwu now flourishing in Lagos; or as Secretary-General, Anambra-Imo Leaders of Thought; or from the 80’s until his death, the founding of pressure groups such as The Igbo Redemption Group, whose aims were almost always the same, namely, the upliftment of the downtrodden, and giving voice to the voiceless, Chief Ikeazorpressed hisadvocacywith the same passion and untrammelled commitment.
I met him at the earliest of the formation of my legal professional life when I felt able to face the vicissitudes of private legal practice. I had approached him sometime in 1974 for permission to run my practice from his Central Lagos Abibu-Oki Street office. The mutual likeness was instantaneous.
I ended up a co-crusader and close confidant. One good thing about being a junior is that you don’t have to pay for anything.
His residence at 40 Jalupon Close, at the then high brow Surulere, off Adeniran Ogunsanya Street, was famous as a beehive for momentous and historic meetings hosting various big political and legal personalities of the old Anambra and Imo where Mazi SG Ikoku, Chief C. C. Onoh, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Chief Onyeabo Obi, Chief J S Tarka, Chief Solomon Lar, Chief Okoye to mention a few such personalities, constantly brainstorming on ways and means to improve society.
Chief Chimezie Ikeazor enjoyed the good times and endured the bad times with equanimity. One never to let a good time slip by, he was on many maiden flights which always are momentous and memorable celebrations in air travel, and he was an avid air traveler. One of such was the celebrated Concorde maiden flight from London to New York in 1976 and the maiden flight into the new Lagos Airport (now Murtala Mohammed Airport) Ikeja from Amsterdam. I recall the great excitements that always attended those events.
Even at 82, wheel-chair bound, his bonhomie spirit never left him. To the very end, he was his old dandy self, exuding confidence, spreading joy and laughter around him.
It is difficult to forget his acclaimed sartorial elegance and his well-kept snow-white beard which always stood him out from the crowd.
Chief Ikeazor had charisma, was vivacious and witty. He had style and anyone who knew him just must have to admit it.
He taught me how to enjoy many of the pleasures of life and how to surmount life’s adversities, and bury the hatchets.
The Oboli Obosi was an outstanding Nigerian and for me his death is a sad loss of a professional senior in chambers. I shall miss the occasional banters, banters that served as desirable tonics in these bewildering times.
We are however consoled that his contributions to our humanity and the administration of justice system in Nigeria has been written into our Constitution and the statute books.
This is no mean achievement! Adieu, Senior!
•Chief F.O Offia, a Legal Practitioner wrote in from FCT Abuja.