On Sunday, 6th December, 2015 I woke up to check some updates on facebook as I usually do on a daily basis. As the notification page popped up, my eyes were opened to the saddest and soberest realization of that fateful day.
My very good friend and brother, Barr Max Ogar had posted a message to announce the demise of his uncle and benefactor- one of the most articulate, charismatic and entertaining lawyers of this generation, Barr Mathew Mkpe Ojua. I was distraught and wished fervently that what I saw was not true.
In a bid to assuage my curiosity, I quickly put a call to my friend (Max Ogar) to confirm what I considered the most unpleasant piece of news of the year 2015.
Understandably, his mobile number was engaged. I made spirited efforts to reach him but to no avail as the error message kept telling me that his number was busy.
With an avowed persistence, I got through to Max after trying his number for over two hours. With an emotion laden voice, he confirmed to me that Barr Ojua had breathed his last the previous day (Saturday, 5th December, 2015) in faraway Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa after a battle with some health complications.
Ojua Mkpe, as he was fondly called by Max Ogar, was an enigma of sorts and a consummate legal luminary. He was a master of jurisprudence and legal artistry, don of efficacious litigation and advocacy, doyen of constitutional law and patriot extraordinaire.
Barr Mathew Ojua was born under the cascading shadow of Biakem village, Bashua in Boki Local Government of Area of Cross River State in 1960.
He sparkled like effervescent flawless diamond at St. Martins Primary School, Ikom from 1968-1972; transcending records and expectations at Mary Knoll College, Ogoja in the 1970s and shining like a thousand stars at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in the early 1980s.
Again, between 1984 and 1985, Barr. Ojua scaled the Law School huddle with regal ease at the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos and was called to the Nigerian Barr in 1985.
As they say, “lawyers don’t have boundaries”, Barr Mathew Ojua indeed explored the frontiers of the legal profession as he traversed the length and breadth of the country, manifesting unparalleled quality and excellence in private law practice with matchless intellectual assiduity.
His calling was advocacy, his profession was law, his passion was to lit societal darkness with the piercing beam of his tongue and his vocation was to smoke out talent untapped and strap up potentialities unharnessed and fanned their embers to blazing light.
Among several others, my friend, Barr. Max Ogar is one of them. I can remember vividly Max Ogar as a young man straddling amidst options and in dire need of a bearing in academic pursuit.
Barr. Mathew Ojua came in handy like a seasoned sailor and gently steered him towards the cape of the wig and the gown into legal practice.
In 1997, in solidarity with one of my childhood friends, I was in High Court, Ikom. Barr. Ojua was in court on that day to defend one of his clients. As I watched and listened to him, I felt I should have studied law.
He had a peculiar way of addressing the judge. Ojua wouldn’t say, “My Lord” rather he would say, “Mi Lord”. He was such an awesome delight to meet.
I knew Barr. Ojua in 1987 as a legal practitioner when I was a young student in Government Secondary School, Ikom. Prior to the said year, the name Mathew Ojua had rang a bell in my family as a smart and erudite teacher.
Mr. Mathew Ojua (as he then was) had taken a teaching appointment in Holy Child Secondary School, Ikom in 1978 after his secondary education where he taught one of my aunts English Literature.
Barr Ojua never had a massive frame but he had massive brains. Like most great men, Mathew Ojua had a trimmed stature and was average in height but imbued with very admirable gait and carriage.
Barr. Ojua’s commitment to the less privilege and the physically challenged persons in Cross River State was an eloquent testimony of his philanthropic disposition to life.
He had a legendary tradition of hosting the physically challenged in his house on 30th December yearly. With a heart of gold for the downtrodden in our society, Ojua until his demise founded and chaired the Rev. Fr. Nick Obi Memorial Loving-Kindness Foundation in 2009 – A non-governmental organization (NGO) with the primary focus of raising the standard of living of the physically challenged and less privilege.
In a world where unfaithfulness to nuptial vows by men is a standard fare if after nine months a woman does not procreate, Barr Mathew Ojua’s life epitomized the biblical question: “But a faithful man, who can find?”(Prov. 20: 6).
Ojua’s love for his wife never failed and his faith in God did not waiver in those trying years. At last, the children came in their numbers. His defense for family values were unassailable and his dedication to his household was impeccable.
Barr Mathew Ojua was indisputably a leading light in the legal profession in Nigeria in general and Cross River State in particular. His thirty straight years of private legal practice made him one of the most fecund icons of the profession in the state.
Ojua was resiliently consistent in his lofty quest to raise the standard of the Bar and Bench. At various times, he held executive positions in the Nigerian Bar Association at both the state and national levels.
Barr Mathew Ojua bestrode the legal profession like a colossus with diligence and candor; and got some favorable rulings in celebrated and landmark cases from the lowest to the apex court in the land.
Although his career was laced with dazzling content and oozing achievement, Mathew Ojua operated in a country where the phylum of meritorious awards is fading and thinning out; in a nation where people exchange brown envelopes for honor and recognition.
But those who should know have loudly posited that Barr Mathew Ojua deserved the Silk of his chosen profession as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Therefore as the remains of this legal giant has been committed to mother earth since Wednesday, 30th December, 2015, let’s all hail this glowing legend and a well-deserved Senior Advocate of Nigeria who never was, Barr Mathew Mkpe Ojua.
Farewell the Cicero of Biakem, Bashua!
Adieu Barr. Mathew Mkpe Ojua!!
Missang Oyama writes from Lagos.
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