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 turns seventy 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 in June, 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 later Chief 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 recent 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.
At age thirty one, General Olusegun Obasanjo, then military Head of State appointed him Chairman of Nicon Insurance Corporation, then one of the country’s largest corporations. A famous insurance industry guru, Yinka Lijadu was managing director. It was during their time that several projects were conceived and implemented including today’s Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja.
On the return of civilian rule in 1979 the newly elected Governor of old Cross River State, comprising today’s Cross River and Akwa Ibom States, the celebrated economist and onetime Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, appointed the then thirty three year old Kanu as Commissioner for Finance.
Barely two years into the new assignment, he resigned on principle, perhaps the only one so far to do so till date. He became famous. He returned to his law practice now making more appearances in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
He also became concerned that my generation was becoming dependent on politicians and politics for their livelihood to the detriment of their potentials, that it had lost the pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit of our forebears.
He started a movement called The Third Choice, with me as Secretary to promote self reliance and the innate capabilities of the individual. The movement provided scholarships for students at home and abroad, supported young professionals and businesses with remarkable success.
Today beneficiaries of that intervention are successful men and women. Then tragedy struck. His young daughter, Akpana, his spitting image suddenly died and Kanu went into depression losing interest in so many things including his beloved law practice.
It took counselling from his mentor Justice E.T Ndoma-Egba, conspiracies by Paul Erokoro and I who had joined him in the practice, a new strength and meaning in the Christian faith to steer him back.
Kanu now read the Bible voraciously and it was common to find three versions spread in front of him. He recovered with new strength and became very spiritual.
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 throughout 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 practiced 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, 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.
Like every mortal he would have had his failings, regrets, missed opportunities and missed turns but life is measured on the average, on the things done and not only on the things not done, not by the length of our lives but the life in our years, not by what we received but by what we gave.
His has been a remarkable life of love and service to family, of community, nation, humanity and God. It has been a life of grace and humility. He taught us many things, small things like hard work, sacrifice, self confidence, charity, prudence and focus, that we must succeed in spite of others, that if you heard negative things people say about you then you are not sufficiently concentrating on the task at hand. He also taught us big things like lawn tennis and chess, and the love of Congo music and jazz.
As he turns seventy, 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
VICTOR NDOMA-EGBA was a three term Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Leader of the Seventh Senate, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Kanu Agabi,s first junior, and first partner in the defunct law firm of AGABI, NDOMA-EGBA & EROKORO.
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