For his awesome brilliance, uncommon versatility, phenomenal understanding of the law and sparkling performances during his school days; for his profound contributions to legal education and scholarship through long years of teaching, law book writing, editing, quality paper presentation and publication in renowned academic journals; for his prodigious contributions to the advancement of jurisprudence through a plethora of cases he initiated while at the helm of affairs as the Attorney General of Abia State which settled various thorny judicial and constitutional issues of great importance to the survival of the on-going democracy; for grooming young men and women who are now role models in the bar, the bench, the academy, the civil society, etcetera; and for his strength of character, amazing humility and impeccable records, the LAW PRODIGY, Prof. Awa Uma Kalu, SAN, FIALS, is our Bar and Bench Watch ICON for the week.
Prof. Awa Uma Kalu was born on March 9, 1953, in Umuahia, Abia State. He attended a number of primary schools as a result of the nature of his father’s job which required constant movements. But he had his secondary education at the Anglican Grammar School, Umuahia-Ibeku. He gained admission into the school in 1965. Two years into his education at the school, the civil war started. That was in 1967. The war interrupted his programme. He, however, returned to school in 1970 after the civil war which lasted three years. He eventually completed his secondary school education in 1971 in flying colours. He had excellent grades in core science subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Biology. He also had wonderful grades in core subjects in the liberal arts like English Language and Literature in English. For him, he wanted to make a career in journalism because of his exceptional writing and speaking skills. But his father wanted something else for him. He had told him to consider making a career in Medicine or Pharmacy. Young Awa Kalu had no problem with his father’s preference and he actually worked towards realising the ambition as he enrolled at the Methodist College, Uzuakoli, for his Advanced Level Examinations in science subjects—Physics, Chemistry and Biology. He was in that school only for 1972/1973 session. He did not eventually sit for his Higher School Certificate Examinations. Later events, however, showed that providence had a different plan for young Kalu.
In a serio-comical manner, Kalu reminisced how providence played a role in his choice of career thus: “It was providence that led me to study Law. After my West African School Certificate Examinations (WASCE), I was inclined to train as a journalist because of my strong showing in English Language and English Literature. On the other hand, my late father, who was an educationist, dreamt of me in the medical field. He wanted me to be a medical doctor but later thought the training for doctors took too long and that I should take a shot at Pharmacy. Thus, I enrolled for my A Levels at the Methodist College, Uzuakoli, Abia State and my choice courses were Physics, Chemistry and Biology. However, as with most things in life, God always decides everything we do. As a teenager, I was quite shy in my relationship with the opposite sex. There was this girl that I fancied but did not have the courage to approach. I opted to write a watertight poem, leaving her in no doubt about my feelings. The girl in question was also doing her A Levels but in the Liberal Arts. After reading my poem, her opinion was that I had no business in the sciences and her opinion prevailed because that was what led me to choose Law. By the Grace of God, I was admitted to study Law by the University of Ife, Ile-Ife and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. My late mother, who spoke fluent Yoruba in her lifetime preferred Ife and I, therefore, proceeded there for my First Degree. I think I ought to add that my father had died in the intervening period and that was also the end of any ambition to be a medical doctor or pharmacist,” he recounted.
As earlier said, Awa Kalu gained admission into the University of Ife in 1973 to study Law. He was in the university till 1977. At Ife, he distinguished himself as an academic numero uno. He received a number of awards of excellence in acknowledgment of his brilliant performance in school. Some of such awards were Olu Ayoola Prize As Best Over-all LL.B Part One Student; Irvine & Bonner Scholarship As Best Over-all LL.B Part II Student and Justice Madarikan Prize As Best Over-All Final Year Law Student. He graduated in flying colours in 1977 and earned the LL.B (Hons) Degree of the prestigious University
Soon after graduation, he was admitted to the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos, where he graduated on July 6, 1978, with his Barrister at Law (BL). He had the best of exposure while in Law School. “As a student of the Nigerian Law School, I had my mandatory attachment in the chambers of late Dr. Obumneme Onwuamaegbu who had just disengaged as Attorney General of old Anambra State then. His daughter, who is now a judge, was my colleague at the Law School and we served at the same time together with three or four others. We were very well treated and given assignments that introduced us to the rigours of legal practice. I will not hesitate to say that I belong to a very famous class of indigenously-trained lawyers. We are the first products of the Nigerian Law School. Earlier generations of Nigerian lawyers were called to the Bar in England. But lawyers who qualified in Nigeria from 1963 were locally trained. So the class of 1978, to which I belong, has been blessed by God. We have four justices of the Supreme Court now, several judges at Court of Appeal, a number of chief judges, senators, including Victor Ndoma-Egba, former majority leader; two deputy governors, four past presidents of the NBA, and so on,” Kalu recounted.
Kalu had his NYSC in Sokoto Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel between 1978 and 1979. Even as a greenhorn, he started appearing in court alone. He reminisced on his first experience in court alone thus: “Each time you do anything for the first time, there must be that feeling of trepidation. Accordingly, my recollection is that my first time alone in a court of law was during my NYSC, which I did in the Ministry of Justice in the old Sokoto State. I was a Pupil State Counsel in the office of the State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The DPP at the time was Mr. Jean Omokri (later Justice Jean Omokri of the Court of Appeal). He was a kindly and friendly boss who exposed me to the rigours of legal practice from my first day at work. He took me to different courts in the state and even to the Court of Appeal in Kaduna.
“Being a greenhorn, I was frightened when the DPP, one day, brought a file to me, in person. The file related to a criminal appeal from the Magistrate’s Court to the High Court. I asked him what I was to do but he emphatically told me he did not believe in spoon-feeding anybody. I managed to get ready for the case. Having not trained in the North, I did not realise that the High Court, sitting on a criminal appeal sat as a panel of three judges. On this occasion, the Chief Judge of the state who was an expatriate presided. To add to my discomfiture, counsel to the appellant was a highly respected senior lawyer who was very comfortable in his environment at the time. When the case was called, my heartbeat increased and several butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Appellant’s counsel made his submissions and the Chief Judge asked me if I had anything to say in response. By this time, the butterflies disappeared miraculously. My recollection is that I opened my reply by asking the court to dismiss the appeal as lacking in merit. The learned Chief Judge removed his spectacles; peered at me in a grave manner and asked me why I wanted the appeal dismissed. After my presentation, the court rose for a while and later resumed and the appeal was dismissed. The DPP took me out for lunch and the rest is now history!”
Immediately he completed his NYSC in 1979, he joined the Chambers of Umuzeruike Associates, 58 Pound Road, Aba, as an Associate Counsel and left in 1980. “I worked in the chambers of late I.N. Umezurike (SAN). He exposed me to the law in a very diligent manner. I also benefited from exposure by the late Barrister A.S. Nwala, a versatile courtroom tactician. Prof. U.U. Uche, late Chief Felix Chuks Okoye and late Chief Ojo Maduekwe (CFR), former Nigerian High Commissioner to Canada, who made immense contributions to my development as a lawyer.”
In 1980, Kalu veered into academy. Between 1980 and 1981, he was a Graduate Assistant, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos. In 1981, he was promoted to a lecturer status and remained so till 1983. In 1983, he transferred his services and became a lecturer, College of Legal Studies, Imo State University, Okigwe (now Abia State University Uturu). He later set up a private practice in Aba. Between 1986 and 1989, he was the managing counsel, Awa U. Kalu Associates, 33 St. Michael Road, Aba. Within the same period, he was simultaneously teaching on part-time basis at the Abia State University, Uturu.
As teacher of law, Prof Kalu presently has a galaxy of his ex-students who are dominant figures today in national life. Prominent amongst his former students are Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, GCON, former Secretary to Government of the Federation; Chief Ume Kalu, Attorney-General of Abia State; Mr. J. U.K Igwe, SAN; Elder Paul Ananaba, SAN; Prof. Anselm Chidi Odinkalu, immediate past Chairman, Human Rights Commission; Chief Emeka Wogu, Hon. Minister of Labour & Productivity; Hon. Uzo Azubuike of the House of Representatives; Chief Chuka Odom, former Minister of State for FCT; Professor Nnamdi Obiaeriri, Associate Professor Chris Anyanwu, Associate Professor Sam Erugo, Dr. K.U.K. Ekwueme, several judges of various State/Federal High Court and various corporate executives
As an advocate, Awa Kalu is painstaking. He leaves no stone unturned. He is meticulous and abides always by the ethics and doctrine of the legal profession. He enjoys the respect and admiration of his seniors, mates and juniors alike. In 1989, he was appointed Special Adviser to the Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. He had the unique opportunity of serving two Attorneys-General in a stretch: Hon. Prince Bola Ajibola SAN and Hon. Sir. Clement Akpamgbo SAN. It is worthy to note that Awa’s tenure and records of advancement of frontiers of legal education alongside Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN (his co-Special Adviser to the duo of Attorney-General of the Federation at the material time) at the Federal Ministry of Justice are yet to be surpassed in recent time. It is on record that Kalu and Osinbajo revitalized the production of all Nigeria Law Reports; revised the Laws of the Federal 1990; midwifed the Company and Allied Matters Decree 1990 & the BOFID; pioneered the publication of the journal of the Justice Ministry known as JUSTICE and co-edited numerous books as well as academic publications.
According to him, “My core responsibilities at the time included, translating government policy into law, representing the Minister of Justice in ad hoc and statutory bodies concerned with the administration of justice: Negotiation of international agreements, compilation of Nigeria’s Treaty Obligations and giving regular advice on domestic implications, representing the Minister of Justice at the local and international engagements, and such matters as directed by the minister”, he said.
However, he was on July 9, 1999, appointed as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Abia State. He was in that office until May 2005. While at the helm of affairs as the Attorney General of Abia State, he settled several thorny judicial and constitutional issues. Hear him: “Had that trend continued, the Supreme Court would by now have settled most of the issues which presently dominate expensive and energy sapping constitutional debates and amendments. Remember, we were emerging from a military environment and now playing with a democratic document, the Constitution. You will find that in Nigeria, we operate what everybody understands as federal principle of government. You have 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory and a federal government, which unfortunately has been given a very large profile, more than the 36 states put together.
“And our understanding at the time as attorneys general was to pull our intellect, energies and resources together to challenge laws which we thought were militating against the federal principle of government. There are aberrations arising from our own peculiar circumstances. Aberrations that when you consider them in the context of the hallowed principles of federalism, you are led to think that such practices are against federalism.
“There are many reasons why Nigeria became a federal arrangement as far back as 1954. There are people who feel the centre of gravity of Nigeria should be in Abuja. Those people have associates in the states, who think that whatever you do in the states, you have to come to Abuja for clearance. So, if you have active erosion in your state, like we do in the South East, you have to come to Abuja for clearance.
“So, you would find in the law reports the reasons why we took the federal government to court on several occasions. But I will give you what I believe was the first challenge. We had an Electoral Act in 2001, which a lot of people do not remember because the election of 1999, which brought the various civilian governors into office including the then head of state, was conducted via a Decree of 1998.
“And so, when that decree expired upon inauguration of the civilian authority, the National Assembly enacted the Electoral Act 2001. That Act was so tendentious. Some of us as attorneys general had no choice but to test it in court.
“Happily, the Supreme Court agreed that there were sections of the Act that were so obnoxious that they do not stand side-by-side with the provisions of the constitution, and so the Supreme Court struck down those sections for which reason the 2001 Act gave way to another Electoral Act in 2002. These are some of what we tried to do in those early years of democracy in this country. Our memory in this country is short; a lot of people have forgotten the sacrifices. But I am glad that some of the practices that led to the states challenging the federal government have been laid to rest and democracy is marching on. In the longest period since the history of this country, we have had a democratic system,” he said.
Awa U. Kalu has selflessly served his fatherland diligently and meritoriously. At different times he was Secretary National Committee on Corruption and Economic Crimes; Secretary National Committee on Malpractices in Banks and other Financial Institutions; Member, National Committee on Town Planning Law in Nigeria; Member, Editorial Committee, All Nigeria Law Reports. He was also a member of the Nigerian delegation on the Democratization Process in Ethiopia, 1992; Member, Nigerian Delegation to the 46th and 47th Session of the UN General Assembly 1991 and 1992; Delegate, Human Rights Workshop, Banjul, the Gambia, 1989: he also provided a platform for robust academic and intellectual pursuit vide the publication of Lawyers’ Bi-Annual, a journal of Nigeria and Comparative Law of which he is the Editor-in-chief.
He had also held different appointive positions, edited books, presented academic papers and published numerous legal monographs. His best colours are blue and red while he does not have any favourite food. He enjoys watching football and reading. Married to Mrs. Egoro Awa-Kalu (nee Anyah) who is also a lawyer. They both have four children two of who are lawyers.