- Please give a brief introduction of yourself.
My name is Onyekachi Joseph Umah. I am a husband, private legal practitioner and arbitrator with experience in intellectual property, transaction and regulation advisory, corporate, commercial, investment law and energy law as well as litigation and arbitration arising from them. I am member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK) and a Certified Conflict Management Practitioner. Among other, I have a certificate in Law of Contract from a program of Harvard University, a certificate in International Environmental Negotiation from United Nations Institute for Training and Research, Geneva and recently, a certificate in Conflict Management from United States Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C. as well as a master of laws degree from University of Jos.
I am the managing partner of a leading law firm; Bezaleel Chambers International and the founding President of a law awareness platform known as LearnNigerianLaws.com that promotes awareness and understanding of laws of Nigeria (#SabiLaw) and offers free daily law tips (#DailyLawTips) across Nigeria. I am the convener of the Sabi Law Lecture Series (#SabiLawLectures), through which I travel around Nigeria delivering free law awareness lectures and increasing access to legal information. I have written over fifty articles on law with a desire to enlighten the public. I am presently serving the Nigerian Bar Association as the Assistant Secretary of Capital Bar, Abuja after serving as Chairman of Young Lawyers Forum. I am a member of the Rotary Club of Abuja, Metro (RCAM), District 9125. I practise law and reside in Abuja with my awesome wife and an energetic boerboel dog. I like basketball and I play martial art (taekwando).
- Have you had any challenges in your career as a lawyer and if so what were the main challenges?
Yes, I have had challenges in my career as a lawyer. Upon graduation and my call to the Nigerian bar, I was young and people felt I was just too young to be a lawyer. I recall going for a meeting to see a certain General Overseer of a popular church in Abuja on behalf of a learned senior, the General Overseer just couldn’t believe I was already a lawyer. Well, when I finished my presentation, the General Overseer immediately called my senior and poured a lot of accolades on me and also mentioned that I looked too young and have no beard. Another challenge was getting briefs. I kept asking a lot of senior lawyers how to get clients and retain them within the Rules of Professional Conduct since such was never taught in the law school and University faculties. It took me very long time to find answers. Then, there was very little legal materials on the internet and that caused limited access to legal information and delay in research.
- What was your worst day as a lawyer?
I once had a client I defended well in a civil suit, who recommend a new client to me over criminal investigation. The new client had an invitation from State Security Services (SSS) and engaged my services to defend him. When we got to the command of SSS, I represented my client very well but it was obvious the operatives of SSS were not comfortable with my presence. In swift swing, I was threatened by operatives of SSS to exit their office or be beaten up and shot in the presence of my client. As I opposed them, tension grew and my client got scared to the extent he pleaded I exit the command.
- What was your most memorable experience?
I have a lot. In 2016, aside my law practice, I started promoting awareness on laws and rights of Nigerians via LearnNigerianlaws.com and the #SabiLawLectureSeries. In one of my lectures on August 2017, I spoke to Catholic Women Organization on legal marriage in Nigeria as it affects their unions, spouse, children and inheritance. When the light of understanding came to them, their expression of joy was unprecedented and their appreciation knew no bounds. It was an awesome experience speaking to very elderly women, enlightening and empowering them and their families through my law awareness program.
- Who has been most influential in your life?
I have learnt a lot from a lot of great men starting from my father; Dr. Fidelis N. Umah. He thought me to read, question status quo and have unending quest for knowledge. As a practicing medical doctor he still squeezed out time to teach me English, Mathematics, Writing, Sciences and even Latin language ahead of my mates in school. He was a perfect gentleman with high morals and his lifestyle was my first school. In his words, he thought me to “chop and chop” books, newspaper, journals and anything readable. He believed every knowledge was important irrespective career path. Today, reading, writing and being a gentleman of the bar has become my lifestyle even before becoming a lawyer and thanks to my father.
- Why did you become a lawyer?
I was that boy that talked too much with a high sense of on the spot creativity. I narrated movies I never watched to my classmates and they would listen with great attention for as long as my mouth was open. So, literature was part of me and my quest to know my rights and read the constitution of Nigeria as a student got me closer to law. I remember the first day in my secondary school, when my English teacher mentioned that you cannot be arrested without a warrant of arrest, I quickly wrote it on the back page of my book. For every tip I received from him, I got more excited and I was eager to use them and share them. So, I became a lawyer to know my rights and duties, protect them, then defend and enlighten others on same.
- What would your advice be to anyone wanting a career in law?
Law is for hard and smart workers. If you don’t have passion for listening, logic, reading, writing and patience for details, then a career in law is not for you. If you want to graduate and immediately own a Lamborghini, close from work by 4pm everyday, stay away from books on weekends and wear every thing that trends, then kindly stay away from a career in law. Career in law needs your time, attention, good health, supportive spouse, patience, hard work, smart work, networking, good leadership, persistency, creativity, international exposure and high ethics. If you must be a lawyer, be a good one, have quest for knowledge, marry technology and think out of the box to create a niche for yourself.
- If you had not become a lawyer, what would you have chosen?
Unfortunately, I cannot imagine any other profession other than law practise. Well, thinking about this now that I am answering this question, may be I would have been an entertainer because of my love for creativity and literature.
- Where do you see yourself in ten years?
My passion aside defending and advising clients, is to increase access to legal information through promotion of awareness on laws, rights and duties of Nigerians. I see myself helping more Nigerians to understand their rights, demand for justice everywhere as well as avoid disputes and promote peaceful co-existence.
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