Goodbye Barrister Matthew Ojua

By Okoi Obono-Obla
Simply unfathomable but that is life… It is flighty and a mist!
tributeI never knew Barrister Matthew Ojua was ill at all . It was only about Wednesday last week that Ambassador Akpang Obi Odu told me when he visited me in my office that Barrister Ojua was gravely ill in a hospital in South Africa . I was seriously surprised! The last time we met was on the 18th August 2015 in the National and State Assemblies Election Petition Tribunal No. I, Calabar, where he was the Counsel in the same matter with me . Yes Barrister Ojua was the Counsel to the Peoples Democratic Party in an Election Petition filed by my client, Angela Ogenyi Odey and the All Progressives Congress against the return of Mrs Regina Leonard Anyogo of the Peoples Democratic Party as the winner of election into the Cross River State House of Assembly in respect of Yala One State Constituency. It was the last time of the hearing of the matter because the Parties adopted their Final Written Addresses and the Tribunal adjourned the case sine die (until further notice).

When we came out of the Court room we exchanged banters and vigorously shook hands before I hurriedly left to catch a flight to Abuja. Barrister Ojua was my senior at the Bar. He was called to the Bar in 1985. He was also my senior at Mary Knoll College, Okuku,Yala Local Goverrnment Area. However our parts crossed in so many ways in the course of our work as Legal Practitioners with a progressive bent.

For a very long period, Barrister Ojua and I were the only lawyers who took cases against PDP controlled State Government! We did many cases both in the High Court and the Court of Appeal notably the cases of Okoi v Ibiang ( 2002) 20 Weekly Report of Nigeria) 146 and Odo Effimi v Atamgba . The case of Okoi v Ibiang (supra) decided by the Court of Appeal, Calabar on the 1st November 2001( Barrister Ojua was the Counsel to the Appellants and I to the Respondents ),the Court of Appeal , Calabar decided that a Notice of Preliminary Objection must be suppprted by particulars that are clear not nebulous. In Odo Effimi, the Court of Appeal held that the Appellant was denied fair hearing when the High Court refused his motion seeking for extension of time to file his written address (Barrister Ojua was the Counsel to the Appellant and I to the Respondent). Both appeals emanated from the High Court, Ikom and were against the rulings of Honourable Justice Michael Edem and Barrister Ojua was for the Appellants.

He was hardnosed, dogged, indefatigable, passionate, incorrigible, hard fighting, determined and a brilliant counsel! In 2013 we were Counsels to the newly registered All Progressives Congress in a case filed against the Cross River State Independent Electoral Commission for refusing to allow the Party to fill candidates in the Local Government Elections in Cross River State on the flimsy ground that it was up to 90 days from it registration to the date of the elections. We fought the case determinedly and doggedly and made huge sacrifices but the case was messed up by problems that have continually bedeviled the country’s judiciary.

Then Barrister Ojua suddenly in 2014 left the APC to the PDP ( a Party he had vehemently opposed and condemned for so long ) . I was totally flummoxed and distraught when I was told that Barrister Ojua had left APC. But till he passed away I never had the courage to confront him over this decision to leave APC.

Barrister Ojua deserves to be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria ( if truly conferment of that exalted rank is premised on industry, integrity. learning ,brilliance and leadership ) . I deeply regret that Barrister Ojua did not make the Rank despite his tremendous contribution to the advancement and development of the Nigerian Legal System.

May his soul rest in peace.

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