A lot has been said and written recently about Paul Usoro as The Man, The Lawyer, The Candidate.
Some have however called for reflections from a time more distant into the past. I am in a position to offer this; so I will start with a glimpse of Paul from earlier days and from my own perspective. I will progress from there, giving my own impressions of Paul Usoro as a boy, a law student and then a legal practitioner.
I was privileged to know Paul when we were quite young. It was a singular honour to meet and know and interact with his wonderful family: his father, mother and brothers, all of them pleasant souls blessed with a beautiful spirit – But this is not their story; this is about Paul in your typical family setting with them.
When young boys and girls are growing into young adults, there is always some degree of anxiety about their healthy development, hence cautionary words are doled out generously on the need to make the right choices, avoid danger and stay out of trouble. However, with Paul’s parents I noticed what seemed like total confidence in him. In their house we came and went as we pleased, no questions asked. About the only advice I knew them to give him then was on the need to be modest and not attempt too much. They knew he would aspire to great things; but he should first prepare well. (He has always done so.)
I wondered why there were not the usual warnings about dangerous hours and people and places and about bad girls. The answer came one day when we were travelling between Calabar and Ikot Ekpene. As usual, Paul was driving. It was late in the night when we ran out of fuel. All efforts to refuel failed; but there was no panic. We were settling down to sleep by the roadside when a man from a nearby village offered us a chance to spend the night in his sitting room. We returned late the next morning to a welcome that was so nice and cordial that I could not stay cool anymore. I confronted Paul’s elder brother and asked him why there was no search party mobilised for us and why there was not even the slightest sign of worry or question asked about our welfare. He laughed and said to me: “My Dear brother, we knew you’d be fine; Paul takes care of himself. Always”.
The Law Student
It is hardly news that Paul was the President of our Law Students Society in University of Ife, the first to be elected from a minority tribe. He ran a transparent and vibrant administration. Towards the end, his administration was subjected to a most incisive scrutiny; at the end of it, everyone, including the harshest doubters, were up on their feet applauding.
At the Nigerian Law School, Lagos, Paul had a word of encouragement for all and humour to enliven any situation. He also knew how to answer disparagement with chilling silence. Paul’s response to fear was revealed one night when we were out on the night and got stranded far away from our base in Victoria Island. Buses were not available at that hour and we did not have enough money to charter a taxi. Paul said we should trek home. I was worried, the distance was up to seven kilometres, I did not know the route well and we could be mugged. Paul assured us he could trace the route home, it could be fun; and then he added:
“Look, guys, fear not; we are three young men challenging a dark and dreadful night. If we stay solid, good people will take courage, the fear will be in the bad guys, not us.”
And so it happened. We got home safely. I slept the best sleep ever that night and discovered the benefits of walking.
The Legal Practitioner
It seems that almost everything has been said about this aspect of our candidate’s life. Those who have read recent writings on Paul are aware that he has become more than an institution in our noble profession. His celebrated cases, deft moves in industry and work in ground-breaking legislations and support for NBA activities are already in the public domain. He has impacted well on the profession in Nigeria and beyond our shores. This is well known. So I will dwell only on one aspect – that of Paul Usoro SAN as a team player. His work has not often been done alone, but in a team.
When teams were formed and he was brought in, he worked as a loyal member of the team and played strategic roles. Most times however, he assembled and led teams; always leading with courage and vision and a deep understanding of humanity. I worked in some of his teams. I can also say that the results were always outstanding. When Paul worked with his team pro bono, the sense of accomplishment was reward enough. When professional fees accrued, Paul has always been fair and generous to his team members. I have never known anyone to evince the slightest hint of discontent.
Today, our jurisprudence is developing rapidly in the usual as well as in new areas such as Information Technology and Telecommunications, Sports and Entertainment, Science, Human relationships etc. Paul has noted that many lawyers have not grown to keep pace with these developments. He has promised to address this need as Paul Usoro, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, who is putting you first.
I believe him. I know, dear learned colleagues, that Paul will put you first. And he is ready for the tasks ahead.
Nelson Uzuegbu, a legal practitioner, writes from Lagos.