Address by Paul Usoro, SAN FCIArb, President of the Nigerian Bar Association at the Valedictory Session Held on 11 October, 2019, in Honour of Late Emonena Blessing Ukiri, Esq
1. We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of our friend, brother, father and colleague, Emonena Blessing Ukiri who left us suddenly and without farewells on 28 December 2018. At 58, having been born on 11 June 1960, Blessing’s life was just beginning when he passed on. The loss of a loved one at any age is always painful, indeed most painful. However, the loss of a young man of 58, at the prime of youth, with the future beckoning, full of promise and hope, such death is not only excruciatingly painful but extremely tragic and invariably fills and leaves the living with unsurpassable grief. That has been our lot with the passage of Blessing Ukiri.
2. And yet, we celebrate Blessing life. Why and in what circumstance do we celebrate his life? We do so because, his life, short as it was serves as a mirror for us, the living, to ponder over and reflect on our lives. His life serves as an object lesson for us, the living. His life packed in so much positives, it was as if he knew that he had a short time to live and needed to cram in all he could. The lessons from Blessing’s life are many but I would attempt within the short time that I have to deliver this Address, highlight but a few of them.
3. One word that described Blessing’s life was “passion”. He was passionate about anything he was involved in and he executed those things with such great passion. In the practice of law, he was most passionate. He gave his all to the practice of law and in drawing swords with his colleagues, in and out of court, he was extremely passionate. Perhaps, this led to his being misunderstood by some. But then, Blessing meant no harm. Once he believed in a cause, he became passionate about it very animated and professing or espousing it and that, in my respectful view, was a virtue and not a vice, howsoever. Nigeria and indeed our profession need men and women who believe in and can espouse and fight for positive causes with such passion as was consistently displayed by Blessing in his lifetime.
4. The motivation for believing in and championing causes was not material or pecuniary howsoever for Blessing. He believed in me, for example, and was one of the earliest persons to egg me on to contest for the Presidency of the Nigerian Bar Association. Bar politics as we all know has sometimes sadly degenerated to considerable horse-trading, bargains and trade-offs between and by the contestants and their supporters – a practice that we must, in the interest of our profession discourage, curtail and stem by all means. I am however proud to state publicly and without any equivocation that, as stout, consistent and staunch as Blessing’s support was for me, for the position of President of the Nigerian Bar Association – and this started years before I contested and continued up to when he breathed his last – he never once discussed with me or even suggested, by words or actions, what his own personal gain would be under my Presidency.
5. More than that, Blessing never solicited for neither did he take any money from me. Blessing fought my cause, using his personal resources and expending his time, very generously and unconditionally. He never also solicited for any office or position from me as a condition precedent or subsequent to his support and my success at the polls. Indeed, he neither solicited for himself nor for any person whomsoever. His interest at all times was what he considered best for the Bar and he defended that position right up to his last breath. His support was unstinting and unwavering. That indeed was Blessing: always totally committed and very passionate to the causes he believed in. I indeed feel proud to have had Blessing in my corner, well beyond the NBA Presidency, as a friend, a brother and a professional colleague. Nigeria and indeed our profession need many more of dependable, selfless and trustworthy persons and advocates (beyond the restrictive sense of legal advocacy) like Blessing Ukiri, Esq.
6. As a Bar man, what can one possibly say about Blessing Ukiri? For want of a better description, perhaps we should simply say that Blessing, as in all other spheres of his life, was a blessing to the Bar and humanity. At various times, he occupied the three Vice Presidency positions of the NBA apart from having occupied positions in the Port Harcourt chapter of the Bar. Blessing was particularly passionate about matters that touched on the human rights of our citizens as well as the rule of law. He was totally set against the derogation of the rule of law by governments and their agencies and he was in and out of court on matters touching on these critical issues. His diligence was exemplary and so was his passion. The Bar mourns and misses him enormously.
7. One of the lessons from Blessing’s passage is the need for us to take the issues of our health seriously. Of course, our lifespan is entirely in God’s hands and by His Grace and Mercies, but He has provided us with health-tips, most of which come from the fecund minds and intellect of medical experts and practitioners around us. We do need to take advantage of these health-tips and the medical experts and practitioners and their facilities, all around us. We all know how stressful a lawyer’s work, in the best of times could be not to mention in these unusual times that we live in, with strife and conflicts all around us. We need to take care of our health and be diligent in managing our stress levels while living a healthy lifestyle that would, by His Grace, lengthen our days. This we must do, not only for our own sakes but, even more importantly, for the sakes of our loved ones.
8. Indeed, our hearts go out to Blessing’s loved ones, his immediate and extended family. His wife and our dear colleague, Gloria Eloho, and children, Blessing Emonena (Jnr), Felicia Ufuoma, Daniel Oghale, Victor Ajiroghene and Joseph Eloghene must know that they’re not alone; we, the members of Blessing’s larger family, will always be with them. We must show them love and care. That’s what we owe Blessing Ukiri. And finally, My Lords, we associate with the motion by the Port Harcourt NBA Branch Chairman for the release of Emonena Blessing Ukiri, Esq’s remains to his family and for the same to be given a befitting interment as may be determined by the family. Paul Usoro, SAN FCIArb President, Nigerian Bar Association