It was a classic case of “celebration of life” for legal luminary and former Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief George Uwechue, SAN FNIALS as many activities were done to honour his uncommon career both as a foremost senior lawyer and a former legislator who rose to become Nigeria’s Speaker pro Tempore.
Following Uwechue’s demise on October 29, 2023, at the age of 85 years, the family, in collaboration especially with the alumni of G.N. Uwechue & Co, rolled out several activities to celebrate the late sage.
The events kicked off with a well-attended Special Court Session organised by the Lagos State Judiciary in honour of the foremost senior lawyer and member of the Inner Bar. The solemn ceremony, which is reserved for senior lawyers who achieved extra-ordinary distinction in their professional career, was held on Wednesday, 17th January, 2024 at Lagos High Court, GRA, Ikeja with Lagos State Chief Judge, Justice Kazeem Alogba as the Chief Host. Justice Alogba described Uwechue as an erudite senior lawyer who would be sorely missed by the legal profession.
In a tribute by the Body of Benchers signed by its Chairman, Hon. Justice Mary Odili and delivered on its behalf by Deacon Dele Adesina SAN, it noted that “Chief George Uwechue, SAN was a quintessential practitioner, a rare gem, a great leader, an epitome of humility, a mentor and a respected Elder Statesman,” adding that “He distinguished and made a name for himself within and outside the legal profession. He was one Nigerian that served the legal profession and the nation diligently and meritoriously in various capacities.”
On its part, the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) noted that “So much has been said about his brilliance as a lawyer and his astuteness as a politician,” adding that Uwechue “appeared as counsel in a large number of important cases and played an active role in the affairs of the Nigerian Bar Association.”
Delivered by foremost maritime lawyer, Mr. Louis Mbanefo SAN, BOSAN stated that Uwechue, also known as the Owelle of Ogwashi Uku, “became a Life Bencher and Chairman of the Body of Benchers.”
Mbanefo noted that “During my visits to his house shortly before his death, he expressed his delight at the honour bestowed on him by the Body of Benchers by naming a building at their headquarters in Abuja after him.” BOSAN noted that “The death of Owelle has left a void in our hearts. He shall sorely be missed.”
In a tribute by NBA President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau SAN, he stated that “The learned silk was an active and committed Bar man. He was a representative of the Nigerian Bar Association in the Body of Benchers for 17 years, before his appointment as a Life Bencher. He also served our nation to the best of his abilities and in varying capacities, having served as Chairman of the Body of Benchers; Member, Rules Advisory Committee that drafted the Supreme Court Rules, 1985 (as Amended) and Member, Federal House of Representatives representing Aniocha Federal Constituency, in the old Bendel State. Truly, he was a statesman to the core.”
Tributes were also delivered by the Attorney-General of Lagos State, Mr. Lawal Pedro SAN and a representative of NBA branches in Lagos State.
Among senior lawyers who attended the event are former NBA President, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN; Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN; Mr. Toyin Pinheiro, SAN; Chief Val Uche Obi, SAN; Mrs. Titilola Akinlawon, SAN; Dr. Chuka Agbu, SAN; Mr. Luke Chidi Ilogu, SAN; Mr. Chijioke Okoli, SAN and Mr. Lotanna Okoli, SAN. Others are Mr. Chukwuka Ikwuazom, SAN; Mr. Clement Onwuenwunor, SAN; Dr. Leslie Nylander, SAN; Mr. Uzoma Azikiwe, SAN; Chief Henry Omu, SAN; Mr. Chibuike Victor Ihekweazu, SAN; Chief Uche Ihediwa, SAN; Prof. MacCarthy Mbadugha, SAN; Prof. Oludayo Amokaye, SAN; Mr. Ikenna Okoli, SAN and Senator Mike Ajegbo, CON.
This Special Court Session was followed quickly on Friday by a Requiem Mass/Night of Tributes held at Sir Adetokunbo Ademola Hall of the Nigerian Law School, Lagos.
Extolling the virtues of Uwechue as a quintessential lawyer who lived by the ethics of the legal profession, former Anambra State Governor and Labour Party presidential candidate in the 2023 General Elections, Mr. Peter Obi noted that though Uwechue led the team that battled him during the governorship election petition trial, he did so with exceptional poise devoid of acrimony.
Other dignitaries who extolled Uwechue’s exemplary life were the wife of Nigeria’s former Vice President, Prof. Beatrice Ekwueme; the Chairman of Council of Legal Education (CLE), Chief Emeka Ngige SAN; Senator Daisy Danjuma; a representative of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi CFR (Ọjájá II); Yoruba generalissimo and Leader of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Chief Gani Adams; Prof. Fabian Ajogwu SAN; foremost maritime expert, Mr. L. Chidi Ilogu SAN, and BRIPAN President, Mr. Chibuike Ihekweazu SAN. Incidentally, both Ngige and Ilogu are among the alumni of G. N. Uwechue & Co.
Yet another Special Court Session was held for the legal colossus by the Delta State Judiciary on Thursday, January 25, 2024 at the High Court of Justice, Asaba. Presided over by the State Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Diai, the solemn ceremony was witnessed by the cream of Nigeria’s Bar and Bench both from within and outside Delta State.
The Special Court Session was witnessed by many senior lawyers including NBA President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau, SAN; Mr. Omamuzo Erebe, Delta State Solicitor-General; Olorogun Albert Akpomudje, SAN; former NBA President, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN; Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, OFR; Prof Fidelis Odita KC, SAN; Dr Anthony Idigbe, SAN; Prof. Epiphany Azinge, SAN; Dr. Mrs Valerie Azinge, SAN; Mr. Luke Chidi Ilogu, SAN; Chief Arthur Obi-Okafor, SAN; Mazi Afam Osigwe, SAN; Mr. Tobenna Erojikwe and Dr. Richard Oma-Ahonoruogho, SAN.
The Special Court Session was followed the same day by a Wake Keep for Uwechue, who is also the traditional Prime Minister or Owelle of Ogwashi-Uku. This set the stage for the Funeral Service which held at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State.
Among those who attended the service are former Minister for Labour and Productivity, Senator Chris Ngige; Hon. Justice Atuegwu Egwuatu; Mr. Louis Mbanefo SAN; Dr. Mrs. Valerie Janet Arinze SAN; Mr. Ben Osaka SAN; Mr. Mark Mordi SAN; Dr. Pat Bello; Chief Emeka Ngige SAN, and Surgeon Commodore Peter Uwechue.
The funeral service was immediately followed by a solemn interment ceremony at the Owelle of Ogwashi-Uku Villa witnessed by the clergy and family members. Guests were entertained in a massive customized tent within the palatial and expansive premises, heralding condolence visits by friends, well-wishers and in-laws among others.
Uwechue is survived by children, grand-children and a great grandchild.