Nwora Obiora’s road to becoming a lawyer was very rough. But neither poor advice, poverty, starvation nor money lost on sports betting could stop him. He shares his story on how he, despite the odds, bagged a Second Class Upper at both the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and the Nigerian Law School.
My name is Nwora Ike Obiora, from Anambra State. I am the third child and second son of the six children of Mr. Augustine Obiora Okeke and Mrs. Josephine Chinelo Okeke. My dad is a businessman and my mother is a petty trader.
I am an alumnus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I studied Law and graduated in 2015 with a Second Class Honours (Upper Division). I proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus in November 2015 and graduated in September, 2016 with a Second Class Honours (Upper Division). I was called to the Nigerian Bar on November 30, 2016.
‘Nooo. Law is meant for A-1 students’
One of my primary school teachers in Central School, Ekwulobia (Mrs. Anike) was the first to see the lawyer in me. She nicknamed me “Barrister”, perhaps because of my argumentative nature at that time. In time, almost all my mates in school adopted the name, relegating my real name to the background. That was my first point of affinity and inspiration for law as a career.
Growing up, the lives and works of people like the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, Justice Niki Tobi, the late Chief Gani Fawenhimi, as well as Prof. Ben Nwabueze among others, made me to love the legal profession. But many of my secondary school mates were surprised to find that I am now a lawyer. They thought I would become an engineer, doctor, pharmacist or study some other science related course, considering how good I was in science subjects in secondary school. They had this notion that most art students are those who could not cope with science courses. I think I am one of the exceptions to that “general rule”.
However, an event occurred in 2010, which made me resolve that I must study law at all cost. After choosing law and UNN as my preferred course and institution respectively, my dad directed me to an old friend of his, who lectures at UNN for guidance and mentorship on the whole pre-admission process. The man and I had never met before. When I told him I wanted to study law, he shouted “Nooo! Law is meant for A-1 students.” He suggested that I get a change of course form and opt for courses like philosophy, psychology, social work etc., after my first year I could then switch to law.
He told my dad the same thing and my dad tried to persuade me to see reason with his friend. I saw that as an affront and degrading statement, because I was top of my class in primary and secondary schools. I told my dad that if ever I had contemplated changing my course, his friend’s advice had persuaded me otherwise. It was either law or nothing. So, I passed the UTME and Post-UTME and was admitted to study law.
‘Day sports betting took my N15,000’
Sadly, because of lack of resources, none of my family members was able to attend my Call to Bar ceremony.
I remember when a friend sold me the idea of sports betting. He introduced me to (sports betting website) BetNaija, and, to raise some quick cash, I used all the N15,000 that I had on me to place a football wager on a game, with hopes that I would get lucky and double my money. Of course, I lost the entire sum. I had a sleepless night that day. That was the first and last time I ever tried such. Afterwards, I borrowed about N30,000 from a friend to pay for my Call to Bar fee. Then I called my good friend, Ekeolisa C.O.P to request for his wig and gown set for my Call to Bar ceremony as I could not afford to buy one. Two days to the ceremony, a trader, whom I helped secure buyers, gave me a wig and gown set.
But raising transportation fare to Abuja for my Call to Bar screening was a big challenge. My family members would have preferred to finance those needs rather than attend the ceremony when the condition precedent for my call had not been met. So, I gave my two invitation cards to my friends Ikenna Egwuatu-Elem and Nkemjika, who attended the event with me.
‘Dad borrowed my school fees from micro-finance bank’
Nigerian Law School (NLS) is an experience I will not forget until the day I go down the grave. It was an experience that made me understand the actual meaning of the word ‘grace’. I never believed I would be able to prosecute my NLS programme due to financial challenges. My parents had to borrow N350,000.00 from a micro-finance bank. That was the only money that my people could give me for almost a year the programme lasted. My tuition (N295,000.00), transportation from the east to Lagos, clothing, feeding for the whole session and every other miscellaneous expense was in that N350,000.
I remember days that I had to go on an empty stomach, studying in an academic environment that was so demanding. I think the lowest point of it was when I developed stomach ulcer as a result of prolonged starvation during my NLS programme. However, God came through for me through some of my benefactors like Engr. Emeka Mmaduabuchi, Engr. Ebere Ezenwafor, Engr. Buddy Ike Okoye, my university lecturer Mrs. Nkem Itanyi. My friends Mike Nwnnaeka, Chidi Odoemenam, Ukandu Ogbuka, Victor Chikezie, Ozojiofor Chukwunonso etc. I can remember Mike reducing his two-square meal per day to one just to ensure that I had something to eat for the day.
‘Law school is overrated, but…’
On the academic front, NLS was very demanding and quite tasking. I studied like I never did before in any of my previous academic programmes since I had the intention of making a First Class or at least win an award. During the Bar Final examinations, I mismanaged my time in the first paper (Property Law Practice), answering three questions out of four that we were meant to answer. This nearly affected the rest of my examinations, as I went to my room weeping after that examination. I actually thought the chances of making a first class or second-class upper is gone, considering the atrocious grading system of the NLS. Looking back today, I will say that NLS is overrated, but underrate it at your own peril. Most people fail NLS not because they did not read, but because they fall for the hype and allowed fear to dictate their decisions.
Annoying things clients do
A notable one is having a client price my services as if they are pricing crayfish and pepper in the market, or paying for my services as though he or she was doing me a favour.
Most memorable day in court
It was the day I got a ruling in my favour after I argued positions with a senior of more than 20 years at the Bar, while I was barely four months post call.
What I would change about law
If I had my way, I will make Nigerian Law School tuition free or have it subsidised to the level that the son of a nobody can afford it without parents having to sell their lands or other valuables just to send their wards to study there.
Overcoming poor pay
If you work in a firm that allows you to do private practice, take full advantage of that and network as much as you can to augment your pay. If you are a good orator and public speaker, nothing stops you from doing that for a fee. If you can write well, instead of writing to solicit Facebook and Instagram likes and comments, why not think of a way of coming up with a book? In summary, just get additional skills and get involved in other extra-legal activities that generate money provided same are not incompatible with the status of a Legal Practitioner under the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria.
I plan to get an LL.M and Ph.D in law in the nearest future. I also intend to advise and consult for national and multinational companies on Intellectual Property, Technology and Anti-trust law, get other professional certifications and memberships. I hope to be a qualified attorney in other jurisdictions, be a partner in my own established top tier law firm. I certainly see myself taking the Silk as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria someday, going back to the classroom as lecturer to help groom the next generation of lawyers and wearing the professorial academic gown someday.