By Prof Paul Obo Idornigie, PhD, SAN, FCIS, FCIArb, C.Arb.

Prof Paul Idornijie (SAN) will clock 70 on February 24. In this piece, the former Law School teacher and Acting Director-General, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) tells the story of his rise “from grass to grace” from being Senior Advovate of Nigeria (SAN), a Chief and Acting Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in 2019.

I am Professor Paul Oboarenegbe Idornigie, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chartered Secretary, Chartered Arbitrator, Notary Public for Nigeria and an Author. I was born at a village called Ayogwiri-Uzairue, Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, Nigeria to the family of Mr & Mrs Ikozi Idornigie of Ughiadi Quarters.  My parents were farmers.  I remember fondly when we used to go to the farm and sometimes slept there.  My father died when I was I was just 14 years.

I attended St Paul’s Anglican Primary School, Ayogwiri (1956-1962); St Paul’s Anglican Secondary Modern School, Jattu (1963-1965); and St Peter’s Commercial College, Onitsha/Benin (1966-68).  I have been in the public service since March 1970 when I was employed as a Typist Grade III at the Judicial Department, High Court of Justice, Benin and then posted to Auchi High Court (1970-1974). I dedicate this first job to my late Uncle, Chief James O. Iluebbey who was instrumental to my getting the job and late Mrs Evarista Ivowi, who was a facilitator. I rose to the level of Stenographer at Auchi High Court.  I have had several turning points in my life.

I knew quite early that my life was in my hands.  However, I looked up to God for his divine guidance and protection.  I also realised that I was deficient in several ways – needed to have West African School Certificate or General Certificate of Education (GCE), Ordinary Level to progress in my public service life. I was prompted by my brother, Chief James O K Idornigie, to leave Auchi where I was a ‘Big Boy’ to pursue my higher education. My name then was ‘Lord Obingo of the High Court’. At that time, I had no inkling that I would ever read law.

The first turning point – I got a job at the University of Benin as a Stenographer and resumed duty in August 1974. Mike Egwakhide, Esq, former Deputy Registrar, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma played a major role in getting this job. In September, 1974, I registered for an evening programme at the Institute of Continuing  Education (ICE), Benin where in 1976, I had WASC, Division I, Aggregate 11. I proceeded to register for Higher School Certificate (HSC) which I finished in 1978 and had two papers.  Prior to this in August 1976, I met my present wife, a charming, highly spiritual and vivacious young lady that I could not resist – as we fondly say in my pidgin language ‘who dey cry dey see’.

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Although my eyes were on education, I needed such a lady to live with for the rest of my life. As can be seen, this has been one of the best decisions in my life.   As we say in law, res ipsa loquitur – the thing speaks for itself.  We got married in December 1977 and on the 17th of September, 1978 we were blessed with our first daughter, Emosioriame (Emo) who is now Mrs Emo Idornigie Pearce, a doctoral student  and Law Lecturer at the Canterbury Christ Church University,  Canterbury, Kent, United Kingdom. Emo attended the University of Jos for her degree in law (1997-2002) and the Nigerian Law School, Abuja (2003) where she qualified as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. She has Masters degrees from the University of Jos(LLM, 2008) and Hertfordshire University, UK (M.Sc, International Business, 2012).

The second turning point – in January 1979, I resumed work as a Personal Secretary to the Vice-Chancellor, University of Jos, Prof E U Emovon, who passed on February 19, 2020.  Indeed, I started working with Prof Emovon in August 1974 when I joined the services of the University of Benin. On February 23, 1980, we had our second child,Oboarenegbe (Obo).  Obo attended the University of Jos for a first degree in Geology & Mining (2002) and the University of Dundee, Scotland for a masters degree in Oil & Gas Economics (2008). He  is now a Vice President (Sub-Saharan Africa) in Welligence Energy Analytics, a US-based Energy, Finance and Artificial Intelligence outfit.

In April 1982, we had our second daughter, Emesomake (Emeso), now Dr Emeso Beckley Ojo. Emeso attended the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi where she obtained a degree in Civil Engineering (2004) and later became a Lecturer in the same university. She has  Masters degrees from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (M.Eng Geotechnical  Engineering, 2011) and Imperial College, University of London (M.Sc, Environmental Engineering, 2009).  In December 2019, she obtained a doctorate degree in Materials Science and Engineering (with focus on Alkali Activated Earth Based Composites) from the African University of Science& Technology, Abuja. She is on leave of absence from the Nigerian Building & Road Research Institute, Abuja where she is Chief Research Officer.  She is presently a Senior Research Scientist at CloudCycle, a Cutting Edge Tech Company based in London.

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The third turning point – in September 1983, I was granted a training leave by the University of Jos to Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, UK to qualify as a Chartered Secretary. In January 1984, we had our fourth child, Imoudu who after acquiring a Masters degree in Energy Generation (Renewable Energy) at the University of Liverpool in 2011, is now undertaking another Masters degree programme in Supply Chain Management at my alma mater, Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford England.  He previously acquired a B.Eng (Mechanical Engineering) from the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi (2009).

On my return from the UK in 1986 after qualifying as a Chartered Secretary, my wife’s nephew, Anthony , who is now my son, joined us in Jos. He was born in May 1983, had his undergraduate studies at the University of Jos where he studied Mass Communication and graduated in 2005. Tony worked with Cool Fm, Abuja as the Head of Production and Newscaster. He currently lives in Manitoba, Canada with His Wife and daughter.

Other than my children, I have other  spiritual children. I also have my academic/professional children that I fondly refer to as ‘my boys’ – Kola, Uche and Isaiah.  Similarly, I have very many close friends that I call my younger sisters– Emilia, Diane, Sola, Yewande,Onimim, Obosa, Pat, among others.  I have other friends who are my brothers properly so-called – Bright, Peter Aghimien and Peter Ozo-Eson, Godwin, Victor, Paul, Eddy, Fred, Kingsley, Osa, among others.

The fourth turning point – in September 1987, I registered for an Evening Law Programme at the University of Jos which I finished in 1992. I was the Best Graduating Student and had Second Class, Honours, Upper Division.  I was at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos in 1993 where I also had a Second Class, Upper Division in the Qualifying Examination. I was among the top six students.

The fifth turning point – As soon as I returned to the university, I became a Senior Assistant Registrar in the Registry. However, I opted to go into academics and although I was already a Senior Assistant Registrar on salary Grade Level 12 in the Registry, I transferred to the Faculty of Law, University of Jos as an Assistant Lecturer on salary Grade Level 09 though my salary was personal to me. I immediately registered for a Masters degree programme in law in January 1994 but by April 1995 I became a Personal Assistant to the then Honorable Minister of State, Works & Housing and that took me to Lagos. 

I was in Lagos till October 1997 when the Federal Executive Council was dissolved and instead of returning to the University of Jos as an Assistant Lecturer, I became a Lecturer  Grade I  at the Nigerian Law School, Abuja where I rose to the level of Senior Lecturer in 2000. Prior to this, in 1998 I registered for a doctorate degree at the University of Jos which I finished in April  2002.    I was also elected Fellow, Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators (FCIS), London in 1998.    

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The sixth turning point – In October 2002, I took leave of absence and went to the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) as an Assistant/Deputy Director.  In 2004, I became the General Counsel (Legal Adviser) and a Consultant to BPE under the World Bank Privatisation Support Programme (PSP) and later under the Department for International Development (DfID, UK) Support to the Privatisation Programme till February 2009.Throughout the period (2002 to 2009), I was also Head of Council Secretariat (Company Secretary) and covered all meetings of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) and Management Committee. Between February 2009 and December 2009, I consulted for the Federal Ministry of Works & Housing on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway Concession as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Legal Consultant.

The seventh turning point – On  December 7,  2009, I became a Professor of Law  at the  Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Abuja where I worked till November 27, 2020.  While  at NIALS, in 2015, I was elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.  Similarly, I was Head of Department, Director of Research (equivalent to Dean of Law) and Acting Director General (equivalent to a Vice-Chancellor). I dedicate my being a Professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria to Prof (Chief) Epiphany Azinge, SAN, the Okailolo of Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria who inspired me to apply for the two positions.

In 2015, I  became a Fellow, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb), UK and Chartered Arbitrator (C.Arb) in 2016.  I am also on the Approved Faculty List (APL) [Tutor and Assessor) of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, United Kingdom.  Thus, I rose to the peak of three professions – law, chartered secretaryship and arbitration. 

Incredibly, from being a Typist Grade III in 1970, I rose to the level of Acting Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in 2019.

I hope that my short story will inspire others to always aim for the top irrespective of their background. As I have always told my children, ‘It is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes’. To God be the Glory!