By Ovonlen Ebhohimhen
It is the rarest of things for me to be so enamoured by someone on the first telephone call I have with them. However, on February 20, 2020, that was how I felt when a number I did not have in my phone book called me and introduced himself in what is now a familiar voice: “Good afternoon Ovonlen, my name is Tobenna Erojikwe.” Of course, I had heard this name before, as I was a keen follower of the activities of the NBA Lagos Branch’s continuing professional development (CPD) programmes. Although I was not a member of the Lagos Branch, colleagues of mine who belonged to the branch informed me that the person who chaired the CPD committee of the branch was a personable man who went by the name Tobenna, and this is how the name Tobenna registered on my consciousness.
I became more acquainted with his name when the then-candidate Olumide Akpata informed a group of us that the person who will be charged with the responsibility of marshalling men and resources for his bid to become the 30th President of the NBA, in what ultimately turned out to be an NBA election that captured the imagination of the country and was described by one SAN as a “potent revolutionary movement,” was Tobenna Erojikwe. Anyone who has interacted with Mr Olumide Akpata knows his penchant for excellence and attention to even the minutest details, so for him to have appointed Tobenna to be the DG of his campaign was high praise indeed and left a lasting impression of this individual, Tobenna, who I had never spoken to or met at the time. I was very curious to meet him to find out what stood him out and made people speak of him very highly. This is why the call on February 20, 2020, was a welcome development. This was his first call to me, which lasted for about 45 minutes, and after that call, it all made sense to me why people were so effusive in their praise of him.
Unfortunately for me, I never had the privilege of meeting Tobenna in person until October 2021, when I met him on the grounds of the Hotel Presidential in Port Harcourt during the NBA Annual General Conference. Immediately, I approached him to introduce myself, and he gave me what I now know is his familiar and trademark warm bear hug. Although he was up and about as he had recently been appointed as the Chairman of the NBA’s Institute of Continuing Legal Education (NBA-ICLE), he took out time to have a brief chat with me and a group of other friends who were there at the time. From that time until now, I have always marvelled at his fecundity of thought and his philosophical approach to issues.
The only thing larger than Tobenna’s sizeable frame is his large heart to accommodate people of all hues and persuasions. This is no surprise to me now with the knowledge that I have of his upbringing as someone who was brought up on the campus of the University of Nigeria. Such a cosmopolitan upbringing in the same environment that bred the inimitable Chimamanda Adichie now explains why he is so passionate about the development of Nigerian lawyers’ abilities to develop in-demand lawyering skills. He started this in the NBA Lagos Branch, and he has brought this passion and industry to the NBA-ICLE. Thats why we call him “onwa n’etiri ora,” meaning the moon that shines over everyone.
Happy Birthday Onwa, DG of the Shalom family, Chimamanda’s friend, and as Chimamanda Adichie revealed to us in her keynote address at the 2022 NBA Annual General Conference, a good love letter writer. Have the best day possible. Like I say to him all the time, “If you have 10,000 admirers, I am one of them; if you have 1,000 admirers, I am one of them; if you have 100 admirers, I remain one of them; if you have 10 admirers, I am certainly one of them; if you have 1 admirer, I am certainly that one; and if it turns out that you have no admirers, that means I have left the surface of the earth.”
Ovonlen Ebhohimhen, a lawyer and a member of the NBA Benin Branch, writes from Abuja.