In the beginning, Chinedu Munir Nwoko – the enigmatic prince from Idumuje-Ugboko, in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State, Nigeria, left a permanent handprint on an era of my life. Once I reunited with him, I realized that despite the length of time we had lost contact with each other, as soon as I spoke to him again and laid eyes on him, it felt as if we were naturally continuing a relationship from where we left off! He certainly trained me well to become a solicitor, I must add.
In fact, he actually taught me from scratch ‘how to manage a law practice’ – and I could never forget him because of that. He did the same with many other lucky young Nigerians, not only in the legal field but also in politics, I gathered. I could safely say that I was one of the few people who was privileged enough to have experienced a part of his journey.
The nostalgia that engulfed my senses when the media became flooded with stories of his current lifestyle, motivated me to make contact again. It was an incredible sensation. Ned Nwoko was still himself, still as charming as ever, but with an extra tinge of matured dignity, comportment and refinement.
My meeting with Ned Nwoko. I met Prince Nwoko in London, England in the mid-1990s. I recall it must have been about a year plus before my mother’s demise when her sister, my late Aunty Uche was visiting from Nigeria. I had cause to attend a lecture by Prince Ned Nwoko somewhere in Kensington, London. I was then an aspiring young lawyer, still at the trainee stage.
This was sometime around 1995, the exact date, I cannot recollect. It all happened so fast. I went there specifically to meet Ned because I had heard about him through a friend who recommended him as someone who could be of tremendous help to my career and my quest for a ‘Solicitors’ Training Contract’ or ‘Articles Of Clerkship’ as it was more popularly known in those days. At that venue, a 35-year-old Ned Nwoko was presenting his book titled: Nigeria: Time For All Hands On Deck. The hall was packed full, but I managed to get his attention at the end of the programme. He was very pleasant and seemed agreeable to the fact that I should work with him at his growing new law firm in the city. He promised to call me for an interview. I felt so comfortable, as if I had found myself a legal mentor.
I was happy. My aunt who had accompanied me to the event, tried to discourage me, she felt I should not be working for a Nigerian firm, that I would be better off working for an oyibo law firm. After all, we were in their country. Little did she realise that I was a die-hard afro-centric, in fact, naija-centric, the type who believed that ‘charity begins at home’ and we should all support and patronize each other, especially in a foreign land.
Ned Nwoko was a law and history graduate with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) degree from the prestigious University of Keele, and he continued with his academics on to London University’s Kings College, where he got his Master’s of Law (LL.M). He joined Lincolns Inn, and was called to the bar after which he spent a short stint as a barrister followed by full time advocacy at the Crown Prosecution Service. He decided to switch to the other side of the legal profession, became a member of the Law Society and got himself admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
He then moved into private practice and specialised in criminal and civil litigation. He was well known for his legal articles which were regularly published in newsletters, journals, periodicals and newspapers. He worked hard as he went through all the Law Society requirements – working first at Kumars Solicitors, then at Pascalides Solicitors where he became a visiting adviser at the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau in London before he finally left to start up his own law firm, Ned Nwoko Solicitors.
Apart from being an official member of the Law Society, he was elected as Secretary-General of the Nigerian Legal Practitioners of UK. In 1995, he was publicly recognised as the best black lawyer in England. He was also awarded an honorary law doctorate (LL.D) from the Commonwealth University of Belize.
Joining ‘The Firm’ was historic. After the interview with him, I was offered the job as a trainee solicitor and fee-earner or paralegal. (I carried a few labels in that office) before I finally settled for ‘Head of Immigration’ a few weeks later. I was thrown straight into the deep end at Ned Nwoko Solicitors. The work and the training were intense. I loved every minute of it. Working in that place gave me a sense of security and purpose. There was never a dull moment. Ned Nwoko Solicitors’ office was a hub of activity, strategically located in the City of London along Gray’s Inn Road in a classic traditional converted four-storey office building with an impressive signage, across the road from the famous King’s Cross station, beside the most popular red-light district in the UK!
Most conveniently, we were a stones’ throw away from the Inns of Court and the Law Society headquarters. We were also proud of and basked in the reputation of being the biggest and best ‘black’ law firm in the United Kingdom. At any given time, there were at least ten lawyers, while at the peak, Ned employed up to thirty-five lawyers, with a sizeable team of support staff, mostly typists and clerks that mainly occupied the large typing pool on the ground floor beside the reception and waiting area.
Prince Ned himself possessed a dramatic aura, so awe-inspiring. Even though he was usually of a calm disposition, he had a presence and still does. In those days, I considered him to be my personal professional trainer who taught me everything I needed to know about how to work in, and run a successful law firm with its detailed administrative manoeuvres including bookkeeping and accounts, plus the management of clients and their case files.
I ended up taking charge of about 800 case files, but I was up to the task. I soon learnt to write briefs for barristers and instructed them on new cases up for litigation and on client matters. I accompanied them to court and managed the documents, took notes, interviewed clients – both free ones and those detained in prison cells and I always sat behind counsel in court before the sitting judge, ready to assist while the litigation was raging back and forth.
One of the most valuable legal techniques I learnt from Ned was how to issue appeals under section 51 at the Royal Courts of Justice, where I became a regular on Stay of Executions and Judicial Reviews. Immigration became my strongest point and it got to the stage where Ned, my boss, promoted me to Head of the Immigration Department, with at least five junior lawyers and paralegals assisting me. We were always ‘on call’ 24/7, ready to attend to newly arrested clients at airports, seaports and any other immigration holding or detention facilities.
Driving to Gatwick Airport on a late Christmas eve night was one of the many sacrifices I remember having to make! This was as a result of the fact that I had a good teacher who prompted me to work hard, and my enthusiasm was fuelled by the incentives he gave his team of fee-earners for bringing funds into the firm privately and or via legal aid. I was also fortunate that clients liked me which instigated a lot of referrals and helped in making me the highest fee-earner for quite a few months in a row. This feat always earned me a bonus on pay day, after every lawyer and fee-earner was appraised for his or her performance by the accountant at the end of each month.
Ned continued to encourage and sponsor me, as well as the other lawyers in the firm who were housed in different departments. Most types of contentious and non-contentious areas of practice were professionally handled, including wills & probate, conveyancing and housing. Being characteristically hands-on, he personally took care of most of the specialist cases as the principal solicitor. The firm habitually handled clients in the Aviation and Maritime industries, many such matters came up, and covered various countries and continents. There was indeed a formidable build-up of international cases.
The Criminal Department was extremely busy; in fact, it was the busiest part of the office and was effectively headed by two charismatic lawyers – Marie Chamberlain (who later left to go and open her own city firm where she was the senior partner of Chamberlain Solicitors) and Charles Adeogun-Philips (who left to join the World Court at the Hague where he was deployed to Rwanda as a prosecutor).The few English solicitors present included Nicole the blue-eyed blond who specialised in Civil Litigation, Mr. Bryan and Andrew Bolton who came in as a partner (married to a Nigerian barrister wife, my cousin, Frances).
There was an Irish man called Monihan, also there were two Singhs from India, one called Hardeep, and a mixture of other African lawyers from Ghana, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, amongst others, I cannot recall all their names. I continued to pick up tips very fast from almost all of them, and was still in the process of attending night classes at the Law Society’s College of Law on Store Street, Central London most days after work. I still had to complete my final exams, which was an integral part of my training as a card-carrying member of the Law Society. Ned was generous enough to pay my tuition fees! Under his focused cerebral tutorage and mentorship, I must say that Ned Nwoko Solicitors managed to produce some of the best crop of Nigerian and British solicitors including many other legal practitioners from all parts of the world, right in the heart of London, England, some of who went on to run successful law practices and other types of businesses of their own in the UK, Nigeria and beyond.
Apart from Immigration and Customs & Excise cases, I was abruptly introduced into Corporate Law. For example, I began to specialise in the incorporation of off-shore companies, and other random civil litigation matters that came to my table. This was how I first got introduced to some of the greatest veteran Nollywood actors such as Kanayo O. Kanayo, Liz Benson, Jide Kosoko and some other chap who was their agent in England. They were all unceremoniously ushered into my office by Ned himself on one of my most stressful paperwork-filled days. It was awesome! I remember my slight initial irritation turning to amazement.
I was almost star-struck, but for the fact that they presented themselves with so much humility and no signs of arrogance (I had expected some kind of diva-like behaviour from all film stars of any nationality, Nigeria was no exception). The goodwill created from the networking while in Ned’s office was extremely useful for anyone interested in law, business, politics or even entertainment.
Prince Chinedu Munir Nwoko, wore other hats apart from the legal ‘Stetson.’ He was not only a successful lawyer, he was also a respected politician and an outstanding philanthropist, contributing to a few charities and even offering pro-bono services to destitute young clients who were not entitled to legal aid.
The most memorable experience I gathered through working with him during that period was when I ended up meeting Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles face to face. The Nigerian High Commission had sponsored a group of Nigerians, some of us from Ned Nwoko Solicitors, to go for a Commonwealth gathering in Edinburgh, Scotland, naturally attended by some top members of the British royal family. I guess you can’t get any higher than Her Majesty, the Queen of England and her first son, the Crown Prince! The pictures imprinted in my mind of the cold wintery eventful weekend in Edinburgh and the eventual British royal parade, is permanently embedded there.
Ned Nwoko, the personality: Born into a royal dynasty in Idumuje-Ugboko, Prince Ned Nwoko could be described physically as being of above-average height, dark chocolate complexioned skin, with sharp penetrating eyes that focus intensely on whoever or whatever he chooses to observe. He has a simple characteristically calm and dignified mien. Even with his regal heritage, world class education and enviable height in life, he never postures like a peacock. He does not walk with a pompous self-introduction but in measured steps that beckon and soothe, with convivial humanity. He is obviously a devoted family man, happily married with several children.
As a polygamist, his love for all his wives and children is clear for all to see and he has the means to take care of them all very well. I was well acquainted with the first wife of his youth, Lillian or Lilly – as she is fondly called, who also quietly worked with us in the office as the firm’s in-house barrister. In fact, she had her own office one floor above mine. She is the mother of his oldest adult children. Ned’s kindness is infectious beyond limits. His followers and workers are part of his family. A mentor who values his mentees. A genial father-figure who gives to one and all, like the traditionally generous Father Christmas. Two of his domestic staff in the village, recently got N1 million each as a reward for their long standing service to Prince Ned Nwoko. Some others in his team in different departments had also been rewarded with cash gifts not below N1 million.
Thousands of students from his Anioma area of State and far afield, have received scholarship funds while a sizeable number of women and youths had been regularly empowered with financial succour. He was in the news some time ago for single-handedly rehabilitating sections of the Onicha Ugbo/Idumuje Ugboko road (a major gateway to Abuja Federal Capital) with glittering tar at a cost running into over N100 million. His country home at Idumuje Ugboko is always like Mecca each time he comes visiting from his Abuja base, as hundreds of people swarm endlessly to his sprawling abode to receive sundry assistance from a large-hearted man enamoured with cheerful giving.
This article is a basic recollection about a great Nigerian man with a candid personality who has a lot to offer Africa and the world at large; a man who can freely share his experiences and entrepreneurship achievements with anyone who cares to know, and more specifically, can be a highly valued role model to the youth of African descent who are in dire need of a positive focus.
His Malaria Eradication Project Impacts: After a huge gap of well over twenty years during which we had moved on with our respective lives, I made an effort to contact my former boss again. I had bumped into him briefly at a restaurant car park in Abuja in between those years. So much water had passed under the bridge and the constant media attention he was getting prompted me to drop him a message and when he graciously responded a few days later, communication between us started again.
In March 2021, I got myself invited to one of his Abuja houses to discuss a book proposal. Being in his presence was all so familiar, it was just like old times. In Nigeria, the Ned Nwoko Foundation has been going strong. I was invited by him in April 2021, on World Malaria Day to join their Malaria Awareness Walk from Unity Fountain, Abuja. I attended with my friend, Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi who was not only experienced in malaria advocacy and health activism, but also the first Nigerian and current president of the Medical Women International Association, MWIA. She was invited to talk to the audience about the intrigues of malaria and she certainly did not disappoint. Deeply impressed, we found it to be quite an occasion, championed by the foundation and supported by many other organisations such as NYSC, the Ministries of Health and Environment, the Malaria Consortium, National Malaria Elimination Programme, NMEP, Linas International, Project Tourism, Regina Entertainment TV, (owned by his adorable Nollywood actress wife, Regina Daniels), FRSC and the Nigeria Police Force.
The Malaria Walk incorporated his Antarctica Experience project which highlighted a trip he made in January 2020 to the frozen climes of Antarctica, where he went with the intention of drawing international attention to the malaria scourge in Africa in a rather unique manner, by becoming the first black African to make that journey, and succeeding in installing Nigeria as the 13th country in the world to have placed its flag on that ice peak. A competition coined: Antarctica Experience, had been taking place for months, searching for the most talented young artists in the country. 450 contestants participated and 10 finalists were expected to perform at the grand finale on the day after the Walk at his estate in Lifecamp Abuja.
It was an entertaining event. The winner and runners-up were presented with very generous financial gift packages by Ned himself in his characteristic benevolence. I was fascinated by his ability to identify and select a controversial and seemingly incurable disease and proceed to tackle it effectively. Apparently, the foundation had set up a recycling plant in each local government area to embark on the fumigation and spraying of their respective environments.
Ned had even gone as far as applying for a bill through the National Assembly for the creation of an agency to implement the said plants. The foundation is also involved in some intense research for the development of safe malaria drugs with the endowment of research grants to five universities in Africa and the implementation of the RTSS Malaria Vaccine in Nigeria, plus sanitation that includes cleaning up the entire country to get rid of mosquito breeding spaces.
And lastly, there are quite a few other adventurous projects that have either been established or are still in incubation, kicked off by forward-looking Ned Nwoko, all in the quest for enhancing the development process in this country.
There is the magnificent Mount Ned Tourist Resort and the Stars University, both located in his Idumuje-Ugboko homeland. Mount Ned is a wondrous tourism resort, encompassing a palatial mansion with a striking mix of African and Arabian architecture and a zoo bearing the rarest collection of wild life in the country. The proposed Stars University nearby, promises to be iconic as it is modelled to serve as the first sports university in sub-Saharan Africa! Only Ned, ever unique and inimitable can dream this big.
Prince Ned Nwoko appears passionate about saving Nigeria, yet he cannot do it all by himself, so he does what he can whenever God gives him the opportunity. Interestingly, his steadfast determination is one of his strengths that got him to where he is today, and is bound to get him to where he wants to be tomorrow. Challenges and hiccups notwithstanding, I have watched from afar as he has continued to gradually push obstacles aside to get to his goals. His survival instincts are very strong and have been working for him. He does not hide his weaknesses, but his strengths overshadow them, which is a good thing. We must continue to watch his space as he continues to tick the right boxes. We should offer our support where feasible, as most of the projects are beneficial to improving our future.
And I believe that, very soon, his story will be shared across nations and will come across as inspirational and historic. Mark my words!