[INTERVIEW] “I Aimed For The Moon, Fell Among The Stars” – Chukwuebuka John Okoli-Akirika

Chukwuebuka John Okoli-Akirika did not just make a Second Class (Upper Division) at the Nigerian Law School this month, he is also in the top 7.56 in a class of over 5700 students. Only 20 students had a better result. The 2019 alumnus of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) shares highlights of his incredible law story.

[INTERVIEW] “I Aimed For The Moon, Fell Among The Stars” – Chukwuebuka John Okoli-Akirika

Chukwuebuka John Okoli-Akirika did not just make a Second Class (Upper Division) at the Nigerian Law School this month, he is also in the top 7.56 in a class of over 5700 students. Only 20 students had a better result. The 2019 alumnus of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) shares highlights of his incredible law story.

My name is Chukwuebuka John Okoli-Akirika. I’m from Amichi in Nnewi-South Local Government Area (LGA) of Anambra State. I was born in Aba, an industrial city in Abia State, and that was where I spent most of my teenage years.

Bloodline of lawyers, artists

I am the first child of Mr. C.J. Okoli-Akirika, a lawyer, and Mrs N.I. Okoli-Akirika, a fine artist and teacher. Fortunately, I will not be the only legal practitioner in the house and from my lineage as my dad, my cousin, an aunt and an uncle are all lawyers. My mum comes from a bloodline of artists. My younger sister is currently a final year law student, and my younger brother who is currently in secondary school wants to study law. I was actually nurtured with the idea of being a lawyer.

Day mum disciplined me like never before

I attended St. Bridget’s Primary School, Aba. I was renowned for my drawing and craft skills. I tore pages of my books to make boats and airplanes for my classmates. When my mother found out, I was disciplined like never before. I made crafts from carton and gifted them to the Arts teacher.

Awkward having mum as class teacher

I went on to the University of Nigeria Demonstration Secondary School Aba (now NINLAN Secondary School) for my junior secondary education. My mum was a teacher while I was there. I remember how awkward it felt greeting my teacher who was also my mum in class like she was a regular teacher; it was something I was not really looking forward to. Then there was the attention I got from students and teachers alike. Seniors dared not touch me (laughs). I left the school after Junior Secondary School (JSS) 3 to pursue my senior secondary education at Federal Government College, Okigwe, Imo State. I am proud of what I accomplished there.

Going from average to top of class

My primary and secondary education sampled the progress I had made growing up. I remember getting promoted on trial and my sister winning the school trophy at the same time. My dad came to pick us from school, one a champ, the other almost a failure. I saw the smile on his face and I wondered when that was going to be about me.

However, I went from being average to being top of my class in secondary school, and that prepared me for the challenges that were ahead of me.Special thanks to Chidimma Onuoha Esq. and Faithfulness Eze-Eke. I cannot downplay the roles they played in the turnaround.

Making dad smile

I studied Law at Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT). I finished my secondary education in 2013 but couldn’t secure a place in my desired university. Being someone that dislikes idleness, I applied for and gained admission for a diploma Programme at Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Tourism and Heritage. I could not finish the programme as I had gained admission to study law the following year (2014) in a university in a different state and I had to leave. I concluded my studies at the university in 2019. Going in, I desired to make a First Class. That goal was what guided my every decision and spurred my actions towards achieving that goal. Unfortunately, I did not. I finished as the Third Best Graduating Student with a Second Class, Upper Division. My dad smiled. It mattered that he did.

Challenges of studying law

Studying law was a challenging, yet interesting experience; long hours of study, memorising of cases and statutes, conducting of serious research for assignments and a lot more. Even extra-curricular activities were just as serious and intense. There were days I’d be so fatigued and angry, and wish it could all just come to an end. However the experience, I had amazing friends, mentors, lecturers and a supportive family that kept me going.

Day I danced, sang, sat on the road

I have a lot of memorable experiences. One time I went out with my friends who were also my course mates and returned to school very late at night. We walked all the way from the venue of the hangout to school. We took turns to dance and sing, sat in the middle of the road while sharing interesting stories and all. I cannot forget that night in a long time. Those friends are family to me now. Shout out to Agozie Onwukwu, Ebube Okpogu, Chima Ebene, Joyce Onyegbula, Kosy Umeh, Nnamani Dennis, Christian Okonkwo and Ikedi Uwandu.

Another was in the form of a debate. My favourite lecturer, Prof G.C Nnona who lectured on Intellectual Property had sparked an academic discourse during one of his lectures with us. The debate lingered past the time allotted for the course (it was the last period). He asked those who were not interested to leave since the lecture was over. Those of us interested continued the debate and that happens to be one of the most interesting “conversations” I have ever had. The Prof has been a significant figure in my journey so far, and I have continued to learn from him even after graduating.

11-year-old in court

Like I mentioned earlier, my dad is a lawyer. I remember following my dad to court once. As a child of about 11 years, the proceedings were lost on me. I sat in the gallery watching but not understanding (laughs). However, I spent a lot of time at my dad’s office.

Taking after dad

My choice of studying law was largely due to my immediate family circumstances and my position as the first child of the family. So, from when I could speak till when it was conclusive that I was to study law, I had constant reminders that I was to be a lawyer. Relatives will be like “so you will take after your father”. I spent quality time at his office and that was basically the only profession I was directly exposed to.

Sometime in 2011, I visited my aunt in Lagos. Due to her place of residence within Lagos, the sound of airplanes in the sky was very routine and regular. I started to read about planes “in the night sky like shooting stars”. I liked everything about the idea of being a pilot, but they were mostly fantasies, and an eagerness to satisfy the curiosity of a child as to what could be in the sky, since at the time I had never flown in an aircraft.

I also remember thinking of being a neurosurgeon. I had a brother whose experience while on earth started to force a reconsideration of who and what I really wanted to be. I mentioned it to my mother and she advised me to snap out of it. She told me to not let my brother’s circumstance change my destination. I took her advice.

Conquering law school

Before attending the law school, I had heard a lot of stories from a lot of people about the institution. From the start, I knew that a lot was required mentally and physically, especially considering that I wanted a First Class. From the first day, I knew I had to give my 100 per cent while finding time to relax. So, I knew I had to be mentally and physically ready for what was to come. Due to COVID-19, we had two halves of the programme. In the first half which was last year, I was able to strike a balance between my studies and recreation/relaxation. I took long walks and visited one or two places at most during that time. COVID-19 hit. We continued the programme from home. That was very tough. It was unprecedented. Nobody was prepared for what happened. The crippling uncertainty was killing. The institution, in my opinion, did the best possible considering the circumstances. On resumption earlier this year, we were confronted with resumption and close exam dates. My entire time went into studying for the almighty Bar finals. What is recreation? That was the least of my worries, likewise most students. Thankfully, we had amazing lecturers who really lightened our burden. They committed themselves to preparing us for the exam, mentally and academically. I really appreciate their efforts. I also had amazing friends every step of the way. Special thanks to Amara Ojiego, Efe Oise, Oge Okolie, Samuel Dunmade and Ugochi Ihedigbo.

The question on whether it (law school) was more or less difficult than I imagined is in itself a difficult question. What I imagined and what happened are parallels. I never contemplated the pandemic. So, when I factor that, I’d say that it was more challenging than I had expected, and this made it seem a lot more difficult than I had imagined.

However, at the end of the examination, I found myself at the beach. That was the one time I really took a break for more than two hours.

JUSUN strike and law school programme

The JUSUN strike had no effect on the programme for this set as it did not affect chamber and court attachments which did not take place in the form that it used to be done in previous years.

Breaking down 46 days to Bar finals

Law School aside being very demanding, can be very mentally challenging. There is just a lot of pressure, especially when you have your eyes on the top prize. As a student, if you’re unable to deal with the mental part of the preparation, chances are you will be unable to function.

Being faced with the reality that a good percentage of students fail the Bar examination is all the pressure you need. In my case, I was facing the reality that only a small percentage makes First Class and that was all the pressure I needed.

We had just resumed for the second half of the programme when we were informed of examination dates. That was an instant shocker. Every plan I made was crippled upon receiving the news. I had a breakdown. I thought we’d have three months to the examination. It was 46 days to go. 46!

Weeks to the exam, I could literally feel a lot of weight on my head. I had a lot to cover. I made a list of topics I hadn’t mastered. Days passed and it felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I developed a fever on some occasions, then a nervous breakdown. I frequently called home. They could feel the pressure over the phone. My mother kept encouraging me. My dad and my sister did same too. I could barely sleep. I was literally living in the study room at the time. Who wasn’t? I saw myself applying multiple strategies to get the job done. It was really a challenging journey. When it was exam week, the pressure tripled. There was a reading and praying frenzy on campus. Every nook had a student reading. The lecturers were working overtime. They were there every step, teaching and giving moral support.

Finishing in the top 7.56 per cent

Every step of the way, I knew that I had to keep my mental health in check. That was the first step in surmounting the imminent challenge. That is what I did. That was how I was able to go through the back-to-back examination dates without passing out or abandoning the entire thing.

I made a Second Class, Upper Division (Top 7.56 in a class of over 5700 students). It was not the goal, honestly. I am not big on effort, but for this one I make an exception. I was living in the study room, literally, both at home and in school.

Desired result? Of course not. Major win? Definitely!

How does being among the Top 7.56 per cent feel?

Well, it feels great. I went for the moon, and fell among the stars. But in all, I am grateful to God, my family, my adorable friends and every person who supported me in one way or another. The only way from here is up, and that’s the way to go!

COVID-19 lessons and law school

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us all a lesson; anything can happen. The institution resorted to online lecturing to meet the occasion. Being a first attempt at such on this scale, there was less time for the institution, in my opinion, to plan and execute same effectively. This made the experience a little too nightmarish for some students. That is an eye-opener. Going forward, I think the institution, seeing that a pandemic is in the permutation, may devise ways to meet such unforeseen occurrences.

Judge, SAN or Professor?

Professor and SAN. I’ll choose to be a professor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, just like a legal icon I admire; Prof Ernest Ojukwu SAN. If I can be both, why not?

Second chance at a career choice?

If I had a second chance I’d choose law. Just that I may find a school that offers a dual-degree in Law and Business. Choosing a career in football would have been lovely but for my sight. Music? Unless I’m humming. (Laughs).

Marrying a lawyer?

I haven’t really thought about it, but now that you’ve mentioned it, I guess I’d be comfortable with that if it happens. But I’d have to ask my uncle what it is like since he (a lawyer) married a lawyer (Laughs). Whichever way, I’ll be very much interested with being with a professional, that’s all I’m sure of for now.

Drake’s biggest fan

I enjoy hanging out and meeting new people. I love the game of football. I also love visiting new places. Then music; I’m (Canadian rapper) Drake’s biggest fan.

Mentors in legal profession

My dad is my first mentor. He laid the foundation on which I’m building on. His brilliant, fatherly advice has guided me since my journey began. My father instilled virtues of patience, integrity and selflessness in me. He always talks to me about “aptitude”. His advice has shaped a lot of the decisions I have made and a lot more that I will make.

Prof G.C Nnona, whom I admire so much for his mastery and brilliance.

Okechukwu Orisakwe Esq. He is a mentor, brother and friend. Okey is my go-to person. He has always advised me candidly, provided support and looked out for me. His journey so far is one I hope to emulate while being better at it.




Source- The Nation

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