Known as a constitutional lawyer and human rights' activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN is a man who cherishes the law as well as love. But his history of activism may have well masked his strong feeling of love.
From a peasant boy from Etsako-East Local Government, Edo State, young Ozekhome rose to become a student activist. He was the Acting Speaker of Student's Parliament (SRC) while studying Law at the home of Students' activism, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He was called to the bar in 1981.
However, from 1986 he was detained several times. Despite his struggle for the rule of law to be respected in Nigeria he never forgets to treasure the love of his life, Lady Josephine Mike Ozekhome which is why he found time in his busy schedule to open up to the THISDAY LAWYER team last week on what has made his marital union of 21 years rock-solid.
'I met my wife, Lady (Chief) Josephine Mike Ozekhome through my aunt, Mrs. Theresa Agiode, in 1988. She had just completed her secondary education at Federal Government Girls Secondary School, Abuloma, Port Harcourt. I had informed my aunt of my desire to marry a very pretty, light complexioned lady.
'When she enquired about the educational qualification she must have, I told her it didn't really matter since I could always ensure I train her to my taste. But one inescapable quality is that she must be fair in complexion.'
Fair enough (if you'll pardon the pun), his aunt did his bidding. On a certain day in 1988 on her way from Agenebode to Lagos his aunt sighted a pretty woman who was making a distress cry. Her very sonorous voice caught the aunt's attention from where this young lady sat at the back of the three row seater station wagon that she had boarded.
'The voice attracted her. She looked back and beheld a beautiful girl. Upon alighting at Ore to eat food with other passengers, my aunt walked up to my wife and asked if she (my wife) would marry her. This, my wife was later to tell me, embarrassed and shocked her. How would an elderly woman ask a fellow woman to marry her. However, to get rid of the apparent 'nuisance', my wife answered 'yes, I will marry you'. What she didn't know was that by her agreeing to 'marry' my aunt, she had by implication, agreed to marry me. John Chapter 1 verse 1 was at work!'
Transmitting Love Waves...
The signal was good from the very first moment of meeting Lady Josephine through her aunt. She lived with her father, an officer at the State Security Service, at the Police Barracks in Falomo, Ikoyi.
'When I saw them approaching from a distance, more in the form of a silhouette, an indescribable emotive feeling struck me, running through my spine, in a most chilling manner. I knew I had found my wife. I kept repeating as they approached me,"If that is the girl, then that is my wife; if this is the girl, then she is surely my wife".
Secret But Legal Agendum...
Unknown to Lady Josephine, Chief Ozekhome nurtured secretly the desire to see his wife become a lawyer. After all, even as a tender secondary school leaver, she had admired her husband's profession and commitment to human rights' advocacy from the television screen.
'When I mentioned it the first time we met, she said she did not like law or lawyers. That was a big blow for a courting young Mike. I later convinced her to read law at University of Jos rather than the Business Administration she had wanted to read at the University of Maiduguri. So, Law was the first attraction.'
'Being married to each other as lawyers is not the major factor, although it enhances our intellectual discourse and ability to easily understand and comprehend each other's point. There is no specific challenge involved in our being in the same profession. What matters most is love, understanding, communication, affection, trust and ability to say to each other, "I am sorry", when you are in the wrong.'
Some men with lucrative careers would ordinarily have their wives stay at home as full-time housewives. Chief Ozekhome said it is wise to marry even from the same profession where possible adding that it has a good measure of advantage.
'It makes your partner know what you are into. My wife manages my four offices in Lagos, Abuja, Benin City and Agenebode. She knows my movement, whereabouts, cases, journeys, challenges, etc., just as I know and appreciate hers. We have had several cases together, some torturous, some pleasant, some sad, some exhilarating, some self-fulfilling, some professionally satisfactory. All in all, the legal profession is awesome.
'We work on all cases together, making suggestions, arguing some and generally consensualising. We have learnt to bow to superior reasoning. No ego, qualms, complex A. Never. We attend court together, take the heat or joy and stay close together.
How the Ozekhomes Spend Valentine's Day...
There is no particular pattern of celebrating Valentine's Day but the couple often spend time together at home, eating at a Chinese Restaurant, playing at the beach or simply enjoying each other's company.
'The recent ones which we spent together, quietly, enjoying each other's company, all alone. Before now, when the children were much younger, we usually involved them and made it a pleasant family outing, playing football in our expansive compound, pursuing each other and doing mock fight.
Mrs. Ozekhome spoke on how she has invariably become the 'Commander-in-Chief of the Home and Kitchen Forces' whilst still performing her managerial task at the law office.
'We work on different matters in the office. Sometimes, we don't get to see each other for an appreciable length of time. Whilst Chief works mostly in the offices in Abuja, Benin City and Agenebode I work more in the Lagos headquarters, co-ordinating administrative, personnel and litigation matters. Chief is strictly in charge of advocacy.
'Chief makes and takes the business decisions after my input and cross-fertilisation of ideas. But I handle the investment aspect of the Law Firm. I do not aspire to join Chief in the Inner Bar. I prefer the intellectual and administrative aspect of the firm which Chief loves, breathes talks, eats and even dreams litigation and advocacy.'
Voices from Ozekhomes' Chambers...
THISDAY LAWYER spoke with Mrs. Prisca Anene who said working with the couple has a lot of advantage.
'Sometimes you may approach the owner of the chambers and he may not fully understand why you need to take time off work but his wife being a mother shares one's feelings and can step in'.
Jeff Kadiri spoke in the same vein and marvelled at the close communication network between the couple.
'Their minds work together. They are always in touch. For instance, if you have just spoken with Chief on the phone and you proceed to tell Madam what has just transpired, she'd say "Chief had already told me".
'I always say that Madam can take care of ten children. She is a mother. There was a time when Chief was threatening to fire me. He was really angry with me but it took the intervention of his wife to keep me on the job.'
Ifeanyi Anyanwu, another lawyer at the chamber said they simply complement themselves.