By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Godfrey Kio Jaja Amachree or GKJ as he was fondly called by his many admirers was a pioneer of sorts for many Nigerians and Africans in international diplomacy, football administration and most notably, in Law where he was a mentor to some of Nigeria’s well-known lawyers.
GKJ who became the first indigenous Solicitor General of Nigeria in 1958 and also the first permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Justice developed a law practice that nurtured some other young lawyers that subsequently came to shine forth among the country’s greats.
Among them were Nigeria’s first permanent representative to the United Kingdom, United States and United Nations, Matthew T Mbu; Mr. Modupe F Alakija, the self-effacing husband of Mrs. Folurunsho Alakija; Sir Louis Mbanefo SAN, Shola Rhodes, Godfrey Udenze, Folarin Alatise, John Anyansi, Mrs. Grace Ogbemi, the first Itsekiri female lawyer who managed his chambers, among many learned men and women who had their roots in the law practice, Godfrey K. J. Amachree and Co. established by GKJ.
The son of a Kalabari chief from Rivers State, GKJ had his secondary education at Government College, Umuahia, Kings College, Lagos and rounded up with a Diploma in Commerce from the Higher College, Yaba, as the Yaba College of Technology was then known.
The pursuit for even higher education took him to London where he obtained a law degree from the University of London. He was called to the Bar in 1948 at the Grays Inn.
He subsequently undertook a course in Colonial Administration at Pembroke College, Cambridge, founded in 1347 and is the third oldest of the Cambridge colleges.
Within ten years of joining the colonial administration’s legal service he rose to the pinnacle to become the first Nigerian-born Solicitor General in 1958 and by the time the colonial administration’s Legal Department was transformed into the Ministry of Justice, he also became the first permanent secretary.
He was among the first set of Nigerian lawyers to be admitted to the Inner Bar in Britain in 1960 as a Queen’s Counsel at the age of 43 and just 12 years after his qualification as a lawyer.
That was supposedly his crowning glory as a lawyer, but he certainly did not rest on his laurels as they only served as a stepping stone unto further service in which he acted as attorney general of the English speaking British Cameroons and at different times as the Legal Secretary of the region, a position that gave him the right of sitting in the Executive Council and the Legislative Council of British Cameroon.
GKJ’s splendid service in the Nigeria Civil Service came to an end in 1962 after 14 years. However, that was the beginning of a short but glorious service in the international diplomatic circuit as he was appointed in 1962 as Under-Secretary General of the United Nations. He was the first Nigerian and only Nigerian in his life time to have served in that position.
At the United Nations, his duties included oversight over Trusteeships and Non-Self Governing Territories and the body’s Special Civilian Operations in the former Belgian Congo now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
GKJ was also a sportsman in practice, and administration with his tentacles in football, cricket and horse racing.
In the forties when people of African descent were yet to be given a place in British football, GKJ became Captain of the University College, London, Football Team, and was also a member of the Cricket Team.
He took his passion subsequently into administration, and he became the first indigenous chairman of the Nigeria Football Association. He also served for several years as Secretary of the Nigeria Cricket Association.
Despite his national and international feats, GKJ never forgot his roots in the Niger Delta. He was at the forefront in several efforts towards resolving the environmental and other related issues in the region. Though his confidence in the Nigerian federation was never doubted,
GKJ is memorably remembered as the lead counsel in the defence team of Adaka Boro during his trial in the late sixties, defending him up to the Supreme Court. His agitation in part led to the establishment of the Wilniks Commission on the Niger Delta by the colonial powers.
GKJ was a jolly good fellow and had as lifelong acquaintances several friends who were among the leading lights in the professions. Among his lifelong friends was Mr. Nigeria’s first Judge at the International World Court, Charles Dadi Onyeama, father of Geoffrey Onyeama, present Foreign Minister.
Godfrey Kio Jaja Amachree, eminent son of the Niger Delta, born exactly 100 years ago today died on August 9, 1999.
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