By Hon. Femi Kehinde
A man’s good deed and impact on the society will certainly outlive him, centuries after his departure. The Nigerian society would forever be kind to its early path finders- Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ernest Ikoli, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Anthony Enahoro, Dr. Kofo Abayomi, Sapara Williams, amongst several others.
GKJ Amachree, would certainly find a sweet place in the company of these eminent pathfinders and makers of Nigerian history. He was a good ambassador of the Kalabari stock of the Niger Delta. He had traversed the Nigerian legal practice, civil service and sports administration, commerce, industry and philanthropy. He was kind-hearted and benevolent to his community.
Godfrey Kio Jaja Amachree QC, popularly cealled Godfrey Kio Jaja or GKJ by his numerous friends, admirers and relations, was born in Buguma, the Kalabari nation of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria on the 27th of February, 1916, to a literate father- Chief Sekin Jaja Amachree (Pa Sekin) who was a leading Kalabari Chief and a pioneer, of the Colonial Civil Service in the colonial government of Nigeria.
FIRST KALABARI LAWYER
GKJ’s father, Sekin, was a leading light in the Kalabari region and had produced in GKJ, the first Kalabari lawyer, who was called to the bar in 1948, at the Grays Inn, London. GKJ’s father became an elected member, to represent minority rights in the Eastern Region Parliament.
He was at the 1958 constitutional conference in London, that heralded the Nigerian Independence in 1960 and was also a member of the Henry Wilkins Commission of Inquiry to proffer solutions to the inequities to which the minorities of the Niger Delta area of Nigeria were subject.
From this rich pedigree, GKJ naturally lived like his forebears, in measuring up to his family’s standards- “Omo tekun ba bi, ekun ni yoo jo”- (a young tiger would always live like its forebears)- a great scion of the great Jaja of Okpobo heritage.
GOVT COLLEGE UMUAHIA
After elementary education, GKJ attended the prestigious Government College Umuahia, that was established in 1929 by Reverend Robert Fisher, who was also its first principal. The Colonial Government had established, after King’s College in 1909, Government College, Ibadan, Government College Umuahia, Government College Zaria (Barewa College), in 1929, to follow British Public Schools like Eton, Harrow and Winchester College in the United Kingdom. In fact Government College Umuahia was the Eton of the East, and had since then, lived up to its motto- “May we shine as one”.
Government College Umuahia, had produced GKJ Amachree, Chinua Achebe, Ben Enwonwu, the artist and sculptor, Jaja Wachukwu- lawyer, Nigeria’s first speaker of the House of Representatives and first republic foreign minister, and also, Okoi Arikpo, N.U Akpan, Victor Mukete, E.J Allagoa, Dr. E.M.L Endeley- the former Premier of Southern Cameroon, Prof. Laz Ekweme, a musicologist and Theatre Icon, the Novelist- Chukwuemeka Ike, the Writer and Public Administrator- Elechi Amadi, Ken Saro Wiwa- the environmental rights activist, Christopher Okigbo- the iconoclast, poet and publisher, Gabriel Okara- the medical doctor and poet, Chukuwedu Nwokolo and a host of other distinguished alumni of the great “Eton” of the East.
GKJ later attended King’s College Lagos, the Yaba Higher College, Lagos, where he obtained a Diploma in commerce and later, proceeded to the University College London, where he obtained a Bachelor of Law Degree and was called to the bar in 1949 at the Grays Inn, London.
To prepare for his home coming and active participation in the colonial administration, he attended the Pembroke College, Cambridge, for a course in Colonial Administration. Back home in Nigeria, GKJ was instantly employed by the colonial administration and began his distinguished legal career, at the then Legal Department in Lagos, as Pupil Crown Counsel, in 1949. As a legal icon and pathfinder, his rise in the Legal Profession, was distinguished and meteoric.
Within a spade of ten years, he rose steadily form the position of Pupil Crown Counsel, to the exalted position of the Solicitor-General of the Federation, as the first Nigerian to occupy such high office in 1958.
On the elevation of the legal department, to the full-fledged Ministry of Justice, he was also appointed its first ever Permanent Secretary, in addition to being the Solicitor-General of Nigeria.
His crowning glory as a legal titan and luminary came in 1960, when he was appointed as one of the first set of selected Nigerians, to be admitted to the British Inner Bar as Queen’s Counsel (Q.C), long before the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was created in 1975, to replace it, in consonance with Nigeria’s Republican Status.
In the Legal Department, he had acted on several occasions as the Attorney General of the Federation and the Legal Secretary of the British Cameroon , which also entitled him to a seat in the executive Council and the Legislature of the British Cameroon.
GKJ retired meritoriously from the Civil Service in 1962 and was appointed the first Nigerian Under Secretary-General of the United Nations. At the United Nations and perhaps as a Queen’s Counsel, a legal titan, he was charged with the responsibility for Trusteeship and Non-Self Governing Territories.
He was also responsible for the United Nations Special Civilian Operations, in the former Belgian Congo. He discharged these onerous assignments creditably and his exemplary conduct was an inspiration to other young Africans, who saw in him, a role model and a stickler for excellence.
ADAKA BORO’S 1966 TREASONABLE FELONY CHARGE
In 1966, he left the United Nations and returned home to set up the very successful law firm of GKJ Amachree & Co in Lagos, which still exists. He represented Isaac Adaka Boro in a treasonable felony charge, when he proclaimed an independent Niger Delta peoples’ Republic, with a flag and an emergency constitution.
Isaac Adaka Boro, had also paraded himself as the General Officer commanding, the Niger Delta Commander Force and leader of the Liberation Government. He campaigned intensely for resource control and had formed a band of fighters whom he trained in the use of explosives and arms and he also proclaimed the Ijaw Republic.
They blew up pipelines and engaged the police in a gun battle. He was charged, tried and convicted. Interestingly, Adaka Boro was later granted amnesty by the Yakubu Gowon Government. Isaac Adaka Boro was a graduate of Chemistry from the University of Nigeria, Nssuka, but unfortunately, he died in mysterious circumstances in Okirika.
GKJ at all times, remained throughout Isaac Adaka Boro’s travails, his effective and powerful Attorney, who also assisted in getting a reprieve for Adaka Boro, from the General Yakubu Gowon’s Government.
In GKJ’s law firm, his associates were- Godwin Adoki, Grace B. Ogbemi, C.N Okoli, Jacob O. Tomisin, Peter J. Thomas, M.T Mbu, Modupe F. Alakija, Louis Mbanefo SAN, Shola Rhodes, Bisi Akodu (Nee Moore) Stella Amachree, Godfrey Udenze, Folarin Alatise, John Anyansi, S.S Arthurworrey, C.D Blankson, Nkechi Nwosu, Alero Ogbemi and many others.
THE MAN OF MANY PARTS
Aside from his successful Law Practice, GKJ was also a man of many parts. He was a quintessential sports man. He featured actively in sports in his Under Graduate days in the University and was the captain of the University’s football team. He was the first Nigerian Chairman of the Nigerian Football Association. He was a horse racing enthusiast, with his own race horses and remained throughout, a distinguished member of the Lagos polo club.
As a Nigerian Patriot, he was on the side of the Nigerian Government, during the Biafran civil war of 1967-1970. He led several Federal Government delegations, in search of a peaceful settlement to end the war. As a board room guru, he was Chairman and Director of many reputable National and multinational companies and he pioneered indigenous investments in the oil exploration and air chatter business in Nigeria.
He was chairman of Delta Maritime & Aeronautical Co Limited, Tradewings cargo airline Co, Delta Oil Limited, United Distillers & Vitners Limited, Chellarams & Sons Limited, Pabod Breweries Limited, Radiators Nigeria Limited, Delta Minerals Limited, Thomas Wyatt & Sons Limited, Republic Fisheries Limited, Delta Avionics Limited, CECA Nigeria Limited- (suppliers of drilling mud, chemicals & oilfield.)
GKJ kept an amazing loyalty to his friends. His best friend was Charles Dadi Onyeama, whom he had met as students, in Government College, Umuahia. Justice Onyeama later rose to become the first Nigerian Judge at the International World Court. His other close friends were M.A Fagbayi, Justice Duro Adebiyi, Modupe Alakija’s father, Hillary Oni-Anyaru, Ambassador Ade Martins, Ambassador Alex Queson Sacky from Ghana and his African-American friends were- Tom Shropshire, George Norford, & Percy Sutton.
He also enjoyed the company of his English friends- Col William Webb DSO,OBE,JP & Peter Shand Kydd- the former stepfather of Diana, Princess of Wales.
The church and the laity of his home church- the Saint Michael’s church, Buguma, would forever adore, appreciate and recognize GKJ’s contributions, to the development of his local church and evangelism in the Niger Delta.
GKJ was married to Wylda, an African American, who only recently pre-deceased him, but he is survived by 9 children and numerous relatives.
It is now a clarion call for the Nigerian Government, the Nigerian Bar and the Rivers State Government, to establish monuments that would perpetually etch the name of this distinguished lawyer and quintessential administrator in the hearts of the people.
GKJ, the Kalabari lawyer, Nigeria’s legal icon, international diplomat and states man, sports administrator and philanthropist, joined the saints triumphant on the 27th of February, 1999. May his soul continue to find peaceful repose with the Lord.
Hon. (Barr.) Femi Kehinde
Former Member, House of Representatives National Assembly Abuja, representing Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State, (1999-2003) & Principal Partner Femi Kehinde & Co (Solicitors) 84, Iwo Road, Ibadan.