‘Pupilage, key to successful law practice’

Nelson Chilotam Onuoha is an indigene of Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. Onuoha, a multiple award winner, including National Prize for Overall Third Best student in Corporate Law Practice, is an alumnus of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Onuoha, who was called to Bar in 2017 shared his journey into the legal profession with JOHN CHIKEZIE





My name is Nelson Chilotam Onuoha, a driven, dedicated and adaptable legal practitioner. I hail from Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State in Nigeria. I completed my elementary education at Ebonyi State University Staff Primary School and post-primary education at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Ezzamgbo before proceeding to Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka while graduating with a CGPA of 4.27 on a 5 point scale.

Upon obtaining my bachelor’s degree in Law in 2016,


I proceeded to the Nigerian Law School and thereafter was admitted to practice law in Nigeria in 2017.


I won the National Prize for Overall Third Best student in Corporate Law Practice.


I also obtained a certification in Intellectual Property from the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2018 with distinction; and a certification in Oil & Gas Operations and Markets from Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA in 2019. I am an Associate member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK) and a Member of the Association of Young Arbitrators.


Choice of career


In all honesty, I actually decided to study law in Junior Secondary School after I saw a TV series “Boston Legal.” I was endeared by the character of Allan Shore, an immaculate advocate with an acute mind. I became very fascinated about being able to practice law with such expertise and profundity.



When I actually did begin to study law courses, I found out that I had a strong knack for it. I participated in many Moot court competitions as an undergraduate and I held the position of Attorney-General of the Law Students’ Association of the University.



I was motivated to practice law to attain expertise and deepen my understanding of how to apply knowledge and skill to achieve the best results and outcomes for my clients. My ultimate goal is to provide pragmatic and lasting solutions to people’s legal and business problems in the fastest and easiest possible way. I was also motivated to explore and exploit new and innovative areas in law.




Before I was admitted to practice law, I interned with the law firm of Anwu B. Anwu during my long holidays. It was an exhilarating and engaging experience because my principal ensured that I had a firsthand exposure to different aspects of legal practice: litigation, property & real estate and corporate/commercial.  I owe so much to the firm for giving me my first taste of legal practice; it was no small taste.


In partial fulfilment for being admitted to the Nigerian Bar, I also carried out my two months externship programme at D.O. Nwodoh & Associates law firm where I was also exposed to the dynamics of legal practice.


Upon being called to the Nigerian Bar, I proceeded to observe my one year National Youth Service Corps programme at the law firm of Solola & Akpana, a top tier law firm with offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, providing optimum legal services in a wide range of sectors including Dispute resolution, Energy, Oil & Gas, Taxation, Intellectual property, Construction, Shipping/Maritime, Corporate secretaryship, Corporate/Commercial amongst others.



After my youth service, I was retained as an Associate in the firm’s Energy/Natural Resources and Dispute Resolution practice areas.


Evaluation of judiciary in terms of justice delivery in the past 3 years



In recent times, justice delivery has been slow. Court dockets are laden with unheard matters. This delay is not just a fault of the Bench but also the Bar.  Cases remain in the court of first instance for as much as 10 – 12 years. When judgment is eventually delivered, an appeal against that judgment to the Court of Appeal remains pending for 3-5 years and thereafter an appeal to the Supreme Court could remain pending for as much as 6-7 years; making a cumulative of 24 years for parties to eventually get justice.



Justice delayed is justice denied. Measures must be taken to ensure a more speedy dispensation of justice else what might be eventually dispensed would be anything but justice.


I suggest that the Chief Judges heading respective State judiciaries should make rules mandating certain disputes to be exclusively resolved by Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms like Arbitration and Mediation. These would lessen the burden on judges whilst ensuring that those disputes are quickly and even more amicably resolved. Not every dispute should be determined by the courts.


I would also recommend that other state judiciaries borrow a leaf from the Lagos State Judiciary and set up Small Claims Courts to hear and determine disputes or claims involving a certain amount of money or subject matter; this will ensure better speed and expeditiousness in resolving such claims whilst also reducing the burden on High Court Judges.


Judges must also be constantly reminded to stay abreast with the ever changing position of the law. Law is very dynamic, legal principles and considerations drastically change over time. There is a Latin maxim “Ignorantia judicis est calamitas innocentis” which means “The ignorance of the Judge is the calamity of the innocent.” Where a Judge is bereft of current legal principles and laws, you can only imagine the miscarriage of justice that will be occasioned.



Separation of powers



The Nigerian Constitution requires the separation of powers amongst the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. These arms of government are to ensure independence of each other in carrying out their functions even though they are all geared towards the same goal of good governance.


It would be telling a blatant lie to state that the Nigerian judiciary has been observing this independence in recent times. It is visible to the blind and audible to the deaf that, in recent times, the Nigerian judiciary has been largely influenced by the executive arm in carrying out its function. To assert otherwise would be to sink in self-denial.



However, being a progressive and an optimist, I believe and truly hope that someday the judiciary would assert its independence once again and carry out its function strictly based on the rule of law which is the linchpin and lifeblood of any democracy. Until then, we will continue to sing the nunc dimittis over the independence of the Judiciary.



Federal government’s penchant for disobedience of court orders under President Muhammadu Buhari’s led administration



The rule of law requires that all persons must obey and comply with Court orders. An order of court, until set aside, remains binding.


Where the executive constantly flouts or disregards court orders then what you have is Anarchy and not Democracy. Without law and order, Man is no better than an animal.


For the Executive to disobey an order of Court is not only irresponsible but utterly reprehensible. It does not only undermine the powers of the Court but it is a sheer defilement of the Constitution which is the basis and bedrock upon which this Country is built.


Death penalty as punishment to curb crime or an offence of hate speech


On issues of the propriety or otherwise of the death penalty, my views are a bit of the conventional, blood and thunder type.


I hold tenaciously to the view that the death penalty is appropriate for the offence of murder. He who kills by the sword should also die by the sword; what you give is what you should get, is the order of things.


However, I do not think the death penalty is appropriate for other offences. A good length of imprisonment should serve as sufficient deterrent and reformatory punishment for any felon.



I do not think that imposing the death penalty for certain crimes will ultimately deter persons from committing those crimes. It would appear that there are many motives and reasons that prompt people to engage in criminal activities; I believe that these persons do not consider or give two hoots about the punishment they would be made to face if they are caught.


Imposing the death penalty for offences other than murder is, to me, quite needless.






Expertise! I hope to achieve expertise. My ultimate goal is to become and remain an expert in dispute resolution in a wide range of subject matters: Oil & Gas, Intellectual Property, Sports Law, Taxation; and Shipping & Admiralty.

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