|Urhobo Historical Society|
Remembering Dr. Muadiaga Odje, A Pioneer in Legal Matters
Dr. Mudiaga Odje, SAN (OFR): A Bright Jewel Lives On1
By Daniel Obiomah
Dr. Mudiaga Odje is dead. It behooves every Urhobo person to pay tribute to him. He made ample success of his chosen career and never indulged in weeping and blaming others for his failures. He was a bright jewel on Urhobo attire. It goes far beyond this indeed.
Warri is the cradle of Urhobo progress and unity despite natural hiccups. Name any of our early Urhobo potentials, but he was one who cut his success teeth in Warri – Chief Mukoro Mowoe, Chief J. Obahor, Chief Okpodu, Hon. P.K. Tabiowo, Chief A.T. Rerri, Chiefs Mowarin, Okoh; Mr. Ighakpata, Akpoyovware, Chief (Mrs.) Alice Obahoar. Warri therefore, is the great pride of Urhobo nation. Anyone who helped Warri out of the thraldom thrust upon it and its Urhobo owners by colonialism did more, (to adapt Oliver Goldsmith) to the Urhobo population than he who forever talks of Urhobo progress without daring to stick his neck out for Warri.
This, Dr. Mudiaga Odje did. I knew Dr. Odje as far back as the mid – 1950s. He was a teacher in UPU’s Urhobo College, Effurun (which started off in Warri). We were friendly though not such chums that sat over beer in a happy chat. But when we met, it was as cordial friends who were aware that they could rely on each other.
It happened that we met as members at the 1977/78 Constituent Assembly, which produced the 1979 Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution, which has since become a model for subsequent ones. Up to that moment there had been entrenched in the 1963 Constitution a clause, which discriminated against Agharha-Urhobo and everyone else in favour of a rival ethnic group generally regarded as powerful and dangerously vindictive as a bear.
My duty at the Constituent Assembly was to expunge the inappropriate discriminatory clause already in the Draft Constitution to be considered. Because I know I was watched for attack and obstruction, I made it a point to work behind the scenes. In this regard, I teamed up without show with the women members of the assembly who were determined to save women from discrimination. We produced a draft motion for debate and approval by the assembly. My name was not, as a matter of diplomacy, on the motion. But before it was sent to the clerk of the House for inclusion in the order paper, I took it to Dr. Mudiaga Odje who vetted it, ensuring that it closed for good the discrimination aimed at Agbarha but against all Urhobo. In due course, the motion was called to be moved and debated. It was moved and seconded. There was no counter motion. It was put to the vote and endorsed unanimously! This amendment to the Draft Constitution and the 1963 Constitution then appeared in the 1979, and now in the 1999 Constitution.
Dr. Mudiaga Odje had given his weighty support as it were to the children of Israel freed from Egypt. It was like heaving the rock from the Resurrection Tomb. All is well
That was not all. We, Agbarha, Warri-Urhobo were sued to court by adversaries who should be friends. Why? We dared to assert our independence and sovereignty following the constitutional amendment. Dr. Mudiaga Odje stood by the Agbarha people without a fee. He won. In due course, of his own volition in order to fortify my own effort, he gave me, without a fee two legal authorities.
The Agbarha Urhobo says, “Arha mre Oghene ne ene-e.” You cannot pay more homage to God than this, that is, best is best, there cannot be a better.
Oho re Izegede!2
Take a message to Oyivwi3
Tell Oyivwi Mission complete
It is the dream come true.
Say also you were labourer in the vineyard with
M.G. Ejaife and Igho to spread knowledge now prolific throughout the land.
It is a common quote from Shakespeare that:
“The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred with their bones.”
It will not be so with you. All Urhobo acclaim you and with
Long fellow say:
“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of times.”
You have left bold footprints on the sands of time
Ohorizegede! Ohorizegede! Ohorizegede!!
Your family mourns you, but are proud of you.
♥ ♥ ♥
Mudiaga Odje (SAN): A Veteran Lives On4
By Dafe Omoko
An iroko tree has fallen. A man who provided cover not only to the Urhobo nation, but to the entire country has departed this world for the great beyond. And since his demise, dignitaries within and outside the legal profession have been attesting to the fact that he contributed immensely to the development of our legal system. He also worked tirelessly to change the destiny of the Urhobo of Warri, especially in the celebrated Supreme Court case No. SC/309/74. If not for him, the story of the Urhobo of Warri would have been different today.
His contribution to the growth of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) alongside Dr. Esiri, late Chief Daniel Okumagba (of blessed memory) was priceless. They all combined tirelessly to maintain the legacy of the likes of late Chief Mukoro Mowoe, Chief Salubi, and Chief Sam-Warri Esi, who ensured the Urhobo spoke with one voice and won their battles in a manner devoid of distrust, hatred and disunity. No wonder their authority was never challenged or questioned. It was a period the Urhobo nation was held in high esteem by other ethnic groups in the defunct Bendel State and indeed Nigeria.
Then, the leadership of the UPU meant authority to every Urhobo man on earth, even in politics. There was no dissenting voice. The whole Urhobo nation respected the candidature of late Chief Daniel Okumagba who was the governorship candidate of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). This was why the NPN got more than the 25 per cent vote required for Alhaji Shehu Shagari in Bendel State to become the president of Nigeria in the 122/3 saga against all expectations. Though Chief Daniel Okumagba did not win the governorship race due to the gang up of the other ethnic groups, the political might of the Urhobo was respected and recognized to date.
Dr. Odje was a man who valued education and knew its importance to the development of man, hence he preached the sermon of education to the upcoming generation. He ensured that his seven siblings (all male) read up to university level, and also made history in Delta State by making five successful lawyers out of his seven male children; while the other two are also doing fine as university professor and accountant outside the shores of our country. He did not limit his interest in the education of his children, he also assisted in educating others.
This is the story of the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in Urhoboland, Dr. Mudiaga Odje (OFR), who transited into the great beyond peacefully at about 6:30p.m. on Friday December 9, 2005 at the ripe age of 82 years.
After the death of the legal icon was made known to the public by one of his sons, Barrister Okiemute Odje, relations and friends from all walks of life have been trooping to his G.R.A Warri residence to register their condolence, making the once quiet area busy. Notable and highly distinguished Nigerians have since been registering their condolence. Honourable Justice E.O. Akporido of Effurun High Court described late Chief Odje as a great man who contributed immensely to the development of law in Nigeria. While Hon. Justice (Mrs.) E. Akperi of the same court described him as a source of encouragement to the younger generation. Hon. Justice R.N Pemu simply described him as a rare gem.
On his part, Barrister Albert Akpomude (SAN) who worked under Chief Odje said his former boss was “the icon of the NBA, the lone star of the Warri branch of NBA, and a foremost lawyer in Urhobo nation.” The incumbent chairman of NBA, Warri chapter, Ojo Abijogun simply said: “An iroko has collapsed, our foundation has shaken,” while another legal luminary in Urhoboland, Chief Okpoko (SAN) described Chief Odje as a merchant of honour.
An Itsekiri historian, J.O Ayomike in his brief comment described Dr. Odje as a good man. While another prominent Itsekiri figure, Chief O. Temile stated that “Chief (Dr.) Mudiaga Odje was a very jovial and friendly man.” Chief F.O. Esiri, one of Dr. Odje’s contemporaries simply said: “Rest in peace after a job well done.”
Speaking in the same vein, one of the children of the deceased, Barrister Okiemute Odje, said: “Daddy has not died, he has gone home. He has fought a good fight. And he has achieved everything a man could ever wish for. All we need is prayers and strength to give him a befitting farewell. “His admirers should begin to celebrate, to thank God, and wish to have another great Urhobo man who would be able to take his position.”
Dr. Mudiaga Odje (SAN) OFR was born in Evwreni, Ughelli North local government area of Delta State. Between 1934 and 1940, he attended Catholic Primary School, Evwreni and Anglican School, Warri, for his primary education and teacher’s training course. He also trained at the Government Teachers’ Training College in Warri from 1944-1945, thereafter, he taught at the N.A. Schools in Uzere and Ughelli, the Salvation Army School, Sapele, and Urhobo College, Effurun between 1946 and 1954.
He read law at the University College and the School of Original and African Studies, both of the London University, and successfully completed the legal profession course at the Council of Legal Education, London, and was duly called to the English bar by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, London.
He returned to Nigeria in July 1961, but went back to London three years later to complete his doctoral programme. Until his death, he was mainly engaged in private legal practice, but also devoted time for national and other professional obligations outside the country.
Dr. Odje was called to the English Bar on February 9, 1960 and enrolled at the then Federal Supreme Court of Nigeria on July 24, 1961. He became a fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers in December 1976, and was conferred with the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on January 12, 1978. He was later conferred with the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) in October 1982.
He was the leading counsel, Hon. Justice Begho Tribunal that probed assets of former public officers of Midwestern Region, Benin City, in 1966; member of the Midwestern Nigeria Delegation to the ad hoc constitutional conference in Lagos between 1966 and 1967; president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) from 1974-1976, and was elected to represent Ughelli and Isoko local government in 1979. He was chairman, Odje Commission of Inquiry, Bendel State from 1975-1976; chairman, Federal Government commission for in-depth study of the Nigeria /Benin boundary dispute, including the maritime sector between 1989 and 1990.
Dr. Odje became a life bencher on March 30,1989 and was past chairman of the Honourable Body of Benchers of Nigeria from 1996 – 1997. He was also responsible for the admission and call of new entrants to the Nigeria Bar during this period, and was the chancellor of the Diocese of Ughelli, as well as legal adviser of the Diocese of Warri, both of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), and member, Oputa Human Rights Violation Panel of Inquiry.
Odje was a holder of four chieftaincy titles, including Olorogun and Okakuro in Urhoboland and Delta State. He will be greatly missed by his wife, Chief (Mrs.) Paulinah O. Odje (JP); children, family, colleagues, friends and staff for his love, support, humane and kind disposition to those who came in contact with him, one way or the other.
♥ ♥ ♥
Late Odje Added Value to Lives
By Francis Daniel-Okumagba
Olorogun Francis Daniel-Okumagba has said the late Chief (Dr.) Mudiaga Odje (SAN) added value to many lives while on earth.
In a chat with The Urhobo Voice during the service of songs for the one-time Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) president, the renowned banker recalled that his father (Chief Daniel Okumagba) and late Chief Odje impacted on their environments.
“Look at the houses Chief Okumagba and Chief Odje lived in, you would know the kind of morals they had,” he added, remarking that the two men would have made a lot of wealth, but “they confined themselves to the little they had because they were not interested in making dubious money; what they were interested in was adding value to life.”
He said the legacies which they (children of both men) received from their fathers centred on selflessness and love for their nieghbours, describing Chief Daniel Okumagba and Chief Odje as two great men who fought for the growth of the Urhobo nation.
“It would be rare to have such people today,” he declared, tracing the friendship between his father and Chief Odje to the early 20s when they were teachers at Urhobo College, Effurun.
In a related development, Chief Yoma Esiso has described the death of Chief Odje as a loss not only to the Urhobo nation, but to the country. Esiso, who was present at the burial, urged the children of the late deceased to sustain the legacy their father left behind.
On his part, a frontline politician in Delta, Chief Okiemute Majemite described Chief Odje as a collossus in the legal profession.
The Agbarha Otor-born politician, who is also a lawyer suggested that the likes of Chief Odje should be immortalized, and called on upcoming lawyers to emulate the deceased.
♥ ♥ ♥
How Odje Was Laid to Final Rest5
By Dafe Omoko
The life and time of Chief (Dr.) Mudiaga Odje was during the past weekend celebrated in a colourful ceremony that could best be described as a burial carnival as the high and low in Nigeria attended the three-day burial ceremony which took place in both Warri and Evwreni.
The burial carnival which started with service of songs at late Chief (Dr.) Odje’s Warri GRA residence on Thursday, January 26 was conducted in a grand style. A popular Warri-based master of ceremony called Pecee confessed to The Urhobo Voice that he was in awe at the turn out of eminent personalities at the service of song to the extent that he was careful while acknowledging names of distinguished personalities present in order not to offend anyone.
The service of songs that took place between the hours of 4pm to 6pm also witnessed a reunion of loved ones, particularly amongst relations and friends. The premises of Dr. Odje’s residence and indeed the length and breadth of the quiet GRA Road was jam-packed with people who came from far and near to pay their last respect to the late sage.
The next day which was Friday, January 27, 2006 was more eventful. This was the day the legal icon received his dues from members of the profession, which he helped to build.
After a brief stopover at his residence, the late legal luminary was then taken to High Court (I) Warri where a valedictory court session described by many as first of its kind was held in his honour. The court session was attended by all sections of the judiciary including the bar and bench. In spite of the strict restriction of admission into the court hall, it could not contain the eminent lawyers as well as magistrates from within and outside Delta State, who struggled to gain entrance into it, to no avail. Meanwhile, canopies were erected at the wings of the congested court hall to take care of those who could not get into the hall, including relations and friends of the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in Urhoboland. The pitiable scenario actually called for building of modern court hall in the state.
The Delta State Chief Judge, Justice R. Bozimo was in charge of proceedings. She was flanked on both sides by the president of Delta State Customary Court of Appeal and another high court judge. Time and space would not permit one to recount the encomiums poured on late Chief (Dr.) Odje (SAN). The Agbarha-Warri Delta State born chief judge was the first to read her speech. She was followed by the Minister for Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN), the Delta State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, Professor Amos Utuama (SAN), and a host of others including the secretary-general of Nigerian Bar Association, Minimo Watson-Jack who presented a speech on behalf of the national president of the association, president of the Warri branch of NBA, Mr. Ojo M. Abijogun, Hon. F.F. Tabai (JCA), who presented an unprepared speech on behalf of all the lawyers who passed through the tutelage of Chief (Dr.) Mudiaga Odje. A Benin-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Asawata spoke on behalf of all the Senior Advocates of Nigeria. He acknowledged in his speech that Dr. Odje was a saint and he harmoniously substantiated his points with several verses from the Holy Scripture to the admiration of all. The valedictory speech was wrapped up by another legal luminary in Urhoboland, Chief T.J. Okpoko (SAN), who is the leader of the Warri branch of NBA.
After Chief Okpoko’s speech, the remains of late Chief (Dr.) Mudiaga Odje (SAN, OFR) was driven in a motorcade to the St. Andrews Anglican Cathedral Okere Road, Warri where a church service was conducted.
Here again, there was a problem of space as a result of the multitude of people from all walks of life, who went there to pray for the repose of the soul of the man who changed the legal destiny of the Urhobo of Warri in the celebrated Supreme Court case No. S/309/74.
The presence of Governor James Ibori, his deputy, Chief Benjamin Elue, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Senator Felix Ibru, Chief Ighoyota Amori (JP) were announced at the pulpit with apology to the array of other eminent personalities who were present but whose presence could not be acknowledged due to lack of time.
However, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor of World of Life Bible Church, Rev. Father Ambrose Abaka Oghenejode of the Roman Catholic Church, Chief Ray Inije, Yoma Esiso, Chief Adolor Okotie-Eboh, Justice Niki Tobi of the Supreme Court, Justice F.F. Tabai, Chief Efe Akpofure (SAN) and a host of other highly placed personalities were present at the church service.
Immediately after the church service, Dr. Mudiaga Odje (SAN) made his final journey to his hometown of Evwreni where he was received like a hero (of which he was) by thousands of natives who were seen clad in a specially designed textile material with the photograph of late Chief (Dr.) Odje on it, dancing and singing in praises of him.
Meanwhile it was celebration galore in the posh residence of late Chief (Dr.) Odje. The premises was wide enough to contain about eight canopies including the final resting home of the late sage which was described by many as one of the best tomb in this part of the state. Caterers were at different spots including the nearby primary school to attend to people without discrimination of any kind. A gospel musical band was also on hand to entertain with the latest gospel music in town.
On Sunday, January 29, 2006 an outing service was held in honour of the late Urhobo patriot at the St. Paul Anglican Church Evwreni. Again, a galaxy of who is who in Urhoboland and indeed Delta State attended the outing service. The outing service was wrapped up with a superb reception at the residence of late Chief Odje. Present at the service were HRM Ohworode of Olomu Kingdom, Mr. Albert Akpomudje (SAN), Yoma Esiso, the publisher of The Urhobo Voice newspapers, Chief Oghenemure M. Imene and a host of others too numerous to mention.
1 Culled from Weekend Urhobo Voice, Thursday May 4 – Thursday, May 11, 2006, page 20.
2 Oho re Izegede would be Mudiaga Odje’s self-name (odova) by which he was called in courtly assemblies among his Urhobo colleagues.
3 Oyivwi is the favourite moniker among the Urhobo people for Chief Mukoro Mowoe.
4 Culled from The Urhobo Voice, December 26, 2005, page 22.
5 Culled from The Urhobo Voice, February 13, 2006, page 8.