By now, some students would have been unlawfully expelled from the University; a former governor would have been arrested; an innocent bread winner of a family would have been jailed; a popular publisher and defender of the truth would have still been in detention; many people would have lost their rightful belongings to stealers had it not been for the name J.S.Okutepa.
When I heard the triumphant trumpet of Engr. Musa Wada's victory at the Appeal Court yesterday, I knew that an oppressor has, once a gain, been put to shame as Okutepa was the man debating at the bar. I knew that another soul has been saved from oppression because of that same name Okutepa.
But who is Okutepa? What manner of human is he? I asked myself, then I picked up my pen to pen.
The journey the culminated a farmer, Jibrin Samuel Okutepa into a liberator today is worth retrospection. Perhaps, the story would touch young men of my ilk just as his name has become our shield against oppression.
The dynamic legal luminary, J.S.Okutepa SAN who is the Principal Partner/Managing Solicitor and Advocate at J.S.Okutepa SAN and Company was once a Farmer, Typist, Fireman, Auto Mechanic, then to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria that he is today.
In an interview with J.S Okutepa. the learned silk said he was told that he was born on the 1st January 1960. According to him, he said so because he came from a family that was completely illiterate, it was his late uncle Sargent Abraham Amodu Egbunu Uwani, a very intelligent man that told him the story about his birth. His dad of blessed memory was a complete farmer and a Muslim.
Okutepa who was born in Ofekpe, hailed from Apaya, Iga Ofii in Kogi State and was born into a Muslim family of six; 2 girls and 4 boys and he is the 2nd to the last child. His late uncle also told him how his mother laboured for 3 days to give birth to him with excruciating pains. With heavy heart, he said his birth was as excruciating as his growing up.
On becoming an Automobile Mechanic, the SAN said In 1977/78 he ran away from the village and went to his elder brother at Idah Kogi State where he ended up learning Motorcycle Mechanic and became perfect in it. He later extended to learning how to repair Motor cars and also began to do Motor Mechanic and did this for couple of years.
Okutepa became a typist when his elder brother took him to Enugu and enrolled him in a place called Igwebiuke Commercial Institute, No.47 Ogidi Street Ogui Road Enugu. However, he made his way to Takum Local Government primary school where he obtained his First School Leaving Certificate (FSLC) in 1980 amidst several challenges life presented him with.
The Legal lord eventually got recruited into the Police quite alright, around 1980 but God had other plans for him. His refusal to bribe for juicy posting ended his police job and as God would have it, his recruitment to Fire Service application became successful. He underwent training under the Benue State Fire Service School and became a fireman.
After series of struggles in excruciating pain his growing up was garnished with, he got admission to study law in the University of Jos and graduated with LL.B (Hons) 2nd class lower in 1990. He furthered to the Nigerian Law School in 1990/1991 and was called to the Nigerian Bar on the 12th December, 1991. He said he passed his Bar finals with 2nd class lower too.
Okutepa who started his legal practice consistently from 19th December, 1991 till today without venturing into anything else got the rank of a SAN in 2011 and he was the only person conferred with the rank from Kogi State that year.
However, the turning point in his legal practice was when he took a matter involving 37 students of Benue State University who were unjustly expelled during the military regime. The students were demonstrating and a member of the Armed Force ruling counsel fell into their net.
The military Government of Benue State then wasn’t happy that a very top ranking officer could be so humiliated by student and so 37 of the “ring leaders” were expelled. He was told by the students that all the lawyers in the state they approached declined to take their brief, so he took it and filed fundamental enforcement on their behalf. According to him, he slept in the office for 3 days because the case generated so many interests but he was not scared because he believed every work had its own hazard.
Even when he was reminded of decree number 2, he believed no soldier could pick him because he did not commit any offence. He said all he knew was that he was only doing his legal work with his whole heart and with an evangelical commitment. He won the matter at both the high court and at the Court of Appeal Jos, despite all efforts to frustrate the proceedings, and court ordered the restatement of the students and it happened. He was later told that one of students became the overall best graduating student.
People began to look for him on account of that case. That was when late chief Godwin Dabo Azuana looked for him and he became his lawyer. The case also connected him to prominent indigenes of the state.
Similarly, he did another one for 109 students of University of Agriculture. To Okutepa, it was this dedication to ensure that the voiceless get justice at no cost that helped him. Even as a Senior Advocate, he has a Department in his office called Pro-Bono Department where they take up the cause of the oppressed for no cost.
As a fearless man who wouldn't cross fingers and watch impunity thrive in our society, Okutepa his been one lawyer interested in making sure oppressors don't go scot free. In the case of SARS VS a popular activist, Comrade Austin Usman Okai, Okutepa stepped in to make sure excuses of those men are curtailed.
When men operate with intelligence, they succeed only within the ambit of their own knowledge but he who operates with wisdom is unlimited. Though, intelligence and wisdom lay parallel but never are they the same. Okutepa uses the later coupled with his evangelical commitment to stand out as a legal lord among lawyers. He said he would like to be remembered for fighting for justice for the poor and the oppressed and history who holds unbiased records of all humans already have a bogus place for him.
History will be nice on J.S Okutepa as he stands as the symbol of encouragement to young lawyers, an inspiration to to less privileged young people and the hope to the hopeless.
As Okutepa continues to oppress our oppressors and restoring hopes to the hopeless, we are certain that all troublers of the people of Kogi State will be put to shame and stolen mandates shall be restored as he is partially interested in liberating Kogi State from all oppression.
USMAN Okai Austin
Written from Abuja