At 60, Sir Dennis Ekumankama would readily tell you that years have taught him great lessons about life. He counts himself lucky to be a survivor of several setbacks that were enough to send him out of the scene, including the initial obstacle of being born in an environment that lacked modern healthcare.
“I survived infant mortality that was high when I was born. Later I survived the civil war,” he intones deeply.
But war did not let go without a scar. Because of the problem that came with it, at a time he should have been leaving secondary school, he was rather enrolling. He was just one of the millions of children of his generation whose education and course of life was altered by the war in the Biafran side of the divide.
Ekumankama tells his long story spanning 60 years as his family, friends and associates plan to host him today. He announces himself as one of the kids born into rural areas where health facilities were entirely lacking.
“My parents told me that mum gave birth to me at home unattended to by any medical officer. She returned from the farm that day, July 13, 1953 and suddenly went into labour, after which she had a baby boy. Surviving childhood those days was as tough and unaided as the process of birth. But God destined that some must survive at a generation most children died of ailments preventable today.”
He recalls that: “I passed out of primary school in 1965 in my village, Amangwu Edda and was to enroll in secondary school in 1966 when the war broke. I had taken the common entrance intending to enroll in the Ikom County Secondary School when the problems became unbearable and my uncle I lived with, a tax assessment officer in Ikom, had to send me home to Edda (Ebonyi State) to watch things. On my return, things turned worst, such that all my family had to migrate as internally displaced persons that lived in the bush for years. It was a crisis of high proportion that nobody mentioned anything about school enrolment. The paramount factor was survival, and this was even a tall order in the bush in Abam (now in Abia State) where we lived for all the years the war lasted. So, registering in a secondary school, had to wait until 1970 when the war was over. As we returned to our native abode in Edda. Having lost everything to the war it was time again to start picking the pieces. The hardship was enormous.”
After the war, it took the intervention of another uncle of his, the late Justice Onu Ekumankama to enroll him in Ishiagu High School, a neighbouring town.
“I keep saying that the intervention of my uncle was God’s kindness at work because after the war, things were not easy at all,” he recalls.
In 1975, he was done with secondary education. With a good result, he immediately secured a job to teach at the Omobo Primary School, Akaeze, a town just next to where he had his secondary education. This didn’t last long as his quest for further education pushed him to enroll for his HSC and A’Level programmes. On making three subjects at the A’Level, he was uploaded to teach in a secondary school. His teaching career lasted till 1978, when as part of the first batch of candidates to take the Joint Matriculation Board Examination, JAMB, he got direct entry admission to read law in the University of Lagos, Unilag.
“I can say God had intended from the beginning that I would be a lawyer, because prior to my admission to Unilag, I had made failed attempts to get admission in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to read Sociology/Anthropology or Political Science.” He was called to the Bar in 1982.
“Those days, there were ample opportunities for lawyers to be engaged after service. That was how the law firm in Makurdi, Benue State where I served, employed me. I worked one year there with the Osman & Co, Fati Chambers and commenced my personal practice and firm the following year. Good enough, my principal at the place I served and worked for one year, Chief Mamman Mike Osman gave his blessings and all the support to commence my private practice.” A little after he started his private practice, the returns for a successful career manifested in his buying his first car, a 505 Peugeot at N11, 000. That was the first major breakthrough he had from his Dennis Ekumankama & Co, Harmony Chambers because “the car made practice easier for me as God’s kindness made everything I handled in my career a success.”
He furthered his success run in November 1987 when he got married. That union with Rose Chinny is blessed with eight children, two of whom have already graduated and two others in the universities.
If the war that cost him four years of his education was a setback, it was just temporary because Ekumankama later outgrew the lapses and picked up speed to regain the lost years.
“While in practice, I felt it necessary to further my education, so I enrolled for a Masters degree in law at the Abia State University, a certificate I picked in 1991. I attended lectures in Abia from my base in Makurdi while still practising and managing my family. After my LLM, it was just some years before I felt the urge again to take the effort some notches higher.”
Soon, the dividends of his new status started rolling in with a job to help develop the Law Faculty of the Benue State University, Makurdi. He also made good input in commencing the postgraduate law programme in the faculty and also served as the first coordinator of postgraduate law programmes of the university.
In 1996, he stretched his appetite for education by publishing his first book – Law and Development of the LGA in Nigeria.
“With sense of modesty, that was an era of the dearth of legal literature in local government law. In my research for the book, what I found were books by social scientists on the subject and not even a single reference in law, apart from monographs and workshop papers,” he says.
After his outing as an author, the following year, he was appointed to the elections petitions tribunal of Ebonyi State on local government elections. Maybe, the appointment reminded Ekumankama that he still had something lacking about his legal quest, as he soon returned to the classroom as a student in 1998 at the University of Jos where he enrolled and did his PhD in Law. He actualized the course meant for a minimum of three years in just two years. But the school authorities delayed his final defence till it was three years since his enrollment. At this time, his interest in law had started tilting towards the major rave of the moment – financial crimes. So that was the focus of his doctorate thesis – Financial Crimes as Impediment to the Development of Nigeria.
He was still awaiting the final lap of his doctorate when nature showed him a sunnier side with his appointment to the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC. “Whenever I remember my appointment to the CAC at the point it was undergoing reorganization in 2001, I still feel this sense of gratitude to my brother, the then Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim (now the Secretary to the Government of the Federation). Then he had suggested to me the need to change location and leave Makurdi where I had lived for 20 years since my youth service. His argument was that my legal practice had grown and would be better if taken to a larger space like Abuja. That brotherly suggestion later worked out better things. As I was leaving for Abuja it was when CAC was reorganizing and there was vacancy for people like me to drive the new idea. So, I applied and got employed in the CAC as Director/Secretary of the Commission through Anyim’s support. The reason for my appreciation of Anyim’s motivation that made me relocate to Abuja was another opportunity base, different from my 20 years of legal practice to do something different and also serve the nation in another capacity. I remained in CAC till June 2009. It was in that same month that the office of the chief executive of the CAC was vacant.”
As the next most senior officer, he automatically moved up to fill the gap in acting capacity. He was the Acting Registrar General/CEO till October 9, 2009 when a substantive chief executive was appointed. His exit or failure to be confirmed substantive CEO was one of the outcomes of the Head of Service’s rule then which was ratified by President Umar Yar’Adua that all officials that had served as directors for up to eight years in any federal establishment should retire. Alongside other directors caught in the track of the new rule, he had to leave CAC.
“So, I left without attaining the statutory 60 years of age or 35 years of service that is the general rule for retirement.”
But that was not without events according to him. He thumps his chest that: “When we joined the commission, things were like at the base level, but I thank God that I was part of the team that lifted and turned CAC around. We got there with a burdensome responsibility to make things better, and I am sure we did just that. We joined CAC when the office was somewhere in Area 11, Abuja. It was not befitting operating from there and the whole place was infested with touts and touting. The CAC was in a mess that no customers or clients wanted to have anything to do with it. Our quest for a new Commission made us move the office to somewhere in Wuse Zone 5. It was there we launched the CAC into online registration of companies in 2004. Such moves gave the body the right bearing for better business in a better environment, better trained staff, better motivation and challenges for taking the body to a world class business incorporation outfit. And with all sense of modesty, we got so much mileage in actualizing that dream, and even now that I am no longer there, I have no doubt that the spirit of growth and innovation is being sustained because the person that took over as the CEO was part of the innovative team. The effort culminated in the CAC moving to its present location in a wonderful environment and edifice in Maitama. Even as I speak to you, company registration, the major business of the CAC and a vital aspect of the drive of the nation’s economy to pro-market tracks and the encouragement of investment from citizens and foreigners is sure to be completed in just 24 hours using the online platform. There are instances and types of registrations that are made possible in just 24 hours. That is the benefit of foresight and the drive of our team that had a sight for the right stead for the commission. I remain always proud to say that I left the CAC in good standing and in far greater shape than I met it.”
While in the CAC, the workload and other encumbrances of his duty did not stop him tilting steadily to his academic inclinations. He still found time to write books on law even as secretary of the commission. One of them, which got the endorsement of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais who wrote the foreword, was Criminology and Penology: A Nigerian Perspective. The second was The Law, Corruption and Other Economic Crimes in Nigeria Today; Problems and Solutions. The books were presented in Abuja in November 2003. In 2004, in apparent appreciation of his contribution to the development of the Nigerian legal system, especially at laying a foundation towards attaining a corruption-free nation as suggested in his books and contributions to the development of the community, he was awarded a National Honour, MFR, by th administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The blessings and open doors has not stopped as between “2001 and 2008, I was blessed with three more children. Now I have in all eight lovely children, for which I am grateful to God for their lives and the joy they add to my life everyday. It is my prayer that God Almighty who blessed my life with these wonderful gifts would bestow on them excellent spirit to be of good and worthy service to Him and the society. Not just that, I insist that God’s word in Psalms 127 and 128 would be real in my life and that of my wife to see my children’s children, and if it pleases him to see my great grandchildren. So far, all my children are doing well. My first daughter is married, the first son has completed his youth service and one of them right now has decided to follow my steps and he is studying law.
Stint in politics
After his in the CAC, and following calls by his people for more service and representation, he joined politics with a view to vying for the senatorial seat of his region, Ebonyi South Senatorial District in the 2011 elections. His effort, however, ended at the primary contest level in the party selection. That done, he settled back to his core competence area – legal practice.
“I had to dust my wig and gown and revive fully my legal practice. I to re-opened the Dennis Ekumankama Chambers now in Abuja at Zone 6, Wuse. This time, I didn’t revive it as the Harmony Chambers as it was in Makurdi because I found that someone else uses that name. So, I renamed it Veritas Chambers.”
“Right now, I have completed my two new books. Soon, they would be out for the public. One of them is Government Integrity, Anti Corruption and the Law. This is essentially a compendium of papers I have written and published in the weekly Leadership Newspaper. In the book, I considered and x-rayed the meaning, scope of corruption, the causes, effects cost and, of course, the responses and recommendation for its control. I tried to highlight the issues in broad perspective and considered the role of the legal system, the legislature, budget implementation transparency, the rule of law and adherence to the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2007, the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Money Laundering Act, the EFCC and ICPC Acts as they all relate to the broader body of laws on corruption. The work will also expose the roles and relevance of the civil societies, the media, NGOs and the public in the control of corruption and in the management of the nation. My second book also about to be released is A Companion of Contemporary Company Law and Practice in Nigeria. The two will hit the market at the same time. This second book would provide details in Nigeria’s company laws in real terms and what commercial company operators need to know about company registration processes in the CAC. It is a work I started with my practical experience in the CAC over the years. I have dedicated the work to all workers of the CAC who worked tirelessly to reform the commission while I dedicated the work on corruption to all Nigerians and agencies that fight the war against corruption.
I am not yet a SAN. Not being a SAN yet, does not make me feel bad or feel like one who has not been appreciated or made enough impact to be recognized. I will also tell you that my practice was truncated by my exit to serve in the CAC. Right now, I am back fully in practice. But you should not forget that I have been a Notary Public for years. It is an honour certified and conferred on legal practitioners by the CJN. Again, being in the academia, I continue to contribute my quota in the development of the legal system in the nation through my books. I have been a resource person for years in various fora, including the International Symposium on Economic Crimes that holds in Cambridge, UK every year.
I am a Fellow of the Corporate Administrators of Nigeria; Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management; Member, Malaysian Institute of Management; Paul Harris Fellow of the Rotary International; Member of the IBB Golf Club; Knight of St. John International (KSJ) former Rotary President of District 9120 between 1998 and 1999 and many other honours and accomplishments.
Presently, I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, for which I am grateful to President Goodluck Jonathan for judging me fit to serve in that capacity, and I promise to contribute my all to improve on the state of the institution for a better nation.
Corruption in Nigeria
My position on corruption, an issue I have written much on and spoken about, is the belief that no one party, organ or entity can fight corruption in the system successfully. So, I have always advocated integrative action if we would succeed in arresting corruption before it totally ruins the nation.
I remain optimistic that with God on our side, the corruption situation in Nigeria can’t continue the same way. I have offered solutions on the way out of this mire in my works in the past and ready to offer more in the future. I say with all boldness that the government needs to do more in demonstrating the willingness to fight corruption, and that should include motivating Nigerian workers enough to distract them from condoning and breeding corruption. To do this, we have to pay the worker better, assure him that his labour is not in vain. Let us not create work environment to encourage discrimination of one in favour of the other by reason of any form of biases.
So at 60, I am a happy man. I am a grateful man, to God, to the nation, to my family, friends, especially my brother Senator Anyim. If it didn’t please God, I would not have come this far. And as a result, I don’t feel bad or regret not getting anything I targeted because the ones I got were purely by His grace. What about my mates who didn’t make it this far, am I in anyway better than them? No. I am a Christian, and the word of God I firmly believe in makes me understand and truthfully so that all we have is just God’s grace. So I thank Him for the grace believing he would do more in my life.