He attended secondary school at the popular Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), Onitsha from 1953-1957 and quickly enrolled for Advanced Level in History, Economics, and British Constitution (now called Government), graduating successfully.
He soon started work as a postal officer at the then Post and Telegraphs (P&T) from where retired. Now 80-years-old, Barrister Pius Enebeli graduated as a lawyer recently, with a promise to go into active advocacy. In this exclusive interview with our reporter, the native of Aboh in Ndokwa East Local Government Area of Delta State, resident in Enugu, tells his story. Excerpts:
Question: You look very fit for your age. What’s the secret?
Barrister Pius Enebeli: I would say it’s the Lord’s doing. My lifestyle is simple. I believe in moderation in whatever I do, eat or drink, and with the favour of God, my life has been very clean without any bitterness. I believe in somebody being happy with himself but not at the expense of another. I don’t envy anybody. I also believe that God created me for something to glorify His name.
QT: Now that you have become a lawyer, are you going into active advocacy or just the counselling aspect of legal practice?
Enebeli: I will go into active advocacy. In fact, when I started this thing, I wasn’t sure I would live to enjoy what I’m enjoying today. So, I said even if I die reading Law, the day I would be buried, they will mention it, that ‘this man died studying Law’. But now that I’m hale and hearty, I’m going into advocacy. After all, the day we were being called to bar, most young people couldn’t stand up. They were sitting for that period, but I was standing. In fact, it was my wife and son who both insisted I sit down. But I insisted on standing because I wanted to show them that I can do advocacy, as God has given me fitness. As I am today, I’m not suffering from High Blood Pressure (HBP), diabetes or anything. God has prepared me to go into advocacy.
QT: How many lawyers are in your family?
Enebeli: I’m the first in my family, and the third in my town, Aboh.
QT: Can you describe how you felt upon graduation, when your dream of becoming a lawyer was finally realized?
Enebeli: The euphoria has not left me, even up till now. I’m still basking in it, as I never expected that somebody from my roots would ever enter the university, let alone being celebrated as the first lawyer to be called to bar at 80 years of age. I would say I felt on top of the world.
QT: Why did you feel the need to study Law, a five-year course, rather than going for a shorter one?
Enebeli: One of the things that made me study Law is that ordinarily, people have been telling me that from the way I discuss, from the way I reason, that why don’t I read Law? But there’s an anecdote to illustrate why I proceeded to read Law at my age.
Sometime in 1956, when I was in DMGS Onitsha, we were supposed to be doing Igbo Language and Latin in those days and I was good at both. But there was a classmate of mine who is Isoko, who was regularly excused during both classes. So one day, maybe out of childishness, I felt that being a Delta man, too, I should be relaxing too. I pulled my seat back a little to stay with him, when the tutor came in. He was annoyed seeing me staying in that position.
Now, the tutor had already got his intermediate LLB from London University because no university in Nigeria had a Law faculty, and he was preparing seriously for his LLB finals. So he asked me, ‘Mr. Enebeli, why aren’t you in my class?’ So, I got up and said, ‘Sir, please define the extent of your class’. He was embarrassed, because the logic behind it is a legal thing, and he didn’t know what to do. Then he said ‘Mr. Enebeli, you are entering into the field I know better’. After that he I should see him after school.
After school, I went to him and he offered me bananas which I ate like it was a condemned prisoner’s meal. He later came and sat with me, and asked whether my parents could send me to the university to study Law. But I said my parents don’t have any money, and it pained him so much. He went into his room and presented me a novel entitled ‘John Citizen and the Law’. The book gave me tremendous inspiration.
Fast-forward many decades later, after enjoying myself as a civil servant, it occurred to me that somebody once told me that I would do well studying Law. That’s why I decided to do it.
QT: How did you feel in the midst of colleagues who are age-mates of your grandchildren?
Enebeli: I’m a good mixer. I do not draw lines between age. People say age is a thing of the mind, and what you feel that you are. So actually, my course mates were my grandchildren. For instance, my first daughter graduated 2012-2013 in Microbiology at Imo State University (IMSU).
I mix well with my grand children. I attend all the parties we organize and I dance very well with them. I felt very comfortable with them. I had to stoop in order to conquer the situation.
QT: Can you recall the most tedious aspect of your journey?
Enebeli: Well, what would have been a challenge is finance. Yes. I had to struggle because I was determined that I would do it, and I didn’t want at the end of the day when God asks me about the talents he gave me, I would tell him it is because my parents were poor, that was why I didn’t study Law. It was a challenge, but I had to beat it.
Another challenge was age, because I entered university at 72, when most of my contemporaries have started forgetting things, let alone going to classrooms to write exams. But because God had given me a vision and a focus and a mandate, I boldly went ahead.
On one occasion, I fell down at the Law School, Agbani, Enugu State on the 14th of April 2014. I was unconscious for one hour. When I opened my eyes, my roommates took me to the clinic. The following morning, an ambulance took me to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku-Ozalla, where I was declared OK. The doctors were surprised, and asked me questions, tested my BP, sugar level and everything was fine. It confounded them. At that time, I was 78.
Stress caused me to collapse, as I was struggling to get money and pay my fees. I managed to pay because people helped me.
QT: What was the reaction of your family when you made it into Law School?
Enebeli: Everyone was happy that at last I’ve entered the last lap of the race. I will have to mention in particular, two persons in my family who were very supportive – my wife and my first son, Emeka. I have to be specific because I have many sons but this one was very supportive, both financially and morally.
QT: Can you tell us the greatest lesson you have learned in all this?
Enebeli: One of the most significant, is knowing the meaning of education. I think it was a Chinese scholar who said that education is the continuous discovery of our ignorance. Later, when you think about it, it means that as you read, you will see something that you’ve never known and you continue to read and you continue to discover more. So I wanted to read and get more knowledge. That was my foundation or inspiration, and I decided to read until I die, in order to avoid dementia.
When I started reading, I became inspired and decided to focus on something in particular, and I decided it would be Law. First, I went to IMT (Institute of Management and Technology), Enugu, where I bagged a diploma which of course they refused to accredit. That was how I entered to read Law.
QT: Assuming you never studied Law, what other area would you have studied?
Enebeli: Possibly Economics, or History. I love both so much.
QT: Do you think lecturers were sympathetic to you as a result of your age in terms of their assessment of your academic performance?
Enebeli: Yes, I can say that at the university level, nearly all the lecturers were sympathetic; they were friendly. In fact, most of them recognized my age and had to give me any support they could.
QT: Do you still have other ambitions?
Enebeli: One has already been satisfied, being called to bar at my age, 80. It’s an achievement which money cannot buy. Then there’s the satisfaction that I cannot only be a solicitor but an advocate. So I can stand up in court and defend even myself.
QT: Do you have regrets, perhaps things you think you would have done differently?
Enebeli: My life has been such a beautiful one. I can hardly name any particular thing that I can say I now regret. Though I know I’m not wealthy, I am not poor as I’m rich because I have an instrument in my hand which is education. I’d say I have no regrets at all.
QT: How do you relax after a day’s hassles?
Enebeli: I listen to music or watch movies. If I see a good cup of unadulterated palm wine, I can have a sip and relax. I used to play tennis but age doesn’t allow me to play it now. I love football too, and reading.
When I was younger, we used to have what was called Cha-Cha music. But nowadays, I listen to good gospel songs and highlife.
QT: What kinds of food appeal to you most?
Enebeli: Pounded yam and Ofe Nsala. I come from a riverine area and we are fishermen, so I love the original version with fresh fish, and you can catch me with it any day.
QT: Can you tell us a bit about your early years?
Enebeli: I come from a humble family of farmers. My mother told me that she was pregnant with me for 16 months and there was a problem, that at times the pregnancy would be visible, while sometimes it would disappear. But my parents were patient, until someone referred them to a man called Onwugbelu in Asaba, that he helped people looking for the fruit of the womb.
My parents decided to go there, and moved to Asaba, staying at my father’s in-laws, my maternal grand-father. They had an adjoining apartment, so that after the child is born, they would go back home. But after my birth, my parents decided to settle in Asaba, so it became our second home. I was born not in a maternity ward, but on a banana leaf. I thank God for everything.