James Ocholi (SAN) through the cases
In the aftermath of burial arrangements for the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, James Enojo Ocholi, his wife, Blessing Fatimah Ocholi and son, Joshua Ebojo Ocholi announced by the Presidency including the special court session at the National Industrial Court, Abuja slated for Wednesday 16th March 2016, it is necessary to examine the contributions of the eminent Senior Advocate of Nigeria to our jurisprudence through the cases.
James Ocholi SAN handled contentious cases at various levels of our court system right up to the Supreme Court and in mourning his passing away, it is expedient to examine the significance of some of the landmark cases he handled in his legal career.
Called to Bar in 1986 and elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 2007 with conferment Serial No. 259, Mr. James Ocholi who was the Pro-chancellor and Chairman of Council, Salem University Lokoja, Kogi State and Minister of State for Labour and Employment practiced law extensively with areas of specialisation including Company Law, Constitutional Law, Commercial Practice, Conveyance, Private and Public International Law, Litigation and Solicitors’ work. Anyone who knew James Enojo Ocholi would be moved to tears and it is so hard to think of him as being dead. It is one tragedy too painful to live with but we can, at least, remember the learned Senior Advocate through the cases.
His Supreme Court cases
At the level of the Supreme Court, James Ocholi handled several contentious cases. In Appeal No. SC/221/2000 between Sumonu Abogun vs Mr. Edward Doherty & Ors which was decided by the Supreme Court on September 19th 2006, the issue resolved in the matter was whether the Appellant who was in procession of the land before the commencement of hostilities at the instance of the Respondent can be adjudged a trespasser who must not be allowed to remain in possession pending the determination of the Appeal. The matter was sensitive, being dispute between major land owners in Lagos and their age long tenant who was assigned a portion of the Doherty family land.
The other case was Appeal No. SC/147/2005 between Aminu Mohammed vs. The State decided by the Supreme Court on March 2nd, 2007. The issue resolved in the matter was whether the Respondent made out a prima facie case to warrant the entry of defence by the Appellant having regard to the numerous contractions in the case of the Respondent, and whether the Appeal was an academic exercise in view of the elevation of Hon. Justice Rhodes Vivour and the change of the trial judge. The Appeal decided substantial question of law and constitutes one of the established authorities on when an Appeal can be said to be of academic exercise.
One other case was Appeal No. SC/188/2005 between Benjamin Oyahire vs The State decided by the Supreme Court on July 14th, 2006. The issue resolved in the matter was whether the Lower Court treated the evidence of a co-accused correctly before affirming the conviction of the Appellant by the trial court. The Appellant was one of the three Accused persons charged with the offence of culpable homicide, Armed Robbery, Mischief by fire, and criminal conspiracy at Lokoja High Court. They were tried and convicted. The Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction of the Appellant. He appealed to the Supreme Court on a number of grounds and raised several issues. The Apex Court equally affirmed his conviction. The case is reported in (2006) 15 NWLR part 1001 at page 157.
Significantly, there was also Appeal No. SC/412/2001 between Alhaji Lasisi Gbadamosi & 1 Or vs The Governor of Oyo State & 8 Others decided by the Supreme Court on June 16th 2006. The issue resolved in the matter was whether a claimant who seeks to rely on Native Law and Custom to prove ownership of a traditional title/land, is required to specifically plead the particular Native Law and custom and prove same at trial and whether such custom cannot be inferred or presumed. The dispute in this case, arose over succession to the stool of Baale of Egbeda in Egbeda Local Government Area of Oyo State. The Olubadan, who is the prescribed authority over the title, appointed Lasisi Layosoye Piposola from family as the Baale.
The appointment was resisted by Tanimowo family who claimed that their family was entitled to produce the Baale. The 1st Respondent, Governor of Oyo State, set up an administration commission of inquiry to look into the matter. The 1st Respondent acting on the report of the commission, nullified the Plaintiff’s appointment by the Olubadan. The Plaintiff by this action sought to challenge the claim of the 1st Respondent. The trial court dismissed the claim of the Plaintiff. The dismissal was affirmed by the Court of Appeal, Ibadan Division. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal judgment was affirmed.
The case is reported (2006) ALL FWLR part 326 at page 224.
Equally significant was Appeal No. SC/261/2001 between Mr. Moses Bunge & 1 Or vs. The Governor of River State & 5 Others which was decided by the Supreme Court on March 9th, 2006. The case entered on a Chieftaincy dispute between Otaru Village Community of Abua and Agana family of Omalem in Abua Local Government Area of River State. The Plaintiff/Appellants claimed inter-alia a declaration that the only family that can present the Odo-Abua or the highest Chieftaincy title in Abua is the Agba family of Otaru village. The third to sixth Respondents maintained a contrary position and sought to prove that they had for long produced the highest Chieftaincy title in Abua called Uwema of Abua. All parties agreed though that the stool is hereditary. The Apex Court set aside judgment of the Lower Court and the Trial Court and entered judgment for the Plaintiff. The Case at the material time was very sensitive in Rivers State and reported in (2006) 12 NWLR part 995 at page 573.
In the Court of Appeal, James Ocholi also handled a number of cases some of which he relied upon in applying for the exalted rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
One of such cases was Appeal No. CA/A/193/2004 between Hon. Femi Davies vs Anthony Idowu Mendes & 2 Ors decided by the Court of Appeal on 27th April 2006.
His foray into the political arena
Beyond his exploits in the courtroom, James Ocholi also deployed his advocacy skills into the political arena. He nursed the ambition of becoming the Governor of Kogi State as the gubernatorial flag bearer of Congress for Political Change (CPC). He may not have succeeded in his quest to rule his native Kogi State but he made such lasting impressions on the rank and file so much that when opportunity came during this dispensation to constitute a cabinet of competence, character and capacity, he was considered and appointed Minister of State for Labour and Employment – a position he occupied until he answered the ultimate call.