27th November 1962 in Kaduna was an exciting day in Joseph Obla’s household as his lovely wife, Mami, gave birth to their 5th child, a son he would name Godwin Odumu Obla. While Joseph, a Warrant Officer in the Nigerian Army, had hoped Godwin will grow up to be a good man, little did he know that his 5th son would become the pride of the whole Idoma Land.
Young Obla (who would later have 3 younger siblings from his mother) started primary school in Kaduna and by 1973 when he was ready to go to high school; he chose the best secondary school in Idoma Land during the 1970s, St. Francis College Otukpo. By the time he left St. Francis College in 1978 with his West African School Certificate Examination (WASC) O’ Level grades, Obla’s skills at school debating competitions had convinced him that he would make a good lawyer.
In the same year, he proceeded to Federal School of Arts and Science, Sokoto where he got the requisite Higher Secondary Examination (HSC) grades in 1980 and gained admission into the prestigious Faculty of Law in University of Lagos to read his dream course. At University of Lagos, Obla was tutored by great legal academics like Professor Emeritus Adedokun Adeyemi and Professor Isaac Agbede, Professor Abiola Ojo (of blessed memory), Professor Obilade, Professor A.A. Adesanya, Professor, A.A. Ajomo etc. who imbibed in their undergraduate students the foundation needed to make a good lawyer.
Obla’s altruistic qualities came to the fore when he contested and won election into the Student Union in 1981 as Secretary General, becoming the first person of Northern Nigerian extraction ever to do so at the University of Lagos. During his studentship at the Faculty of Law, he was awarded the Federal Government Merit award for academic excellence and therefore entitled to the federal Government Scholarship. His venture into student unionism did not affect his academic pursuit as he would go on and graduate with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) 2nd Class Upper honours degree in 1983.
Armed with his Law degree, he then proceeded to the Nigerian Law School and was called to the Outer Bar in 1984; the beginning of an illustrious legal career. He was then posted to Abuja for his compulsory national service for Nigerian graduates, the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC), which he completed in 1985 after serving at the Legal Department of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA).
Obla has always been known to take brave decisions in his life and he took one such decision in 1985 after completing his NYSC programme. While his friends and mates were busy trying to gain employment into Government agencies and parastatal, in a move unheard for a 23 year old in the 1980s, Obla set-up his own law firm, Obla & Co, Solicitors in Kano.
Managing a business at such a young age was no easy task but having seen first-hand how law firms are run from his undergraduate internship with the biggest law firm in Kano in the 1980s, the firm of J.B. Majiyagbe, SAN, Obla was able to bring to bear on his own law firm the organisational skills, professionalism and humility he had picked up from Majiyagbe. Like an acorn, Obla & Co has grown in strength over the years and today it is an oak tree in Nigerian legal circles.
Obla who is an active member of Nigerian Bar Association and International Bar Association, in 1997 became a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, London (CIArb), a leading professional membership organisation that advances the interests of alternative dispute practitioners worldwide. And in 1998, the Association of Fellows and Legal Scholars at the Centre for International Legal Studies, Salzburg, Austria made him an honorary member.
At the dawn of the third republic in 1998, Obla took a leave of absence from his law firm to serve the people of Otukpo Local Government Area as a 2-term Chairman having won overwhelming electoral victories. His tenure as Local Government Council Chairman was characterised by improved public roads network, an enabling environment for businesses to thrive and peaceful communities. He also served the Benue State Government as a Commissioner before his retirement from active politics in 2007.
Upon his return to his law practice, Obla’s legal career has grown from strength to strength as he has been one of the leading counsels for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) where he has served as Special Prosecutor for some high profile cases. He has also severally acted for the Federal Government of Nigeria in other high profile transnational cases involving Halliburton, TSKJ Bribery scandal, Siemens, Panalpina etc, and for other Federal Government agencies in Specialised Criminal cases.
In September 2013, Obla’s contribution to the legal profession was recognised when he was conferred with the title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). With his elevation to the rank of SAN, he became the first Idoma person to be called to the Inner Bar comprising 388 elite Lawyers since its introduction in 1974 and in the process becoming a big pride to all of us.
Obla is also known for his quiet philanthropy and over the years has embarked on rural electrification projects in Otukpo Local Government Area and also as a member of the University of Lagos Law Class of 80/83 has been in the forefront of this Law Class’ development projects in the Faculty of Law at his Alma Mater.