Emuobohwo Mudiaga Odje
People are often reluctant to take the less-trodden path, especially when they already have a seemingly easy path laid out by their forebears. It takes spirit and strength of purpose to break off a family tradition of pursuing the legal profession, venture into the uncertain world of business and work your way to the top through strategic thinking. It is even more uncommon for such a person to thereafter, leave an established business name after almost two decades in the business, and devote the rest of his life to pursuing the same career he jettisoned in the first place. This is the story of Barrister Emuobohwo Mudiaga Odje.
Birth and Education
Emuobohwo Mudiaga Odje was the fifth of seven boys born to Dr. Mudiaga Odje and Paulina Odje. He was born in Warri, Delta State on October 4, 1963. His father Dr. Mudiaga Odje was a legal practitioner and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who later became President of the Nigeria Bar Association, and solicitor to President Shehu Shagari of the second republic. He started his primary education at Sido Primary School, before moving to St. Andrews Primary School in Warri in 1971. There, he completed his primary education in 1976 and proceeded to Government College Ughelli, Delta State for his secondary education. He performed poorly in the final examinations at the Government College, and could not proceed with his education; so, when his father was transferred to Sokoto in 1981, he was registered at the Federal School of Arts and Sciences, where he sat and passed the School Certificate Examinations. Against his parents’ preference of law, he opted to study Sociology at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State and graduated in 1989. He would later return to the University of Benin, Edo state, to read law, after 10 years. He completed his law programme in 2006 and was called to bar the following year.
Career and Achievements
Initially reluctant to toe the family’s legal profession, Odje decided to go into full time business. After his National Youth Service, he pursued and secured contracts across different sectors before deciding to go public. In 1992, he established Efodje Company Limited in Delta state, to provide supplies and services to oil-field and construction companies. The company broke even in a couple of years, securing deals and partnerships with the likes of the Shell Petroleum Development Company, Schlumberger, Delta Glass Company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and the Nigeria Gas Company. Even though many credited the success to his enviable antecedents in project management, Odje felt personally driven to prove to his family that success was also possible outside the legal profession. He had, in 1989 during his National Youth Service in Katsina, managed the assessment and certification of some local government projects including roads and drainage construction; and he would later admit that the experience equipped him with business management skills, in no small way.
As CEO of Efodje Company limited, these competencies helped him in contract bids and presentations, mobilizing technical experts and resources for projects, as well as the successful execution of such projects. Even without possessing the technical expertise, he was able to bring an advanced level of coordination that resulted in huge capital gains for the company. With series of projects successfully executed, the company soon began to attract other players in the oil sector, outside Delta state. The company’s sterling reputation made it a favourite in contract bids for oil-field services and construction projects.
One outstanding project which speaks volume of Odje’s strategic administration was the successful execution and delivery of the Ikot-Osute bridge in Akwa-Ibom. The task given by the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC), a subsidiary of the NNPC was to reconstruct the already-collapsing bridge which had made transportation difficult for farmers and fishermen in the area, but this project was complicated by the bitter relationship existing between the community and the oil companies on one hand, and the community and the government on the other hand. The locales felt that they had been exploited and abandoned by both the oil companies and the government, and saw such a project as a time to get their pound of flesh. They mounted stiff opposition to Odje and his team, insisting that they be given some percentage of the contract money before they could allow work start. At this point, Odje’s mediatory and managerial skills came to play. He held series of meetings with the community leaders, and was able to communicate the need for the project to them and the benefits they would stand to gain from the completed bridge. To pacify them, he got them directly involved in the project and strategically awarded some supply contracts to them. The project was thus delivered in record time, and to the satisfaction of the SPDC.
Odje continued with this until 2007 when he was called to bar, and decided to go into full-time legal practice. He had seen the up and downtimes of the business world, and decided to take a clean break. He established his law firm, ‘E. Mudiaga Odje & Co’ at Gwarimpa, Abuja to offer legal services in civil and criminal cases. As Head of Chambers and Principal Partner, he would always insist to his team that “human relations is key” and ensured that this was reflected in all their cases. In time, he proved his mettle as a lawyer and gained a solid client base. As he advanced in his legal career, he opted to make pro-bono appearances in courts to defend the vulnerable and fight injustice. Doing this, he helped facilitate the release of persons imprisoned for years without evidence or trial, particularly at the Kuje Prison, Abuja. Even though such cases do not ‘pay the bills’, he admits that the satisfaction of seeing an innocent person set free is enough for him.
The clientele of E. Mudiaga Odje & Co has expanded to include public and private entities including the Federal Ministry of Justice, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), and the Delta Integrated Development Agency. More than a decade into its existence, the company continues to wax stronger.
Barrister Odje has served in different capacities outside his legal practice. In 2007, he was appointed as the Special Adviser to the Deputy National Secretary to the People’s Democratic Republic Party (PDP) of Wuse Zone 5 in Abuja, and later as a member of the Secretariat Committee for National Reconciliation Committee. In 2008, he also went on to serve as the Chairman of the PDP Special State Congress Monitoring for the Executive Council in Taraba State, and a member of the Protocol Committee for the Special Convention of the PDP.
Odje currently serves as a member of the board of the Shalom Community Bank in Lagos. His enthusiasm for cricket earned him a spot to serve as the Chairman of the Federal Capital Territory Cricket Association, till 2017 when he voluntarily stepped down. He was also a founding member of the Warri Cricket Club that emerged in the late 1990s.
Odje is married to Ovese, and they have three children – Uruemu, Rukuevwe; and Okpese. He enjoys playing cricket, football, and guitar in his leisure time.
LegacyWay Interview with Barrister Mudiaga Odje on 27 September, 2019.