Anne Mmeje interviewed Chika Ugonwa, a young entrepreneurial
Nigerian Lawyer who practices Immigration Law in Nigeria. Chika talks about her
work, human trafficking in Nigeria, and the Gender Equality Bill that failed to
pass at the National Assembly. Chika’s vision includes establishing a law firm
that will serve as a one stop shop for everything Travelling/Immigration
inquiry and assistance in Nigeria; having a bilateral relation with immigration
firms all over the world, Embassies and High Commissions; and building a strong
brand on the foundation of Trust and Integrity.

Please tell
our readers a little bit about you.
I am a Nigerian Lawyer, a Graduate Manager, and an
Immigration Consultant.  In the past I worked with Abubakar Mustapha &
Co. (Kaduna) and Threshold Barrister & Solicitors (Lagos). Presently, I am
running my own firm in partnership with Reality Education Ltd (Port Harcourt),
Rexcue Barrister and Solicitors (Lagos), and New Dimension Konsult (kaduna).
Okay, now
that sounds interesting. You are affiliated with three law firms. What’s the
arrangement like and how did that come to be?
started my Immigration Law practice in Lagos with Threshold Immigration Consult
which is a subsidiary of Threshold Barristers & Solicitors. As you know,
Immigration practice is built on trust and in the course of the attorney-client
relationship, one gets access to clients’ sensitive private and financial
information. So when I moved to Abuja, a lot of my Lagos clients still
sought me. My efforts to get them to work with other lawyers failed. That was
where the partnership idea came from. I continued to work with my clients in
Lagos while I was in Abuja. When that proved successful, I realized that I
could successfully serve clients in all thirty-six states from my base in Abuja.
my clients who are in Lagos, for example, they consult me through the phone or
email. Then I do their work and send the finished work to my colleague Rexcue
Barrister and Solicitors Lagos (he practices Immigration Law too) who goes over
them with the clients and guides them to sign the documents.
on your achievements so far. Has law practice been what you expected? Many
people go into law school with noble intentions. Did the reality of law
practice match your earlier expectations of what to expect from the practice of
I don’t know
about ‘many people.’ For me, I did not really go into the law program with
great expectations or any expectations. The decision to study law was
suggested by someone I could never say No to. In secondary school I was good in
social sciences and art, my parents wanted me to be an accountant; my
grandfather wanted Law. I chose Law. In University then my major goal was not
to fail my grandfather, my parents who were paying for my education, and
myself. (In my family, my siblings and I are a bit competitive). Long story
short: I did not have ‘earlier expectations.’ But having practiced for a while,
I realize that we (Nigerian Lawyers) need to do more. The fate of this country
to a large extent lies with the legal profession and so it suffices to say we
are to a large extent part of the problem of the country. We need strict ethics
and conduct regulations and compliance.
What has
been your greatest challenge practicing law in Nigeria?
Law practice is a very broad concept. The challenges a lawyer
encounters are unique to his/her area of practice. I practice mostly
Immigration and Maritime Law (More of Immigration).  I can write a book on
the challenges for each but for this interview I will only mention one
challenge in Maritime practice which is ‘stagnancy.’
My former firm (Threshold barristers & Solicitors) had
over 30 cases on different maritime matters. Apart from one of the matters that
I got a default Judgement on, others ended up in settlement before I got the
chance to taste my skills in trial. In court one day while I was moving yet
another motion for discontinuance and adoption of parties’ terms of settlement,
the Judge said (jokingly) that in his 20 years in the bench he was yet to
deliver a final Judgement on a Maritime case.
In Maritime, litigation is instituted just to get the shippers/and
or the insurance company to settle. Hence in rare cases where the matter goes
all the way to trial, there are hardly sufficient judicial precedents to rely

You mentioned earlier that you serve
clients in all thirty-six states.
Yes. Thanks to Nigeria legal system and Judicial procedure, a
lawyer in Nigeria can practice in any part of Nigeria. My Job takes me around
the Country (and I hope someday beyond). We attend to clients at any location
within Nigeria. When clients can take care of my travelling expenses, I fly to
their cities to see them and we have our business at my colleagues’ offices.
Are you
surprised at how little or much your clients know about Immigration law?
Not at all; Immigration law practice is still a grey area of
practice. I was fortunate to stumble into it myself. Its sounds alien when I
discuss it with my colleagues. Apart from a few firms in Lagos I am not sure
there are firms in other jurisdiction who engage in it. Imagine how many
countries there are. Through this job, I have learned a lot and I am still
What does
an Immigration lawyer do?
I am sure not a lot of people know that travelling across border
is actually a right not a privilege
. Let me not
bore your readers with sections of UN Treaties and African Charters on Human
right and other citations that uphold these rights.
In summary; A country cannot close its borders from entry to
citizens of other territories. There are exceptions though.
I run an Immigration Consultancy Firm. We attend to Immigration
issues bothering on;
Permanent migrants i.e spouses, children,
parents etc. who seeks to join families overseas across border or regularize
foreigners already in the country. Temporary Migrants
which includes International Students, Work permits (eg Canada Federal
Skill migrant scheme, for professional migrants) etc
. My firm is also an International Education facilitator. We
work with schools in Europe, United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia etc.
Then we have our cluster clientele: the short time Visitors. Tourist, family
visitors, Medicals Visitors etc.
It is quite an interesting job. You will be amazed at the volume
of immigration cases there are out there.
In addition to the above, we also organize trainings and
seminars. News are often reported about mangled dead bodies found in
international flights tyre compartments, like the story here:, Some lose their
lives at Sahara Desert or at sea. all in desperate attempt to illegally migrate
in quest for greener pasture. In the later instance. loved ones are saddled
with the agony of not knowing for sure what happened to their wards. Pain they
will be forced to endure to their graves. Those who promote this inhuman
practices for profit will never inform their clients on the risks involved.
 Through these seminars we educate the youth on the dangers of illegal
migration.  We also create awareness on Human trafficking. We hope to
attract the government and multi-national companies and concerned individuals
to get involved and sponsor some of these programs.
We also offer
professional advisory services. This is very important, especially since
countries keep reviewing their immigration rules and regulations to protect their
borders against economic migrants and terrorists. Before anyone thinks of
traveling, it is important to seek professional guidance.
We give
packaging assistance; a lot of immigration process / application is done online
and not many people know their way around the internet nor have the patience to
be bothered with it, and the question may be a bit technical, so we do the
actually application for clients who retain us to do so.
We also
represent clients on appeals (via paper litigation) for clients who have
been wrongfully refused. We prepare ground of appeal, witness statement(s) etc.
we offer International Investors legal assistance through our partnership with
other law firms abroad. We can help a client secure an investment abroad, or a
foreigner secure investments here (Nigeria).

What is the
most fulfilling case you have handled?
As a rule, I do not take on any case I am not passionate about. It
is my passion that propels me to give my best. In my immigration practice however,
one particular case comes to mind though. Client was a 17-year old boy. He lost
his mother at a young age. His mother was never married to the father. He was
raised by his maternal grandmother who also later became deceased. His father
was a Nigerian / Belgian permanently resident in Belgium and he wanted our
client to join him. There were a lot of documentary challenges. Initially it
looked like a hopeless case. Our young client, without assistance (other than
professional fee his father paid to the firm), did all his best to assemble
necessary documentation. He made several trips from Edo (where he is based) to
Lagos (our firm). The package took about 6 months to tidy up and another 6
months in the embassy. I was gearing up for appeals when the documents came out
and his application was granted. It was not the hardest case but the case was
fulfilling for me because in the course of packaging Jesse’s application I got
to learn of his life story. He had had a difficult life and I felt that he
deserved a break. I was very happy he got his visa. He is doing very well in
Belgium now.
I share
your joy. I do find too that the cases we tend to love the most are not the
ones we made most money from but the ones we helped our clients get
life-changing resolutions. Given your diverse practice, have you noticed any
dissimilarity between Immigration Law and other areas of law practice?
Yes. In two major ways.
First, one of the most popular Principle in criminal law, for
example, is that a person is ‘innocent until proven guilty’. In
Immigration law the reverse is the case. In Immigration Law, it is an
applicant’s duty to prove that his/her purpose is genuine before his/her
request is granted. In other words, you are considered an Economic Migrant
(especially if you are applying from an undeveloped country to a developed
country) until evidence proves otherwise.
Second, Immigration law is not guided by Precedence.  Even
where two clients have the same immigration challenges, solutions are rarely
the same. Every application is unique to the applicant’s personal and economic
State government recently uploaded the State Laws on the internet but requires
people to make a certain payment before accessing them. What is your take on
this? Shouldn’t people know, say the Criminal Code, without having to buy them,
in order not to break the law.
I have always been of the opinion that basic laws (criminal law
and fundamental human right) should be introduced as subjects is senior
secondary schools and that such laws be also made available to the masses
especially since ignorance of the law is not a defence. Take this yahoo yahoo
thing for example, a lot of youths who engage in it do it for the fun of it as
much as for the money. They are ignorant of the fact that they are committing a
felony and the penalty it attracts. But the Government as usual is focused on
generating revenue at the expense of the masses’ welfare.
The National
Assembly did not pass the Gender Equality Bill that was presented before it
earlier this year. What effect do you think passing this law would have had on
women’s right?
I have not read the bill though but I do not think it will
have any substantive effect on women’s right. I am not aware of any law that is
specifically discriminatory against women. The constitution provided for
Fundamental HUMAN rights. The Criminal Code did not segregate crimes or
penalties on gender. I am indifferent to the bill just like am indifferent to
the bill on domestic violence (when the criminal code has amply provided laws
against physical and non-physical violence). I am indifferent to these laws and
bills focusing on women simply because I think they amount to proliferation of
laws.  If we women are serious about our rights, we should stop expecting
special treatment. It is you constitutionally giving right to challenge any law
or practice that you feel is discriminatory towards you on basis of your gender.
Any woman who seeks to challenge such laws or practice will have my support pro
 So if someone wants to apply for visitors’
visa to U.S. are you able to do that? 
Like I said the bulk of our clients falls in the Visitors (short time travelers)
category. We also serve clients who wish to travel to Canada, Australia, Europe
Where can people get
information and resources about Maritime Laws and Immigration Laws in Nigeria?
are plethora of books and legislations on Maritime: NIMASA ACT 2007,
Sabotage Act etc. For Immigration law, it is the Immigration rules and
regulation of the country a client is seeking entry to that we rely on. 
You do a little bit
of Maritime law. What is the relationship between depreciation of the naira and
naira depreciation is as a result of Nigeria’s heavy reliance on importation. Nigeria
imports almost everything because we are consumers. If importation reduces the
Naira will appreciate. 
What are your other
interests, besides Law?
write poems. I am also considering venturing into agriculture and my long term
goal is to run a farm and get to finally call myself a farmer. Nothing says
humanity than farming. I am doing some background research on animal farming
and my area of interest is fishing and poultry.
I enjoyed this
interview and I learned quite a lot. I believe some readers will be thrilled by
the legal knowledge you have so generously given away freely
. How may people
contact you if they have further questions?
official website will be launched soon. In the interim I can be contacted Via
Phone +234 8129375453, and/or email:
Thank you very much
for granting this interview, Chika.
You are most welcome, Anne, and thanks
again for having me.
Anne Mmeje is a lawyer and a freelance writer. To see more of her works,
visit To contact her email