In commemoration of International Women's Day (IWD), the Nigerian Bar Association held a one Day Women-in Law forum in line with this year's global theme which is #PressforProgress at the CBN Training Institute, Maitama Abuja.
NBA President, A. B. Mahmoud OON, SAN began his opening remarks by acknowledging the importance of International Women’s Day, which is a day celebrated around the globe to demonstrate support for women’s struggles in various spheres of life. He revealed that, it is the first time the Nigerian Bar Association was marking the day.
The NBA President noted that, the NBA data base has 49,850 verified practicing lawyers out of which 14,647 or 29% are women. He said in many law faculties, female students have reached numerical parity or even surpassed their male counterparts. However, the achievements recorded by female lawyers are yet to reflect their numerical strength.
”We do not have the figures, but anecdotal evidence will suggest that there are relatively few law firms owned or headed by female lawyers across the country. In the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association, women lawyers are still under represented. Out of our 125 branches of the NBA across the country only three are currently headed by women. In the Judiciary, the picture, even if better, is still far from reflective of the numerical strength of Women. Only 6 women have ever been on the bench of Nigeria’s Supreme Court. Only one woman has ever been the Chief Justice of Nigeria and same for the Court of Appeal, only one woman has been President of the Court of Appeal.” He said.
“It is clear to us therefore, that whilst there has been tremendous progress in the legal profession in terms of gender parity, much is left to be achieved. It is therefore my hope and expectation that this forum will be an important step in complimenting the great work that is being done at various other levels whether by NBA Women’s Forum, the Association of Women Judges or FIDA to continue to draw attention to challenges facing the female members of the legal profession in Nigeria.”
He concluded by assuring participants that the NBA will enthusiastically embrace the specific ideas and recommendations that will come up at the end of the programme.
Chief Judge of the F. C.T. High Court, Honourable Justice Ishaq Bello in his goodwill message said the issue of parity in numerical strength of women in the legal profession was one that had occupied a central position in recent times. "My brother (A. B. Mahmoud, OON, SAN) knows very well that in Zaria, where I come from, we appreciate the value of women, as we always celebrate the heroics of Queen Amina" he said. "I congratulate the President of NBA for having the wisdom to institute this programme for promoting the interest of women in the legal profession."
The first session began with the topic; Experience Sharing; where members of the panel provide unique perspectives on the challenges they face and how they overcome gender related obstacles in the course of building their careers as legal practitioners in Nigeria.
Memebers of the panel include: Mrs. Victoria Awomolo SAN, Mrs. Joy Bob Manuel; Director General, Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Mrs. Miannaya Essien SAN, who moderated the session and Princess Chukwuani, the acting Chairperson of Unity Bar.
Setting the tone, Mrs. Miannaya Essien SAN noted that, in order to break the glass ceiling women must know what they want, "If you don’t know what you want, you cannot break the glass ceiling. She said women must be consistent and passionate about the things they believe in, only then can they achieve their goals in a competitive world.
Mrs. Victoria Awomolo, SAN, narrated her accidental entry into the legal profession. "I was a Chemistry teacher," she said, "and after 10 years' career as science teacher, I told my husband that I wanted a change of career. He suggested the idea of running a pharmacy, but said it would be frustrating because of poor patronage. "Why not Law?" he suggested.
"I told him that I had Advanced Level Certificate in Physics, Chemistry and Biology."
"You can do it!" he insisted "This happened at a time when the University of Ibadan admitted first degree holders for LL. B. Degree."
She said she pursued the degree and came out as the best graduating student in Labour Law. Though her journey to Silk was not a smooth-and-straightforward affair, Mrs. Victoria Awomolo, SAN, arrived as one of the first 20 women to become Senior Advocates of Nigeria by dint of hardwork.
Mrs. Joy Bob-Manuel, admonished female lawyers to take three steps to excellence in the Legal Profession; Mentoring, Networking and Hardwork. "No man will leave his post for you to come and pick," she said. "You have to go for it. You must be persistent, never take NO for an answer."
Another interesting panelist was Mrs. Princess Chukwuani, the acting Chairperson of Unity Bar, who thanked the NBA President for deeming her fit for the chairmanship of the Unity Branch.
She narrated her turbulent experience as chairperson of the crisis-ridden Unity branch . "I was traumatized," She said. "I couldn't go home because I was at a crossroad. My husband would say, 'why don't you drop this NBA wahala? '
"I knew that to quit as chairperson of Unity Bar was to open the gateway to a torrent of troubles, and to remain there was to keep enduring the heat of the hot seat. I was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. I kept asking God to grant me the grace and strength to stay on the job.”
Princess Chukwuani admonished female lawyers to take to mentoring, hard work, support from fellow women, and shun petty gossip.
Mrs. Miannaya Essien, SAN, summarized the various narratives by calling on female lawyers to approach their professional careers with courage, confidence and integrity.
The second session resumed with presentations by equally interesting panelists including Ms. Aisha Ado Abdullahi, the National Treasurer of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mrs. Ruth Badung Kaburuk, Deputy Director Legal Department of NIPOST and Mrs. Boma Alabi, OON, fomer Chairperson, Commonwealth Lawyers Association, who doubled as the moderator for the session.
Mrs. Kaburuk narrated the course of her career which catapulted her to the position of a Deputy Director in NIPOST.
Aisha Ado Abdullah told the forum that she was indeed the first lawyer to come out of her family in which her two parents were bankers. She really had no role model to mentor her along her career path.
She said she forced her way out of Kano, at least to break the boredom of home environment, and attend Lagos campus of the Nigerian Law School before being called to the Bar.
Although she desired to work in Dikko/ Mahmoud's chambers in Kano, that dream never came true. The NBA President responded immediately by vouching that Aisha Ado Abdullah "is a brilliant lawyer for whom the sky is the beginning in spite of her inability to begin her career path in his Chamber."
Mrs. Boma (Azobia) Alabi, OON presented an exciting narrative of an encounter which drew out the fire in her. She had lodged in an Abuja hotel, when an unruly politician descended on the open space to disturb the peace of lodgers. She eventually applied the philosophy of ICE - Ignore, Confront and Educate, which effectively stopped the nuisance in the hotel.
The programme was rounded up with awards of souvenirs to all the panelists.
Office of the President of the NBA [OPNBA]
10th March, 2018.