Monday, June 8, 2009


The privileges of being a member of the bar is one that I am looking forward to. Imagine the shivers running down the spines of some people at the prospect of getting as much as a glance from Umari "the law" (did I hear you snicker?). It is funny how you become an elevated member of the society the moment you mention your profession as a lawyer. Most people walk around with the grainy and not so flattering picture of lawyers slogging it off in the hot balmy yards of district courts of their local governments. Some actually witness the less fortunate "charge and bail" lawyers hustle for clients in the some court premises, hence their derision of the profession. But excuse me, who said the legal profession did not have some members clinging desperately to the lowest rung of the practice? I stand to be corrected but aren't there poor doctors with salaries at the same level with some local dry cleaners or qualified engineers having sweet dreams under Ikeja bridge? The law like every profession has its downsides, so pu-lee-ze! (rolls eyes) give me a break.
But as much as I am loyal to my profession, the matter at hand is another one of the downsides plaguing the profession. WHERE ARE WOMEN IN THE PRACTICE? I want to understand why the numbers of female judges and Senior advocates of Nigeria is so low that it suggests that the patriarchal nature of our society has somehow gotten in the way of the law. It was a rousing standing ovation that greeted the first female justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar upon her appointment to the elevated bench in 2005. Imagine the excitement of female lawyers for a recognition that has been long over due. And at this point, I can count the number of female justices in the Supreme court of Nigeria comfortably on the fingers of my hands. WHY IS THIS?
I was not so amused to discover that that explanatory etymology for the word "femina" the latin word for women comes from fe minus which means less faith. A renowned theologist of the fifth century Augustine was of the belief that only "man" could be said to be in the image of God. He further gave a complicated answer to the question whether this man could be understood to be generic encompassing both male and female or whether this man meant specifically man, that women must be in the image of God if they are capable or even worthy of salvation since the central idea of the incarnation of Jesus was that by becoming human, Christ took on and made reparation for human sins. So in this broad ontological way, Augustine says, women are in the image of God. Yet in a more specific and incarnate way with regard to the physical reality of women's bodies, women are not in the image of God as men are. What an egocentric and maniacal ideology!!! Augustine is more than lucky he was not born in my generation.
Now to avoid the possible sin of digressing, I seek to redress the issue at hand. Why are there few women in the inner bar(Senior advocate of Nigeria)? This prestigious award peculiar to the Nigerian legal consciousness is our equivalent of the English queen's counsel. It was initiated 34 years ago and only two lawyers, Chief F.R.A Williams an Chief Graham Douglas were honoured. The first female to make the rank was Chief Foluke Solanke in 1981, Chief Phoebe Ajayi soon followed in 1989 and so far women in the inner bar are yet to reach the number 20. A shame!!! The essence of this award is to honour deserving barristers who have distinguished themselves in advocacy and academics. But how female barristers who have proved to be very good advocates keep missing the opportunity to belong to the inner bar eludes me. I presented this problem to the principal of the firm where I am attached to do my law office attachment (a part of the nine month training process at the Nigerian Law School) and he showed me the hindrances women face in the quest to belong to this elite group of barristers. In a single word, it entails serious HARDWORK! But taking a closer look at this issue, the mental mind frame of the Nigerian male is to be taken into consideration. In order not to further exhaust the male female dichotomy suffered by women in Africa, I will move on to the most important issue here.
Now I want to pose these questions to the menfolk. Why is it so hard to imagine a woman at the pinnacle of her career? Why is it so hard to relegate your favourite dish of pounded yam and egusi soup to the background so as to allow your wife enjoy the proficient use of her God given grey matter? Do women suffer a form of disability that they can't keep long hours at the office trying to leave a mark in their fields of specialization while men tuck the kids in bed with a good night kiss and excuses why mummy is not back from work yet as women do for men? Haven't there been cases where men have proved to be efficient parents as well? Are we not human enough to take powerful positions like you guys? Must our lives be dedicated to gossip, fashion magazines and parent's day meetings while you fight your way to the top? As for the men who are married to lawyers, does it make you less a man to help your wife with the chores so that she can find time to study for upcoming cases? And if you are also a lawyer like your wife, don't you know that former U.S president Bill Clinton was married to a lawyer and they raised a child successfully or that current U.S president Barrack Obama is a lawyer like his wife and yet they raised two beautiful daughters together?
I have more than 21 questions but I will leave my questions for some other article. The point here is, women are grossly underrepresented in the inner bar and there is no excuse for it. The reason why I raised all these questions is for the "intelligent" men out there to answer and give me reasons why we can't do it the way you all do it. If hard work is the issue, then give us room to work dudes!!! I have seen a Nigerian married a white woman who is a gynecologist by profession, allow his wife work to the point of bagging many honourary degrees, all these at the expense of his favourite meals (don't even mention children, is a woman the only parent?). This mean selfish attitude of men must stop. Section 41(a) of the 1999 constitution provides that
" A citizen of Nigeria of a particular sex shall not by reason only that he is such a person-
a)be subjected either expressly by or in the practical application of any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other sex are not made subject to" (And will someone tell me why the pronoun "he" is always used in the constitution? Last time I checked women make up the Nigerian citizenry too)
Anyway from the above clear words of the constitution, it is obvious that men who subject women to various acts of subordination whether at work or at home are acting in contravention of the highest law in Nigeria. But when last were Nigerians known for obeying the letters of the law. A big shame indeed!!!
As for my beautiful sisters out there who for one reason or the other have bought the lie that they can't make it to the top like their male counterparts, you can start afresh and join have your fellow women who crusade for a better life for members of our gender by having a positive and refreshing attitude towards yourself. Please for the sake of all that is good, you must all realize that God who took time to create you and give you thinking capacity didn't mean for you to waste it by letting it simply vegetate. You are as intelligent as a man is. And not a person in whom another should have less faith as the Latin term femina implies. Equip yourself with knowledge and fight for your right at the top with the men. As for the female barristers still in their youth and prime, don't ever entertain the thought that the challenges of motherhood or a husband's stubbornness can deter you from getting to the top and clinching distinguished positions in the learned profession. I believe that as much as the Bible admonishes us to submit to our husbands, he meant it for them to love us enough to let us succeed. Life wouldn't be so hard in a lot of households if the Nigerian man saw his wife as a "helpmeet" instead of a subordinate. As for those that use religious books as a basis for this unhealthy attitude, you have interpreted the scriptures to fit the narrowness of your mind. Someone correct me if I am mistaken, but weren't there female judges and queens in the same Bible who must have been mothers and wives at the same time?
In the same vein I advise all women to eschew vain pride and remain beautiful inside and out(and please bring out your heads from those fashion magazines!!). Be the object of a young law student loyal admiration as you stroll into the courtroom, as I was captivated by the beautiful and elderly female Senior advocate of Nigeria who strode into court 3 of the Federal High Court Ikoyi Lagos where I did my court attachment, with her self assured air. Be the object of worshipful whispers by young hopefuls saying in awe, "she a SAN"? Remember, those who make it are those that think they can. You can overcome every hassle and challenge in any profession. Bear in mind that challenges are to be overcome, not feared. Soon by God's grace, with the resilience of female lawyers, there will be enough women in the inner circle. To borrow the Latin maxim, Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).


  1. This is an interesting article, I hope more people can speak on about gender equality in every strata of our day to day life.

  2. That St Augustine guy was contradicting the bible.


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