By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
Called to the bar at age 21, Mrs.Hairat Balogun requires no formal introduction, especially in the Nigerian law terrain. The first female Attorney General of Lagos State, she is the founder and senior partner at Libra Law Office in Lagos.
Recently, she formally presented a book, Women in the Law, giving a two year historical and statistical study of Nigerian women lawyers. Here she speaks on the book and on how Nigerian women lawyers have continued to soar even in the midst of challenges. Her words:
The book, Women in the Law
The book, Women in the Law, is a historical andÂ statistical study of the lives of women lawyers in Nigeria. Colloquiums were scheduled nationwide where female lawyers in all sectors and across generations gathered to participate in the research process.
The colloquiums were held in Lagos, Asaba, Enugu and Kaduna states, and with the exception of Lagos State, these were chaired by Chief Justices in each region.
The results were analysed and recommendations were made before the book was published. Iâ€™m presenting this book to the public to let them know that women lawyers are there for the long haul, and to remind them that there are women who can still make a difference in national life.
I hope that people, particularly government agencies will pick up this book and see how far women lawyers have come, and how more women can be used effectively in any area even if it is just to dispel the issue of discrimination. We catalogued the women in the book, and they can be contacted.
Even, talking about Chief Judges should encourage some governments when theyâ€™re doing their appointments to say â€œWe had a woman Chief Judge in Plateau State for about ten years or more.
Weâ€™ve had a woman Attorney General in the same Plateau State for almost the past three governments.Â I want to be personal; but Iâ€™m proud of it, that even in Lagos State that is so modern and particularly full of talents, we had my humble self as the Attorney General!
How women Lawyers have fared
Women are sky-rocketing in different areas of law, on the bench and in fact in the profession.
There was discrimination and there is still a little bit of discrimination, but we are getting on top of it all; showing that weâ€™re equal to the task.Â Apart from discrimination, thereâ€™s really nothing against women in the law. If you can aspire, you can break every barrier.
There is no area of the law which women have not invaded; theyâ€™re in the Supreme Court, theyâ€™re in the Court of Appeal, theyâ€™re in the High Court, in the Court of Appeal, theyâ€™re presiding Justices of Appeal, they are Chief Judges.
At least in eight states in Nigeria, there are Chief Magistrates galore. Nearly every judiciary in Nigeria has more female magistrates than male magistrates.
The Chief Judges of Delta, Ondo, Plateau, Sokoto and Zamfara States are all women lawyers. We are very proud of them, particularly those of them who are in the Sharia states because theyâ€™ve proved that it is possible at last for women to head the judiciary.
We had a famous Judge who is now in the Supreme Court of Nigeria, sitting in the Kano State High Court. I could remember when it was time for her to be Chief Judge, her junior was promoted above her because we were told it was impossible for a woman to head any organization in Kano State. So, she went to the Court of Appeal, and eventually, she became the first woman in the Supreme Court.
When you read the book, youâ€™ll get a glimpse of the Chief Judge of Sokoto State who actually went back to do Law after she had got married. Imagine! She is now the Chief Judge of a state! That tells a lot for some of us who are shy and feel it is too late for us to do certain things. In Lagos State, weâ€™re very fortunate.
We have over thirty women judges, and I categorically stand here to say that the majority of these thirty are discharging themselves credibly on the bench of Lagos State. Some of these ladies are even not Lagos State aboriginals.
Theyâ€™re generally Nigerian women lawyers. Iâ€™m appreciating these Chief Judges, not just for chairing the colloquiums but also for their support.
In legal practice, many women are SANs, one or two are life benchers and many have distinguished themselves serving the bar association. As for company secretaries and legal advisers, women are taking centre stage.
There are also some of us who have invaded the banking sector, and who are actually succeeding. We also have many women lawyers who are entrepreneurs; you will even forget that they are lawyers.
Women lawyers donâ€™t seem to be taking centre stage at the federal level because most appointments at the federal level are influenced very heavily by politics. A woman who is not a politician cannot really get into the federal cabinet; it has never happened.
Itâ€™s like a silent rule. A woman who is in the federal cabinet is 90% a politician, and thatâ€™s difficult for lawyers because lawyers are apolitical. Lawyers who are in politics do politics 100%.
In the whole of Nigeria, and not just in the law profession, weâ€™ve lost a lot of our core values.
The major is integrity, and it’s soÂ unfortunate that everything is built on integrity. If only we could just return to those days when we all believed that we must do the right thing, and that heaven will not fall if we tell the truth and do the right thing.
It may take time for people to accept you for your integrity, but eventually, youâ€™ll be proved right for doing the right thing. Heaven will not fall if you hold on to your integrity. So, do the right thing at the right time, and hold on to your belief that heaven is not going to fall. Should it fall, which is impossible, it is going to be on all of us all.
Encouraging young Lawyers
If I see young lawyers doing something wrong, I call them to order I think the way I carry out my practice and comport myself by living within the law and living real law, is enough encouragement for any young lawyer.
Again, when I see junior lawyers, I try to give them a word of encouragement. I also commend them if they do well. I always tell them â€œYou can ask me any question if you like. You donâ€™t have to know me. Once you recognize me as a lawyer, I feel happy to talk to you.
Benefits of starting young
On how I was able to come this far, Iâ€™ll say â€œYou start as you mean to go onâ€. If youâ€™re lucky to start young, good! I qualified for law practice when I was 21 years old, and not long after that, I got married.
Now, Iâ€™m a grandmother. If possible, I encourage young girls to get married as soon as they are empowered. Even the doctors too will encourage you to start reasonably early.â€™