Grace Chidimma Oko is from Ebonyi State. She read law at Abia State University, Uturu and was called to the Bar in 2016. Oko shares her less than two years’ practice, experience, challenges and many others with JOHN CHIKEZIE
My name is Grace Chidimma Oko and I am from Ezi Iduma Ngodo in Afikpo North Local Government in Ebonyi State. My primary education began at Progress Nursery & Primary School, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. In 2010, I obtained a Secondary School Certificate at Holy Ghost Secondary School, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. In 2015, I graduated from the Faculty of Law, Abia State University, Uturu with a Bachelor degree in Law and thereafter proceeded to the Augustine Nnamani Campus of the Nigerian Law School in 2015. I was called to the Nigerian Bar on November 29, 2016.
Choice of career
Becoming a lawyer wasn’t exactly my first choice. My childhood dream was becoming a pilot. I passed my science courses well enough but my father convinced me to deviate from that dream because he secretly wanted me to become a medical doctor. I went along with the idea for a while until I got to a point where I became convinced that I had no interest in medicine. Although I really didn’t know what I wanted to do next, I literally allowed my result to decide. When the results were out, I passed both science and art courses well but performed better in the art courses. On that note, I had to move to the art class but to my father’s utmost disappointment. It was at that very moment that the idea of becoming a lawyer was birthed. However, I chose the legal profession simply to give voice to the voiceless.
My pupilage started in the Law School. Just like every student of the Nigerian Law School, I underwent the mandatory Court and Chambers Placement. I was posted to the High Court of Justice, Ebonyi State, under the supervision of Hon. Justice John Igboji. While my chambers attachment was at the Litigation Department of the Ministry of Justice, Ebonyi State. The pupilage continued during my mandatory National Youth Service programme. I was posted to the High Court of Justice, Enugu State under the supervision of Hon. Justice A.O. Onovo, who taught me how to analyze evidence, written address and so much more. I thereafter joined the Law Firm of Eze, Dimude, Eze & Co. to gain firsthand experience of the legal practice. After I concluded my NYSC, I got an offer of employment from Eze, Dimude, Eze & Co., and it has been a journey of learning since then.
Challenges as a female lawyer
The major challenge I have encountered as a female young lawyer is inadequate remuneration. I think this is a major challenge for every young lawyer and some senior lawyers as well. Some law firms are of the opinion that as a young lawyer, you have not gained a lot of experience and therefore cannot contribute much to the growth of the firm.
Another major challenge female lawyers encounter is the misconception that they are not as competent as their male counterpart. Most women encounter this challenge in their various professions and the legal profession is not excluded. Most clients will prefer a male lawyer representing them because of this notion that they have of male lawyers being better than their female counterparts and which in most cases, it’s not true. More regrettable is that some law firms are often reluctant to employ female lawyers because of the belief that a woman will not be able to conveniently handle her responsibility at home, much more that which is required at work.
For instance, how many women in practice are partners in law firms? How many women are Senior Advocates of Nigeria? Perhaps one will say women have continued to run away from the active practice of law because of the peculiar challenges women face in practice. But I’m also aware that a lot of female lawyers through hard work and determination have been able to surmount this challenge.
Young lawyers as NEC members
I am of the view that the inclusion of young lawyers as members of the National Executive Committee of the NBA will yield very positive results because there is a need to inject ‘fresh blood’, so to speak, into the system. This stems from the fact that there is a certain passion and enthusiasm that comes with being a young person.
Again, it will set every member of the NBA, both young and senior lawyers on an equal pedestal to learn, thrive and advance side by side in the legal profession. Young lawyers are not actively involved in NBA projects. I also know for a fact that young lawyers are like a sea of untapped potentials and ideas. I strongly believe that if young lawyers are included in the running of the affairs of the NBA, the association will benefit a lot from this pool of raw potentials and ideas.
Female lawyers and stable homes
I am of the view that a female lawyer can practice as a legal practitioner and still maintain a stable relationship, even if her spouse is not a lawyer. A lot of female lawyers are doing it. It is not something that is extremely difficult at all. It is true that the legal practice is very demanding, and some female lawyers struggle to strike a balance between working very hard in order to get to the peak of their career and shouldering family responsibility. But I believe that it is very important that the couple communicate well, understand each other and support each other. There are so many female lawyers who have reached the peak of their career and still maintain a healthy, large family. The basic thing is that your spouse, whether a lawyer or not, must understand and support you while you do same.
Justice system and jurisprudence
The Nigerian legal system has over time improved in justice delivery but still requires a lot of work. Justice delivery in Nigeria has over time constituted a challenge. Part of the problem is that the Judiciary, which is the arm of government charged with the dispensation of justice, is not totally independent of the influences of the other two arms of government, the Executive and the Legislature. In most advanced nations, this problem has been reduced to the barest minimum, if not completely eradicated. The judicial officers are not afraid of doing their jobs because a system has been developed where the judiciary is totally independent. But in Nigeria, the executive and the legislature play a very prominent role in the appointment and dismissal of judicial officers. I wonder if the judiciary will ever truly be independent.
In Nigeria, judicial officers are harassed on a daily basis with law enforcement agencies. How are they supposed to do their jobs properly while looking over their shoulders? The appointment or dismissal and even remuneration of judicial officers should be totally free from the influence of the other arms of government. And only then will judicial officers be able to do substantial justice without fear of dismissal or intimidation. In addition, some of our legislations, especially the ones we inherited from Britain, should be repealed and new laws inserted. Some of these laws are no longer operational in Britain and have been repealed but they are still operational here. Times have changed, so should the review of these obsolete laws. When this is done, it will go a long way in improving justice delivery in Nigeria.
Administration of criminal justice law
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act brought a lot of reforms to the Nigeria Criminal Jurisprudence. The ACJA is a tremendous improvement on what used to be obtainable as our criminal procedural law. The Act made a lot of provisions filling lacunas and curing technicalities experienced under the previous laws. Some states like Lagos, Enugu and Abia State have domesticated the ACJA with little or no variance.
However, the implementation of the ACJA is still on a slow lane in most states of the federation. Again, a lot of people are yet to know that legislation like that exists. I am of the view that seminars/workshops should be organised for everybody involved in the administration of criminal justice, starting from judges, lawyers, court registrars, law enforcement agents, defendants and to the general public. States that are yet to domesticate and implement the ACJA should do so for the entire populace to benefit from the incredible provisions within.
My remuneration as a young lawyer is not very encouraging. This is a challenge majority of young lawyers encounter. The remuneration sometimes is not sufficient to foot your bills. As a young lawyer, if you are not very passionate about the practice of law, the poor remuneration is sufficient to make you choose a different career path. I’m aware that the NBA Welfare Committee recently recommended a minimum remuneration of N50,000 for young lawyers. This is a good place to start from, however, there’s a major problem with its implementation. Majority of law firms do not have the capacity to implement it, the few law firms with that capacity, may not be able to absorb a good number of young lawyers into their employment. I, however, believe this will get better with time.
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