Shin­ing a clear path for en­try of girls into the le­gal pro­fes­sion

Daily Trust - - LAW - By Dr Balk­isu Saidu

In­tro­duc­tion he zeit­geist of our time is ac­com­moda­tive of a world where women con­trib­ute as much, if not more than, their male coun­ter­parts, in all spheres of en­deav­our in­clud­ing in the le­gal pro­fes­sion. Prior to 1935, when Stella Jane Thomas was en­rolled at the Bar, the le­gal pro­fes­sion in Nige­ria was the ex­clu­siv­ity of the males. To­day, women are found in all ar­eas of the le­gal pro­fes­sion: ad­vo­cacy, ad­ju­di­ca­tion, academia, etc.

The jour­ney had not by any means been tur­moil-free. There were times in the history of the quest for ed­u­ca­tion of the girl-child, es­pe­cially in the North­ern part of Nige­ria, when the so­cio-cul­tural pat­terns and re­li­gious mis­con­cep­tions lim­ited her ac­cess, re­ten­tion and com­ple­tion of even the ba­sic part of con­ven­tional ed­u­ca­tion. Those prac­tices of bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion are now grad­u­ally paving the way for more ac­cess and choices for girls. Hav­ing over­come some of the worst hur­dles in the path to ed­u­ca­tion, in this piece, I make a case for the girl-child to con­sider law as a first choice in the de­ter­mi­na­tion of cour­ses of study, but first, I ad­dress some of the chal­lenges/myths that may stand in the path of a North­ern girl wish­ing to pur­sue the study of law.

Myths and Real Chal­lenge to the Study of Law

1. RE­GALIA: There is the mis­con­cep­tion that it is part of the re­quire­ment of the le­gal pro­fes­sion for women to wear short skirts, tight jack­ets, and leave their hair un­cov­ered. This is very much far from the truth. Cer­tainly, the le­gal pro­fes­sion has its codes and ethics with re­gard to mode of dress­ing and ap­pear­ance, but these codes and ethics are not at vari­ance with the gen­eral cul­ture of the peo­ple of the North.

The es­o­teric re­galia of the lawyers in Nige­ria traces its ori­gin to the Le­gal Prac­ti­tion­ers Or­di­nance No. 30 of 1915 (SAINT LU­CIA), sec­tion 5 (1) of which pro­vides that “Ev­ery bar­ris­ter of the Royal Court shall have a right of au­di­ence in all the Courts of Jus­tice in this Colony: Pro­vided that coun­sel ap­pear­ing be­fore the Royal Court, or Court of Ap­peal, have no right of au­di­ence, un­less they are clad in dark clothes and wear the robes and bands proper to their call­ing.”

This in no way ad­vo­cates for im­mod­est dress­ing. In fact, im­mod­est dress­ing is ab­horred in the le­gal pro­fes­sion. There are cases where fe­male lawyers have been pub­licly ad­mon­ished on the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing the cul­ture of de­cent dress­ing when ap­pear­ing be­fore a court of law. In a lec­ture de­liv­ered at the Judges Fo­rum of the Nige­rian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion An­nual Gen­eral Con­fer­ence in Port Har­court (2011) on the topic “Mu­tual Re­spect be­tween the Bench and the Bar: Court­room Ethics and Deco­rum” Funke Adekoya, Se­nior Ad­vo­cate of Nige­ria (SAN) ad­vised fe­male lawyers not to dress to the court “as if you are go­ing to a night club.” The learned Silk likened such mode of dress­ing to act of dis­re­spect to the court.

This po­si­tion ex­pressed is clearly en­shrined in the Rules of Pro­fes­sional

TCon­duct for Le­gal Prac­ti­tion­ers 2007. Ar­ti­cle 36 thereof pro­vides that a lawyer ap­pear­ing be­fore the court shall “(a) be at­tired in a proper and dig­ni­fied man­ner and shall not wear any ap­parel or or­na­ment cal­cu­lated to at­tract at­ten­tion to him­self; (b) con­duct him­self with de­cency and deco­rum, and ob­serve the cus­toms, con­duct and code of be­hav­iour of the court and cus­tom of prac­tice at the bar with re­spect to ap­pear­ance, dress, man­ners and cour­tesy.”

It is also part of the dress code, right from Law School that ladies are strictly pro­hib­ited from wear­ing trousers and their skirts must, un­der no cir­cum­stance, be above the knees. Skull caps and cape hi­jabs are now a fre­quent sight­ing in court­rooms. Even in su­pe­rior courts where wigs are part of the com­pul­sory re­galia of lawyers, Mus­lim women do wear skull caps or cape hi­jabs be­neath their wigs. In spite of the sec­u­lar stance of the coun­try as adopted in sec­tion 10 of the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Fed­eral Re­pub­lic of Nige­ria 1999, as amended, the plu­ral­is­tic re­li­gious na­ture of Nige­ria has in­deed been recog­nised and re­spected by the le­gal pro­fes­sion. In some cam­puses of the Law School, stu­dents go to classes clad in full length hi­jabs.

2. COST: Some States in the North, such as Sokoto State, pay the reg­is­tra­tion fees for in­di­genes of the States at both un­der­grad­u­ate and Law School lev­els. At post­grad­u­ate level, there are schol­ar­ship and grant op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to both male and fe­male stu­dents of law from in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions. These in­clude United Na­tions In­ter­na­tional Law Fel­low­ship Pro­gramme, King’s Nige­rian Law Scholar Fund for Mas­ters Stu­dents, Global Lead­ers Fel­low­ship for Nige­rian Stu­dents, Chevening Schol­ar­ship, and Mon­buk­a­gakusho (MEXT) Schol­ar­ship, among oth­ers. The writer ben­e­fited from the last two men­tioned schol­ar­ships in the United King­dom and Ja­pan. You or your par­ents do not have to carry the en­tire bur­den of your train­ing.

3. LENGTH OF PE­RIOD OF STUDY: This is a very real chal­lenge to some girls, par­tic­u­larly those from the North. The study of law in Nige­rian Univer­si­ties takes four (4) to five (5) years depend­ing on the point of en­try (UG I or UG II - JAMB or Di­rect En­try). Upon the com­ple­tion of the un­der­grad­u­ate train­ing, can­di­dates are re­quired to un­dergo one (1) year train­ing in the Nige­rian Law School in or­der to qual­ify for call to the Nige­rian Bar. It is only af­ter the suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of this 5 or six (6) year train­ing that one could qual­ify as a lawyer. Con­sid­er­ing that the ear­li­est age one could gain ad­mis­sion into a Nige­rian Univer­sity is six­teen (16) years, ac­cord­ing to the Joint Ad­mis­sions and Ma­tric­u­la­tions Board (JAMB), which spec­i­fies that a can­di­date for ad­mis­sion into any un­der­grad­u­ate pro­gramme of a Nige­rian Univer­sity must have at­tained the age of 16 or will do so on the first day of Oc­to­ber in the year of can­di­da­ture, this is a real chal­lenge. It takes any girl wish­ing to qual­ify as a lawyer be­fore mar­riage into her early twen­ties be­fore such qual­i­fi­ca­tion; an ar­range­ment many par­ents in the North do not sup­port.

In re­cent years, girls have suc­ceeded in suc­cess­fully com­bin­ing the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of mat­ri­mony with those of pur­suit of ed­u­ca­tion. If you hap­pen to get mar­ried be­fore com­ple­tion of your train­ing, that should not be a bar­rier to your suc­cess in the study of law. Some of us waded through that hur­dle.

Why Study Law in the midst of Range of Dis­ci­plines?

Law is one dis­ci­pline that cuts across all other dis­ci­plines. All! When you study law, you get an in­sight into a whole range of dis­ci­plines. Law af­fects ev­ery­thing. The study of law opens up your mind to wide-rang­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties in the study of medicine and other sciences in tort law, copy­right law in literature, eco­nom­ics in treaties and law of con­tract, geo-pol­i­tics in in­ter­na­tional law, and so­ci­ol­ogy in fam­ily law, among oth­ers.

Law guides your de­vel­op­ment of a range of skills. It chal­lenges you to sharpen your in­tel­lect, strengthen your un­der­stand­ing and deepen your ap­pre­ci­a­tion of other cour­ses in hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences. When you study law, you de­velop your abil­ity for ab­stract think­ing and meth­ods of prac­ti­cal prob­lem-solv­ing. These skills are ac­quired through di­verse meth­ods of cre­ative in­tel­lec­tual teach­ing and learn­ing process: So­cratic Method (method of elenchus) of de­bate and ar­tic­u­la­tion, tu­to­ri­als, moot court com­pe­ti­tions, where skills are de­vel­oped in an­a­lyt­i­cal think­ing and oral pre­sen­ta­tions, etc. Law Clin­ics of­fer ad­di­tional train­ing ground for stu­dents to, through the pro­vi­sion of pro bono ser­vices, give le­gal ad­vice and sup­port to real peo­ple with real prob­lems.

When you train in law, you stand a bet­ter chance of reach­ing the high­est ech­e­lon of your ca­reer. Even with the pa­tri­ar­chal out­look of North­ern Nige­ria, women of North­ern ex­trac­tion have oc­cu­pied some of the high­est po­si­tions in the le­gal pro­fes­sion. This may not be un­con­nected with the fact that there are no women in law. Once you are able to over­come the rigours of the train­ing and you are called to the Bar, your gen­der ‘dis­ap­pears.’ Some of these North­ern women who ex­celled as lawyers in­clude the im­me­di­ate past Chief Jus­tice of Nige­ria, Jus­tice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar (2012-2014) who is an in­di­gene of Kano State; the cur­rent Pres­i­dent of the Court of Ap­peal (PCA), Jus­tice Zainab Bulka­chuwa who hails from Gombe State; the im­me­di­ate past Chief Judge of Kaduna State, Jus­tice Rahila Hadea Cud­joe; and the cur­rent Chief Judge of Sokoto State, Jus­tice Aisha Sani Dahiru.

Oth­ers are the Chief Judge of Niger State, Jus­tice Fati Abubakar; and the Act­ing Chief Judge of Kano State, Jus­tice Pa­tri­cia Mah­moud. In the academia, North­ern women are also well rep­re­sented. For ex­am­ple, the fa­mous Pro­fes­sor Hauwa Ibrahim of Har­vard Univer­sity, Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, United States of Amer­ica, hails from Gombe State.

Aside from ca­reers in the le­gal pro­fes­sion, you stand a favourable chance of be­ing con­sid­ered for po­si­tions that re­quire an­a­lytic think­ing in Law En­force­ment, Academia, In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tions and the busi­ness world. More­over, there are cer­tain jobs that have, by law, been made to be the ex­clu­sive re­serve of per­sons in the le­gal pro­fes­sion, for ex­am­ple, the po­si­tion of Reg­is­trar-Gen­eral of Cor­po­rate Af­fairs Com­mis­sion, and, along with other pro­fes­sion­als, the po­si­tion of a Sec­re­tary in a Public Com­pany. In ad­di­tion, ev­ery lawyer in Nige­ria is qual­i­fied as So­lic­i­tor and Ad­vo­cate. Even if your plan is not to pur­sue a ca­reer as an ad­vo­cate or a Judge, you can still make a liv­ing from be­ing a So­lic­i­tor. In a so­ci­ety with very lim­ited so­cial wel­fare schemes and so­cial safety nets, this an­gle of the pro­fes­sion could pro­vide you with in­come even af­ter re­tire­ment from for­mal em­ploy­ment.

You also stand a very good chance, by your train­ing, of be­ing a me­di­a­tor or an ar­bi­tra­tor. This usu­ally comes to women nat­u­rally! As a daugh­ter, as a sis­ter, as a wife, as a mother, you are al­ways set­tling dis­putes. Apart from your nat­u­ral dis­po­si­tion of em­pa­thy, the skills you ac­quire from your train­ing of law pre­pare you for such call­ing.

From the fore­go­ing, you could see that there are nu­mer­ous ad­van­tages in the study of law. As girls and women, we have come a long way, but there are still some ob­scure chal­lenges lurk­ing in the path of the de­vel­op­ment of girl-child. The sure way to con­front and over­come them is to ac­quire the skills and qual­i­fi­ca­tions that will af­ford you the right of hear­ing be­fore ev­ery court in Nige­ria to ad­vo­cate for causes that mat­ter to you and bring about jus­tice in your so­ci­ety. Re­mem­ber, even the fig­ure of jus­tice is rep­re­sented by the fe­male statue, “Lady Jus­tice.” Study law and qual­ify as a lawyer, you will be glad you did.

Dr Balk­isu Saidu, Fac­ulty of Law, Us­manu Dan­fodiyo Univer­sity, Sokoto, (Ac­tive Cit­i­zens’ Fa­cil­i­ta­tor 2014-2015. Bri­tish Coun­cil, Nige­ria), wrote this piece to com­mem­o­rate the In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl Child com­ing up Oc­to­ber 11, 2015.

For­mer CJN Aloma Mukhtar

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