• Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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BusinessDay

Jumoke Oduwole, a legal luminary of worldwide relevance

If there is one thing I admire about my ‘date’ for this week, it’s the natural way she oozes elegance.  She has such an endearing personality; she is intelligent, chic, stunning and endowed with the gift of humility.

Don’t take her  simplicity for granted though, you will be amazed to know that this woman of substance is a lecturer at the Department of Jurisprudence & International Law, University of Lagos and she has been doing this for over a decade. Prior to that, she was in investment banking, then corporate banking for a few years.

“After my masters degree I went into investment banking with a five-year plan to acquire specialized skills and then return to law practice.  However, along the way, I had course to re-evaluate my entire career trajectory in an attempt to pinpoint precisely what my life’s passion was. A colleague and I came up with a matrix that helped me identify academia as my future direction.  The process took about two years to identify the career and make the transition.” She says and continues “I wanted a sector where I could make an impact on lives, and where my skills and personality were best suited.  Having grown up on a university campus, I knew exactly what the life of an academic entailed.  My roles as a lecturer include teaching (and mentoring) students, conducting continuous research and conferencing, as well as administrative functions in the faculty and serving the wider university community.  I am an elected member of the University of Lagos

Senate, I sit on the Student Disciplinary Committee of the Faculty of Pharmacy and I’ve served on other ad hoc committees.” She narrates.

Olajumoke Oduwole is my date for this week.

Jumoke grew up in University of Lagos Campus, where she tells me she had an interesting experience “It was a very pleasant time spent schooling and playing in a safe, natural environment.  There were several of us children whose parents were colleagues and anyone’s parents could discipline the children.  Our homes had no gates or fences and we had lots of gardens to play in…when I look back, I feel children of today are not getting as much as we had in terms of quality of socialization.” Jumoke opines.

Jumoke-Oduwole
Jumoke Oduwole

As a child, Jumoke had wanted to be many things and law never featured among them. In her words, “from an architect, to an interior designer, to an archeologist (thanks to Indiana Jones – until my dad told me I’d have to study ancient Greek), to industrial chemist so I could make exotic perfume and the list goes on but by the time I was finishing secondary school, I wanted to be an economist but my mother suggested I select a ‘professional course’ and started talking about Accountancy.  Now, that was one profession I definitely didn’t like because my account ledgers never balanced during exams.  In the end, I decided to apply to study Law because I was an excellent literature student and one of my close friends was filling law.”

“I knew that when I tell other parents and people I’m studying Law they would nod in approval.This is how a lot of kids end up in certain career choices that they are not passionate about.  Even today, I have students who are studying law because they are ‘strong’ students and their parents and teachers felt they can succeed at it.  As a society we don’t generally encourage students to identify and pursue their innate passions, which are really the only way they will thrive. Thankfully, I thoroughly enjoyed studying law, I was well suited to it and I excelled at it.  I really do consider it a strong and versatile profession, and an excellent foundation degree with which you can do almost anything.” Jumoke says.

Having been in the legal profession for so long and lecturing through the years, Jumoke shares with me her observations about young lawyers and her advice to them. Hear her “I’ve noticed and confirmed over and over again what many people have forgotten – that many Nigerian youths are brilliant, hard working, determined people.  What they do lack is an enabling environment from early childhood education, to fully harness their potential.  This is where we, as a society, have failed them. However, my advice to my students is always to remind them that they are going to be competing for jobs in a global environment and they must take their education and level of exposure into their own hands.  Be the master of their own ship. With the internet, high quality information is at their finger tips.  They must read widely and be aware of global trends and find solid mentors.” Jumoke recommends.

Jumoke is the Holder of the Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity 2013 – 2015, Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University, The Netherlands. Wondering what that is about? Again, Jumoke speaks “As an academic, it’s extremely important to research and publish quality output.  As we say, its ‘publish or perish!’  Although there is limited funding available to attend international conferences, what I tell my students is what I tell myself.  I prioritise and invest in my career by self-funding or looking for external funding to conduct research.  I presented a paper at a conference in 2012 which was very well received.  In attendance was a judge from the International Court of Justice in The Hague, who was a member of the Prince Clause Chair search committee.  He nominated me for the appointment and that commenced a thorough nine-month selection process.  Along the way, I was informed that I was the preferred candidate, my final interview was a meeting in person with Queen Maxima of the Netherlands (then Princess Maxima) and then the Erasmus University Appointment Board had to approve my appointment.”

“A major part of the appointment was the delivery of an inaugural lecture on May 20, 2014 at the Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University in The Hague. The lecture was titled ‘International Law and the Right to Development: A Pragmatic Approach for Africa’ and was delivered in the presence of Queen Maxima, and a cross section of high level academia, diplomats, international court judges and government officials from the Hague and beyond.  My home institution, University of Lagos was represented by the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics and Research), Professor Babajide Alo. During my time in the Hague, I was invited to speak at a number of universities and I conducted research in my field with my academic host and my post-doctoral fellow.  There will also be an international conference and a Prince Claus Chair Roundtable on African development hosted at the University of Lagos in April 2015. I will divide my time between Lagos and the Hague till my tenure is officially over in August 2015 but our research work will likely continue beyond that.” She explains.

If Jumoke has the opportunity to change something in the Nigerian legal system, she says it will be “More investment in legal education across the board (well trained students equals good lawyers; law enforcement, the judiciary, the legislature.  What we put into our legal system, especially the personnel, is directly proportional to what we can expect to get out of it.” Says Jumoke.

It seems everyone has gone quiet on the Chibok girls and are now focused on Ebola. Jumoke agrees to this and adds “Sadly, it’s not the Chibok girls alone. These types of kidnappings have been going on for a while and are symptomatic of a much larger problem in our country.  We need to hold our government, and ourselves, accountable for the root cause of the problem and we all need to actively seek innovative ways of solving these problems in whatever way we can contribute or participate.”

Burdened about the Nigerian educational system and being an educationist too, Jumoke says “I am bothered about the Nigerian curriculum and recommended texts for Secondary Schools. My daughter is going into her third year in a very good private school that fully implements the Nigerian educational curriculum. I am alarmed and extremely distressed to see the quality of books, particularly literature books,that Nigerian children are being exposed to.  Many of our elite and middle class may not even be aware of how bad things are because their children are in private schools, many of which are implementing the national British curriculum here in Nigeria.  We have to get involved and work towards systemic change in this area.” She warns.

Ask Jumoke her take on women empowerment and she will naturally tell you “Women have a powerful voice. We need to use it, 360 degrees in every area of our society.  No one should wait to be empowered. We don’t hear about men waiting to be empowered.  We must take charge of our own destinies, our own life, family, career or business and contribute to our immediate community and the society at large. Every woman can make a difference no matter her level of education or economic status.  No one is too big or too small to make a difference in Nigeria.” Jumoke insists.

2015 is around the corner, the time to cast our votes for the right candidate however, Jumoke believes strongly that voter registration awareness should increase and proper campaigns to promote our civic responsibility. In her words, “If we don’t vote, then we have no right to complain about anything in Nigeria.  Whether you trust the system or not, it is still our DUTY to vote!

Oduwole has an LL.M. degree from Cambridge University, UK, where she was a DFID-Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholar, as well as a masters degree in International Legal Studies and a doctorate on International trade and development from Stanford Law School, USA.  She was a Graduate Fellow at the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation from 2007/2008 and a visiting scholar at the University of Houston Law Center, Houston, Texas from 2008/2010. An active member of the community, Jumoke volunteers her time for the advancement of a number of social causes and has mentored Nigerian youth in various capacities for over 15 years.  She is passionate about development issues in Africa.

KEMI AJUMOBI