She is a legal luminary who has acquitted herself well through the years, and her consistency and commitment to duty have seen her rise above hurdles, shattering the glass ceiling and scaling through to great heights not common to many.
Growing up for her was, with a sense of hindsight, a typical middle class experience. Her father studied Geography at the University College Ibadan and taught for many years before setting up a series of business ventures. He was pivotal in making her who she is today. Her principles and core beliefs were formed in conversations with him and continue to guide her every action today.
“Interestingly, I do not recall him ever telling me to think or do anything in a particular fashion,” she tells me, nostalgically. “He provided a sounding board, and by asking questions and exploring the hypothetical outcomes with me, enabled me to think for myself and to understand that actions result in consequences, hence the need to weigh the consequence and decide whether the possible outcome was desirable, acceptable or bearable before proceeding down any pathway. That continues to influence my decision-making process to date. I commend him for the discipline this required and I have adopted the same approach to parenting.”
An accredited civil and commercial mediator, she was nominated the London Borough of Southwark Woman Entrepreneur for 2007. As chairwoman of the Association of Women Solicitors, England and Wales, she was the first person of minority ethnic origin to hold this position in the entire history of the association. She represents Nigeria on the Council of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and serves on the executive committee of the British Nigeria Law Forum. She also serves on the conference planning committee of the Nigeria Bar Association’s Section on Business Law and is the co-author of ‘Sisters in Law – Career Choices for Nigerian Women Lawyers’.
Boma Ozobia, former president of Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) and managing partner at Sterling Partnership, is my ‘date’ for this week.
“It is a man’s world,” so goes the saying, even though various outcomes have proven that this may not necessarily be true. However, the fact remains that there are those from the school of thought that believes that the law is gender-biased. But for Boma: “Law is mostly gender-neutral save for those specific laws or aspects of specific laws that attempt to guide society on gender issues. Having said that, we must accept that laws are administered by people and often we bring our gender-based bias into the administration of law.”
Prominent in the social media in recent times is the issue of violence against women, sometimes with very gory images that keep you wondering why such dastardly acts are meted on fellow human beings. Asked her view on this, Boma says: “Gender-based violence does sadly appear to be on the rise. In some cases such as the dreadful images we have witnessed on various social media, it is a situation where the unfortunate woman is overpowered by a pack of beasts, with due apologies to beasts and for lack of a stronger word in the English language. Such attacks must be prevented by the law enforcement agents in any civilised society or appropriately sanctioned as applicable. Sometime ago, we witnessed the barbaric attack on a British soldier in London resulting in the death of the unfortunate soldier. The difference lies in the response of the law enforcement agents and the speed of the administration of justice in that system.”
She further says that women in abusive situations – and in some cases men, because gender-based violence can be, and is sometimes, directed at men – owe themselves a duty of self-preservation. “Self-preservation in this sense refers to the duty to protect that core innermost self that separates us from other creatures. What was it about Nelson Mandela that kept him a free man in the years of incarceration? What was it that forced his would-be captors to become the captives instead? That core of humanity is present in all of us. Precious! To be protected with life itself if need be. Too often, however, we surrender it for a bowl of porridge, to paraphrase the Christian bible. In my view, the answer to the rhetorical question in the same book, ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?’ is, quite simply, a poor trade-off. Not worth it. We must all therefore take individual responsibility for our self-preservation in that sense and absolutely refuse to be victims,” she adds.
Asked if Nigeria has enough female senior legal practitioners and here’s Boma’s candid opinion: “We are unquestionably outnumbered by our male colleagues. This does not mean that we are in any way less capable. Historically, women came into the profession later than men, albeit nearly a century ago. Traditionally also, girls have generally been steered towards careers viewed as compatible to homemaking. That is changing, hence the increasing number of women coming into the profession. As the numbers increase at entry level, we are bound to see this reflected in the higher echelons of the profession.”
Boma believes strongly that everyone, regardless of gender, can achieve success with proper planning, discipline and perseverance, because the difficulty with us all lies in mustering the self-discipline to take the necessary steps.
Giving her advice to everyone, she says: “Treat everyone in the same way you would like to be treated. We have to rediscover the common courtesies in our engagement with one another if we truly wish to live in a civilised society. The words ‘civility’ and ‘civilised’ are not closely related by accident.”