Olubusayo Ibrahim is a legal practitioner in the law firm of Eyimofe Atake & Co with special interest in admiralty (shipping), oil and gas, commercial and company law as well as International Law and Relations. As a woman in a male dominated field, she is passionate about gender issues. In this interview by YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE, she speaks on issues that affect women, among many others.
Give a brief background about yourself?
I am a legal practitioner, the first child and daughter of a family of seven inclusive of my parents. I studied Law at the University of Lagos and upon graduation in 2005, I proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Kano. I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2006.
Which aspect of law do you specialise in?
I practice in the law firm of Eyimofe Atake & Co. My practice areas include admiralty (shipping), oil and gas, commercial and company law. I also have interest in International Law and Relations.
How easy is it for you as a female in a male dominated legal circle?
Practicing law as a lady can, indeed, be challenging. First, because our society is largely patriarchal; it is often assumed that a woman may not be able to handle complex, technical or challenging litigation. Some principals would rather restrict the female members of their team to solicitor’s work (that is, matters that do not involve litigation) and let the male lawyers take on the litigation aspects of the practice. Secondly, as litigation involves a great deal of hard work in terms of extensive legal research, comprehensive analysis of facts, the law and legal arguments, careful preparation of court processes that often require sound knowledge and application of the rules of court practice and procedure, diligent preparation in anticipation of oral arguments in court, long hours sitting in court to have a matter heard, and all the rigours that come with the litigation process, many ladies would rather avoid litigation practice.
Therefore, for me, I’ve had to prove and show my principal and learned colleagues, that I have a serious interest in litigation practice; that I am ready and able to work hard, be diligent and develop the necessary resilience every litigation lawyer must possess. Having done that, I’ve been able to attract and build good mentoring relationships with senior colleagues in the profession, and who are mostly male.
Consequently, I draw strength and wisdom from my seniors and contemporaries alike, making it pleasant for me to continue to practice as a litigation lawyer.
How do you create a balance in a highly demanding career and as a wife and mother?
Balancing one’s career alongside family roles/duties involves careful planning and the use of technology and other social resources. My family provides a good support system that includes my husband who is very understanding. My husband knows and understands my work routine. When there are changes that involve travelling or late nights in the office, I always inform him well ahead and, together, we plan how to take care of the family. When I’m away from the office and work (most weekends inclusive), I’m fully at home and available for my family, no distractions.
Is there discrimination in the payment of women in relation to their male counterparts in the legal circle?
Oh! Oh! Is there any profession where equal pay for both genders is guaranteed? (Laughing) Perhaps in the civil service? Oftentimes, a woman has to perform or work thrice as much as her male counterparts before she gets commensurate remuneration. Even when it is glaring that a woman is doing the job better, she may have to engage in some kind of tussle or activism, to get an income that corresponds with her performance on the job.
Some believe that female lawyers tend to focus more on female issues, do you believe this?
No, I don’t believe female lawyers tend to focus more on feminine issues. Without mentioning names, there are many female lawyers who are doing excellently well in many areas of law practice that have nothing to do with female issues. For instance, so far, I have not been involved with feminine issues in official capacity or in my practice of the law, and the same goes for many of my female colleagues. I believe that assumption exists because women themselves champion most of the issues or causes concerning the female gender. For that reason, the women leading or advocating a particular female issue or cause, tend to rely on female lawyers for their legal and professional expertise. It is expected that a female lawyer will better understand and articulate legal issues that involve the female gender.
Have you faced any serious challenge in the legal field because of your gender?
No serious challenge yet, really. Except that sometimes when I meet some clients or colleagues for the first time, they think “oh! She’s just another female lawyer, nothing serious.” But when they hear my submissions, arguments or analysis of a matter and they see my advocacy in court, then they know, they have to be extra serious and diligent.
Which has been the most challenging case you handled as a lawyer?
I’ve handled some challenging cases. There was this case that had gone on for 12 years without conclusive trial, a bank guarantee of a good sum was involved too. My principal asked me to take charge of the case. I was determined to conclude trial and get judgment in the shortest time possible. That case really drove me to the limits. The trial was rigorous because the lawyers on the other side were equally good. In the course of the matter, on several occasions, I had to work weekends. Other times, I slept in the office and from the office I went to court. I remember when I was to file the final written address and subsequently, the reply address, I worked for days and hours non-stop, no dozing or sleeping even at night and still went to court. I did all that because I did not want to lose time. Fortunately and to God’s glory, all that hard work paid off as we concluded trial and got judgment in favour of the client within two years.
What inspired you to go into law?
My mom once told me that when I was still a baby, someone told her I was going to be a lawyer. From a young age, I had this clear understanding of the interpretation of rights, duties and obligations. I’ve always been vocal and even where others are afraid to speak, Busayo will say something (I used to be called sharp mouth). But really, I was studying to be an accountant when I fell in love with the law. After my secondary education at the Federal Government Girls’ College, Sagamu, my uncle Mr. Foluso Odebiyi, encouraged me to study for and take ICAN exams while awaiting admission into the university. One of the courses I took at the ATS level then was Business Law where I learnt about Law of Contract, Tort, among others.
After my classes, I would get home and eloquently lecture everyone in the family about what I had learnt. So, in 1999 when I was to write the UTME for the second time, I asked myself, “Busayo, do you wish to be an accountant or a lawyer?” That’s how I made law my first and second choice, instead of accounting that I had chosen the first time I sat the exams.
Do you think women are proportionately represented at partner level in law firms in Nigeria?
To a great extent, because the practice of law is highly demanding and there are more male than female lawyers handling the complex legal cases or briefs within most law firms. Women are often not proportionately represented at the partner level. It is not because we do not have equally brilliant and resourceful female lawyers. It’s the same in politics where women are also not proportionately represented.
What are your fond memories as a lawyer?
I believe, I’m still young in the profession and so, my fond memories as a lawyer are still in progress, while some may already exist, others are in creation mode. Each time I appear before brilliant and dedicated judges, I’m happy. And when I get judgment in favour of a client or I’m able to achieve a satisfactory resolution of a dispute using my legal skills, I feel fulfilled.
How did you feel after your
It was thrilling. I felt I was travelling in space because it was the first time my advocacy skills were fully tested in court and I achieved the desired result.
What inspires you to hold on?
The desire to make a difference in the Nigerian society and to be a role model for other young ladies are the things that keep me going. Sometimes, I wonder if it is worth it because, the level of decay and underdevelopment in our country is unbelievable. Nonetheless, we have to keep hope alive.
How do you handle male chauvinism in the course of your work?
I try to always speak up and speak out against chauvinism. But more importantly, I show how good my skills are, what results I have achieved in the past, and that I can do the job excellently.
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