How We’re Using FIDA for Women Empowerment, Child Rights
Her smart outlook reflects the agility of a young lawyer taking a brief to the courtroom as she emerges to join the retinue of lawyers who had converged on Eko Hotel and Suites for the 59th Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association recently. Beautiful, elegant and classic in a long skirt and matching jacket. She cannot be missed in a crowd.
Meet Mrs. Victoria Olufunmilayo Awomolo, a legal Amazon and one of a few female senior advocates of Nigeria. She is an intellectual who combines brain with beauty and at almost 62, the legal icon is still versatile and agile. A former chemistry teacher-turned-legal icon, you can describe her transition from teaching to law dramatic. Her elevation to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria is a benefiting and beautiful feather to her cap. She was also recently elected the Africa Regional Vice President (RVP) of FIDA International at FIDA Convention in the Bahamas. As FIDA converged on Nigeria in October for its annual conference, Awomolo tells Funke Olaode about the association’s mission and vision
She exudes elegance in all facets of life: love and law. In her profession she has equally recorded successes, rising through the ranks to become one of the most successful lawyers in Nigeria. And with a charming and loving husband, Asiwaju Adegboye Awomolo (SAN) who played a vital role in becoming a lawyer, she has soared high and break the glass ceilings.
But for this Kogi State-born legal diva, there is no such thing as an overnight success. As she believes that for those who crave for success, it is either they embrace diligence to refine themselves or their ability to prepare when opportunity knocks. She embraced both to achieve her goals.
Born in Ilesha in Osun State over six decades ago, the young Funmilayo attended Salvation Army Primary School, Ilesha and later gained admission to IIesha Grammar School for her Secondary education. She later proceeded to Kwara State College of Technology for her ‘A’ levels. Her insatiable quest for knowledge motivated her to pursue a degree course in Chemistry at the University of Benin where she graduated in 1981.
Done with her scientific sphere, a decade after graduation, she went back for a second degree in Law at the University of Ibadan where she graduated in 1996. At UI, she graduated as the best graduating student in Labour Law.
In 1997, she headed to the Nigerian law school where she graduated with a Second Class Upper Division (2:1) and was called to the Nigerian Bar in February 1998. Thereafter, she immersed herself into the law profession, climbing mountains, conquering law territories. In 2013, she took the silk by becoming the 18th woman to be appointed a senior advocate of Nigeria.
Looking at her life trajectory, it would appear that the Yeyemofin of Igbajo Land is destined to belong to the bench because when she graduated from Ilesha Grammar School, she was employed as a court clerk in Kwara State Judiciary where she worked for one year. Her love and passion for the legal profession and her desire to equip herself more for greater exploits in the law practice with a view to positively impact humanity and make useful contributions to national and global development, has made her to attend so many conferences, which include: Nigerian Bar Association, International Bar Association, Common Wealth Lawyers Conference and FIDA Convention and Regional Congresses.
She is a member of the Nigeria Bar Association, International Bar Association, Commonwealth Lawyers Association, International Federation of Women Lawyers Association, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK) Fellow Charted Institute of Arbitrators of Nigeria.
She has held several elected and appointed positions which include, Secretary Organizing Committee, NBA Conference Ilorin 2007, Secretary, International Federation of Women Lawyers(FIDA) Kwara State Branch (2004-2006), Chairman, Organizing Committee, Two decades of FIDA (NIG) Abuja Branch and Vice Chairperson, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nig Abuja Branch (2013-2016). She is presently the FIDA International Regional Vice President (Africa North & West), a post she was elected into in the Bahamas in 2017.
Over the past decades, she has combined law with humanity both as an advocate for women empowerment and girl-child education.
In a couple of weeks, October 11 to 15, 2019 to be precise, FIDA will converge on Nigeria for its annual conference with the theme, ‘Growth of women and children in Africa: Beyond Rhetorics’.
Throwing more light on the aims and objectives of FIDA, she said the ideology is to bring women lawyers from the African continent together.
“The ideology behind FIDA is to bring women lawyers together and look at issues of women and children in our society. There are challenges militating against women such as widowhood, inheritance, gender-based violence that is rampant, rape, sexual violence, etc. These are the issues that we take up and try to advocate against them especially where rights are involved.
“We go to prisons and pay prison fines for women, teach the women skills amongst other things. FIDA is not a woman activist group; we are into human rights that involve women and children. FIDA is over 50 years in Nigeria. We are in the 32 states of the federation and more states are coming up to be inaugurated. It is a non-governmental organization which depends on grants, on donations.”
On the theme of the conference, she noted: “The question is where are we? We have developed. But how far have we developed and how well? Look at the political space in Nigeria, the percentage of women in the Legislature is small and it is getting lower and lower every day. We have only seven women in the senate out of 109; seven female ministers in a total of 43 and the same with the house of representatives. Out of 350 senior advocates of Nigeria (SAN), only 22 of us are women. The first woman to become a SAN was Chief Folake Sholanke in 1981. It has been a very slow journey for women to reach the peak of this profession in Nigeria.
“We cannot continue to see our women stagnant, we need them to grow and develop. The congress commences on October 11-15 2019. This is Africa and African issues are going to be discussed. We are going to look at different issues concerning our children and women in Africa so that we can make recommendations.”
One of the issues militating against women is financial empowerment. Is FIDA going to address that?
She said, “The second day of the congress, Saturday 12th is our skills acquisition and 50 women have been pencilled down for this empowerment programme. It is not about teaching them and letting them go. We want to give them materials that will start them up. We will teach them how to be skillful and industrious.”
Today’s women are changing the narratives, recording many successes, breaking the glass ceiling. Although, there is still a school of thought that believes women should be seen and not heard.
“Yes, this issue came up at the just-concluded NBA 59th Annual General Conference in Lagos. Women tend to be very slow at pursuing a career due to a lot of factors that are solely related to women. Looking at the statistics, more women study law now than men in the last 10 years. Also, more women get a first-class at the law school, but immediately they are called to the Bar, a lot of factors come in: marriage, childbearing, cultural biases, and the rigours of practice, thereby obstructing the furtherance of career. These are some of the factors that inhibit our growth to the highest level in the legal profession. And so you find more women that go into ministries, banking sector, the corporate organisations.”
Does FIDA also handle the issue of gender equality?
“Yes,” she said. “That’s the basis of our goal. We are affiliated with the United Nations, we go there every year and come back home and then deliberate. The last General Assembly, there was a gender equality bill that was brought back by Senator Olujimi and I was going to come out on FIDA’s position. Unfortunately, the gender equality bill didn’t see the light of the day. Up till today, the papers are still on my table. We were not able to defend it. But thank God for the VAPP – Act (Violence against Persons Prohibition), it deals very much with issues about violence against men and women. That act is being used now by NAPTIP and by other agencies to deal with offenders.
“We also have the child right act. Children now have rights in Nigeria. We now have this set up in most states of the federation’s family courts so that if there’s any infringement on any child, these courts handle them separately. We have collaborated with other agencies and big players in the actualization of these laws. We advocate for gender equality, going to the markets, going to villages, discussing with traditional rulers and stakeholders.”
Passionate and compassionate about God and humanity. Being at the centre sometimes could be an instrument to influence and enforce policies. Would Yeye Asiwaju of Igbajoland like to throw her hat into the political ring?
“Yes, if I have the opportunity and feel safe about it because the way politics is being played in Nigeria calls for caution and intense passion. At my age, I must be careful. I won’t just jump into politics, I would rather wish to be approached to come and represent my people,” she stated.
Awomolo is the epitome of an ideal wife, caring mother, role model and blessed with wonderful children who have responded to the training. Her husband, Asiwaju Adegboyega Solomon Awomolo (SAN), has been a pillar of support in every step of the way.
When the legal diva is not busy with legal briefs, she relaxes at home with her loving husband.
“Every law brief ends at the chamber and the same with my husband so we can spend quality time together. He is a man that I love and respect. He is my number one inspiration.”