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Demystifying the myth: Shinning a clear path for entry of girls into the legal profession

By
Dr
Balkisu Saidu
Faculty
of Law, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto
Introduction
The zeitgeist[1]
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 Conduct 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.        LENGHT 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 i
mmediate
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.


[1] the defining
spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and
beliefs of the time.


The British Council requested for the publication of this article as part of celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child.

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