Barrister Princess Chidi Kechi Oduji, a former United Nations Consultant on Learning Program/Economic and Social Rights, Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), in this interview with the Ika Weekly Newspaper crew speaks about her childhood days, the legal profession and social/ economic challenges in the country –more particularly, the rising cases of rape and corruption in the country.
One thing that qualifies this interview with the Imo state born Legal practitioner as a most read for all is that while it is loaded with solutions to the nation’s socioeconomic woes, parents and Nigerian youths have a lot of lessons to learn from the words of this erudite lawyer.
Tell us what growing up was like?
Growing up in the 80s and being a teenager in the 90s, I was part of the generation that experienced developmental shifts from analogue to digital and now sci-fi or e-tech worlds; from the tabletop corded telephones to telephone booths in the streets, from the wireless mobile gadgets to micro-chip technologies.
Clearly, growing up is replete with eclectic learning opportunities. I was fortunate to have been tutored by an educationist who believed that learning ought not to be rigid and streamlined; the Principal of my high school at the time, Late Mr. Lawal, always maintained that the human brain can never be completely filled up even at the end of life. Although I was a pure Science student, I was permitted by the teachers to attend Arts based subjects whenever I had a free period in class. This opportunity helped me immensely when I changed my University Course from Medicine to Law! Nevertheless, I still retain an interest in the medical sciences.
My mantra is that ‘Life though short is beautiful’ and it is a canvas that ought to tell stories, preferably positive ones, about the difference I have been able to make and the lives I may have touched.
You have been a Lawyer for over a decade. So, tell us, what informed the choice in the first place? And what is the experience like?
The theory of Law and the practical side are two entirely differently stories. Just like every other child that may have seen movies depicting the legal world, I fell in love with the class and dignity of Lawyers and also the fact that they are indispensable in all sphere of life and businesses, hence, the ‘god-like aura’ some of us exhibit. In the lecture halls, we are filled with a sense of know-it-all; but in real life practice of Law, we realise that there are shades of gray, and some shades are almost shadowy, so that we see the Law being applied in manners that are interestingly different from our theoretical knowledge.
My personal experience of this noble profession have had its low points such as not winning some cases due to technicalities and high points including being part of a legal team that got judgement in a 21 year old land matter; apparently, I was in Primary School when the matter was instituted.
You are a Lawyer. A profession many believe is meant for men. Please what informed your choice of being a Lawyer in the first instance?
My parents never believed that career paths are gender-based; I clearly recall my Dad saying that we, his daughters can be whatever and whoever we want to be, if we set our minds to it.
When I was filling out the JAMB form for University admission, I so wanted to apply for Physiotherapy or Archaeology, but my parents did not feel it had wide acceptability in the country, so I applied for Common Law; at the same time, I wrote the JAMB Polytechnic examinations and applied for Accountancy (my Dad was an Accountant and my immediate elder Sister too).
I got admission to study both Law and Accountancy and it was a catch-22 because I love Mathematics, calculations et al. Then I thought how interesting it would be to have a profession that allows me to do as much reading and research as I want to and Law fitted that bill perfectly, not forgetting the poise, élan and solemnity of the profession. When I told my Dad that I had decided to study Law, he was filled with emotions and he told me that his Late Father, my Grandfather, as the Warrant Chief over 16 villages, was referred to as Oka-ikpe (Judge) because he adjudicated over disputes and averted conflicts, though he had no western education. As far as my Dad was concerned, it was history replaying itself. So my decision to become a Lawyer met all wishes.
I later found out that I am the first female Legal Practitioner in my hometown in Imo State and the second Legal Practitioner too.
I am of a similar school of thought with my parents when it concerns choice of profession based on gender and I believe it is a total hogwash ideology, the human mind whether male or female is too dynamic to be conditioned into what is defined as a man or a woman’s job title.
You have spent quality time with the Civil Society Organization (CSOs), Non Governmental Organization (NGO) and global development agencies. Ma, our readers would like to understand the role a professionally trained Lawyer can do in such organizations?
As I stated earlier, the practice of Law is eclectic and its importance cannot be ignored. The presence of Lawyers in CSO, NGO and international development agencies goes a very long way to ensure that the activities and or projects executed by these organizations are within the ambit of statutory regulations. This role played by the Lawyers in this instance, is to protect the legality of the organizations.
In other instances, I have had the opportunity to act as legal go-between where there are impending face-offs between the affected communities, the State and or Non-State actors. In this capacity, I acted as co-Facilitator of peace talks and developed Memorandum of Understanding between the concerned parties.
Being a Lawyer in such exhilarating sector that beams the spotlight into governmental activities, I drafted a Bill to be passed into Law as it pertains to a thematic focus of the NGO I was working with at that time. This means that Lawyers in CSOs, NGOs and development agencies can draft Bill or propose Policies that can be presented to the State or National Assembly and passed into Law.
You are also well known as an advocate of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), as against litigation that your professional collegues do enjoy. Tell us, what informed your choice?
Change is inevitable and constant. In the early 2000s, the fact that Alternative Dispute Resolution is an innovative way to resolve dispute and decongest the Court, was taken with a pinch of salt. Most Lawyers whose idea of the Law is streamlined and straitjacket rejected it completely.
However, I was motivated to veer into the new model of dispute resolution and I became a Chartered Arbitrator of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK) in 2006 and when I joined the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) in 2006 as an advocate, I studied more about ADR, learning about mediation, negotiation, Early Neutral Evaluation and Persuasion; and I realised that some, if not most, disputes can be resolved without long drawn out court appearances and seemingly unending payment of legal fees.
This is not to say that Lawyers do not collect proper legal fees while appearing in an ADR session, ADR assists Lawyers to resolve knotty cases and get on to other ones, thus, no more dusty files or misplaced processes in the Law office.
What about the rising cases of rape? Who is to blame; Parents, government or the society?
This is an open-ended question because everyone has a role to play in identifying the signs, managing the signs, reporting the act and desisting from covering up the act or ‘raping’ the victim all over again under the guise of adjudicating the matter.
What I mean by ‘the signs’ are those imperceptible acts by children and or adults in a home that give hints of sexual abuse or unlawful sexual knowledge of a child, it could be the look of fright that the child gets in his or her eyes whenever the pedophile is around, or the unexpected terms that a little child uses when describing a private body part, it could even be the sudden attachment a child has towards a particular adult.
In cases involving a grown up female’s sexual assault, it is totally inappropriate that she has to endure the indignity of uncouth interrogations, snide comments or pitiful glances by officials who are supposed to give relative solace.
The rapist has a sole blame for committing the heinous crime and none other. The part to be played by the family (parents) is to educate the children on being able to identify uncomfortable sexual situations and how to avoid them. However, if it was unavoidable, then the parents ought to have an approachable and loving mien, so that the child can open up and talk to them about the act.
The rapist has a sole blame for committing the heinous crime and none other
The government should have a unified penalty for convicted rapists and the accomplices if any, with the alarming increase in rape cases, some of which are rape and homicide, the criminal justice system should take quick action on uniform punishment and the punishment must fit the crime. Also, the responding officers in rape cases should be trained for such role. A rape victim is emotionally, psychologically and physically drained after the attack and the last thing that she or he should go through, is to be reprimanded for purportedly being in a situation that makes him or her prone to attack.
The society is such a capricious factor, while some persons will commend and support a rape victim and the family for coming out to name and shame the rapist, other persons will berate the rape victim and sometimes issue threat message or castigate the family of the rape victim. This is often the case when the alleged rapist is a well-known personality.
More specifically, what is your personal impression concerning the much talked Corona virus?
Corona virus or Covid-19 is an alarming game changer, a leveler of human class, a restorer of nature particularly with reduction of smog, fog and illegal killing of wildlife. While atheists ask why they should believe in a God they do not see, now I wonder if they believe in the existence of the virus even though nobody seem to have seen it, though many people have passed on and many more are severely sick.
The race to find a cure for the virus which has crippled the world economies, stumped the science society and made mockery of military might, is on and it is my earnest hope that when it is developed, the successful country would not hoard the vaccines. If the cure is found, it would be in the best interest of humanity that it is accessible to all.
Stakeholders are particularly worried about the education sector’s inability to produce graduates tailored to meet the industrial needs. Is such assertion correct?
Indeed there is an element of truth in this assertion, even in the Legal sector, there are evident examples of Lawyers that can barely string together a sentence without ‘hemming & hawing’ because he or she is trying to arrange and translate the comments in their native tongue before saying it out loud in English. Perusals of brief or legal opinion by some Lawyers leave much to be desired, it is truly sad.
However, while we find it easy to lay all the blame at Government’s feet, it must not be overlooked that many of the Lecturers, especially in public tertiary institutions have failed to upgrade their academic status or develop innovative ideas. Therefore, it is always ‘garbage in, garbage out’, because these Lecturers cannot give what they don’t have. I would scarcely be surprised if a survey is conducted and the results show that the same topics and teaching style used in 2010 is still being utilized a decade later.
Now, let’s talk politics;
First, are you a politician? In your objective opinion, is the All Progressive Congress (APC) led Federal Government doing well?
No, I am not a career politician, but it is said that man is naturally a political animal; therefore, I may say that I am of the Liberal school of thought as it pertains to the political terrain. I am constrained to state specific steps and or missteps taken by the present government, but chipping in my two pence, I would say there is so many socio-economic projects and other sectors of the economy that need to be revived, and appropriate personnel should be appointed to manage these projects, programs and or policies. The insertion of square pegs in round holes should stop, because for any economy to have experienced positive change and development, Technocrats that are worth their onions must take charge.
There is so much corruption in the country. Does it worry you?
A blasé response to this is that Nigeria and corruption (corrupt practices) is seemingly symbiotic. I have heard it been said that if one wants to write about the state of the Nation in view of corruption, the person will have to buy out the entire paper mill because a book cannot contain the sad and sorry conditions that corrupt practices have sunken the Nigerian State.
It is indeed very worrisome, especially in the international community. All one need do is to tender the Nigerian passport at any international airport (even within Africa) and the immigration, customs and drug enforcement officers at the airport are on high alert. In some strange ways, the Nigerian passport is equated with corrupt practices and suspicions.
Though I remain irrefutably and proudly Nigerian, it could be exhausting always having to defend the honour of the country; change is however inevitable and it is my hope that there will be positive changes to the Nigerian image.
What Igbo Cultural Practices do you cherish so much and would not like to fade away? Please be explicit.
Hmm, my tribe has so many beautiful practices that it may be tough cherishing one over the others, nevertheless, a choice must be made. The norm of Igbo inheritance practice as it pertains to land is that the female child does not inherit anything from her late parents; however, I was told by my late Dad that this practice actually has a technical loophole.
If a man has daughters but no son and he wishes that his daughters inherit his estate, land et al, what he would do, as is practiced in my hometown, is that he would invite his Umunna (the men of his clan and immediate family) and inform them about his decision to leave his estate to his daughters. If there is land involved, the man and his clansmen would identify the land and each daughter would be given their own.
In order for this to be approved by the clan, such land must be given to the female child by the father while he is alive. This means that while inheritance is automatic for the male child, it must be gifted to the female child.
The practice is that your land is yours to give as gifts to your children (male and female) while alive but if this was not done, when the father dies, the land belongs to the sons, and if he had no sons, it reverts to the clan.
Ma, your final message for Nigerians particularly the youths?
The Nigerian youths are truly resilient and resourceful, oh yes, there are some who may have done terrible deeds, advance fee fraud, ritual killings, cult and gangs, but this does not remove from the fact that many others are performing great and enviable feats not just in Nigeria but all over the world and in all sphere of life.
It is not an easy task surviving peer pressure especially in this precarious society but rather than have a life of fleeting enjoyment in order to measure up to strangers’ standards, I implore the Nigerian youths to rise above it all and they can achieve this by creating legacies and contributing their quota to national development. It does not matter how little it is, so they can witness the actualization of the Nigerian state they can be proud of.