PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria
By Ire Fagbemi
Justice Amina Augie was appointed as a Supreme Court Justice in Nigeria on November 7, 2016, making her the sixth woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice in Nigeria, the highest court in the country.
Augie was born on September 3, 1953, as Anne Eva Graham in Lagos, Nigeria. She is one of nine children and is from Kebbi State in Northwest Nigeria. She received her primary and secondary education between 1958 and 1971 in Ibadan at Abadina School from 1958-1960, Calabar at Hope Waddell Primary School from 1960-1962 in Enugu at Holy Rosary Primary School from 1966-1967 and in Kaduna at Queen Amina College from 1969-1971.
After this early education, Augie enrolled at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, from 1972 to 1977 for an undergraduate degree in law (LLB). She then attended Nigerian Law School and qualified as a barrister and solicitor in 1978. Two years later, in 1980, she enrolled at the Ahmadu Bello University in Kaduna State to pursue a Master of Laws (LLM). She didn’t complete this program as she then moved to Lagos state with her husband. Regardless of this momentary break, her ambition led her to enroll at the University of Lagos to obtain her LLM between 1986 and 1987 in criminology and related subjects.
Augie’s illustrious career started in legal work. She began her career as Legal Aid Counsel in the Sokoto State Legal Aid Council in 1978 where she became the Head of the Legal Aid Council between August 1979 and December 1979. This job is good evidence of her long-standing commitment to providing justice and preserving human rights in Nigeria.
Following this, her career shifted focus to academia, for which she had a genuine interest. From 1980 to 1982, she worked as an Assistant Lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University. Between 1982 and 1984, she served as the Senior State Counsel in the Office of the Chief Counsel to the President in Lagos State. Her zeal for knowledge and education led her back to employment in academia, where she worked as a Law Lecturer at the Nigerian Law School between 1984 and 1988, where she taught a course on evidence. Following this stint at the Nigerian Law School, her career branched off into different aspects of law, but she maintained her interest in education by working as a part-time lecturer at the Faculty of Law at Uthman Dan Fodio University in Sokoto between 1989 and 1992 and later an Associate Lecturer from 1999 to 2002.
In 1988, Augie’s judicial career began, and she gradually progressed through the ranks. She was first appointed as a Chief Magistrate in the Sokoto State Judiciary, after moving to Sokoto with her husband. She held this position for four years until she was appointed as Judge of the High Court in 1992 which she held until she was promoted to the Court of Appeal in 2002. As a Justice of the Court of Appeal, she served in various divisions over fourteen years and rose to become Presiding Justice, the highest position in the court at the time. Her commitment to justice and her diligence are clear and prove to be good reasons for why her career continued to advance. She also chaired various tribunals in the course of her career. These include the Recovery of Public Properties Tribunal in Sokoto State (1995-1996); Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Tribunal, Lagos Zone V (1996-1999); National Assembly, Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunal (2000-2002); and Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Niger Dock (2001-2002). These tribunals were set up to perform those judiciary functions that belonged to the courts, with the power to apply stiffer penalties for offences that were already recognized by the law.
Augie also served on numerous national and international committees. These include her participation on the National Swim Team Committee from 1973 to 1976; the Prisons Reform Committee in 1992 ; and as the International Director of the National Association of Women Judges from 1997 to 2000. Her various engagements demonstrate her openness to exploring different aspects of the law and its practice and her commitment to the advocacy of human rights and women’s rights.
Furthermore, over the course of her career, Augie continuously advocated for human and women’s rights and has been awarded with merit awards from different organizations. She was honored by the International Association of Women Judges (Africa Region) in 2005 and the Lagos State Judiciary in 2016.She was also certified as a fellow by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Nigeria and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. She was conferred with the prestigious National Honors of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), a significant national award bestowed on all Supreme Court Justices.
Augie had a genuine passion for academia, and although her career has brought her to the judicial bench, she has continued to express her interest in academia by participating in several international conferences and seminars of women judges in Canada, Austria, Ethiopia, the United States, and South Africa. Additionally, she has authored and published over seventy conference papers, articles, and book chapters on various aspects of the law with a focus on human rights.
Augie is considered a pioneer woman in the law for a number of reasons. She is the sixth female Supreme Court Justice out of 104 Supreme Court Justices in Nigeria. Her appointment challenges the masculine identity of law in Nigeria and is evidence of progress and further acceptance of women in law in Africa, particularly Nigeria. In addition to this, she continues the legacy of previous female Supreme Court Judges and is setting the stage for more women to progress higher within the Judiciary.
Furthermore, the clear diversity of her talent and her commitment to legal work in different sectors make her a pioneer woman in law. She worked successfully in different aspects of law in Nigeria from legal aid and academia to the judiciary. Her commitment to academia is admirable, as it shows her to have a willingness to learn and educate others. While she practiced legal work and occupied the judge’s bench, she embodied integrity and had a genuine passion for the pursuit of justice. She has described her understanding of what it means to be a legal practitioner in a country like Nigeria by saying that “[j]udges, amongst others, must have integrity of character and do what is right according to the law.” This outlook on the judiciary is particularly meritorious as Nigeria and its justice system struggles with corruption.
It is clear why Justice Amina Augie can be considered a pioneer woman in the law considering all of her accomplishments.