PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Senior Partner at Dentons ACAS-Law
By Tofunmi Labiyi
Olufunke Agbor, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is a Senior Partner of Dentons ACAS-Law who is highly touted for her specialities in maritime law and litigation. Agbor was born on November 3, 1959 at the Massey Street Children’s Hospital in Lagos. Her father, Yinka Lijadu, worked as an insurance executive and her mother, Nta Lijadu, was a trained secretary. Agbor is the oldest of five siblings with two sisters and two brothers. She is happily married to Dan Agbor and is a proud mother of two grown children.
Agbor attended primary school at St. Mary’s Private School Lagos and her secondary education was at Queen’s College, Lagos. Her higher education began in 1981 where she attained an honors in Law from the University of Lagos. She attended the Nigerian Law School in 1982 and was called to the bar, where she earned her right as an official barrister and solicitor in the Supreme Court of Nigeria. She completed her studies at the University College of London in 1984 where she obtained her Master of Laws. Her first main foray into the legal industry was when she became a member of the Nigerian Maritime Law Association (NMLA), starting at the Fola Sasegbon Law Foundation in 1985. In 1993, Agbor officially joined Dentons ACAS-Law and remains there today.
Agbor has an impressive list of feats. She was officially recognised in the United Kingdom as an Accredited Mediator of the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in 2012. She was ranked by Chamber’s Global in 2015 as an elite “Leading Individual.” Her name is listed under the Legal 500’s ‘‘Hall of Fame 2020’’ in shipping and transport. She has also been labelled as a “Global Leader in Transport for 2020” in the shipping category for Who’s Who Legal, a London-based website that praises distinct lawyers for their endeavours in business law. Chamber’s Global described Agbor in 2016 as someone who ‘‘possesses deep expertise in general civil litigation and commercial arbitration.’’ Her remarkable qualities in the maritime industry earned her a nomination on the Guardian Woman shortlist for ‘‘Top Nigerian Women in Law.’’ She is currently ranked in the second band by Chambers Global 2021 for dispute resolution lawyers in Nigeria, just under the highest ranked band. She is a member of numerous associations, such as the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law in the UK and the Nigeria Branch for Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.
More importantly, Agbor left her mark in the maritime industry by becoming the first female maritime lawyer to be appointed as Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 2016. The title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria is given to distinguished legal practitioners with over 10 years of legal experience. The title also grants lawyers the right to appear as a legal counsel at any superior court for any legal issue.
The application process to be appointed a SAN is rigorous. Out of a shortlisted 50 applicants, only two women, including Agbor, were successful. Despite the odds, Agbor stood out from the rest as she received her title. In April 2021, she was appointed as President of the Nigerian Maritime Law Association. She is one out of only four Presidents since the association was founded and she has made history by becoming the first woman to be appointed.
As a specialist in maritime law, Agbor has been active in the operations of Nigerian vessels in the shipyards. She has advocated for the Nigerian Maritime Law Association’s (NLMA) five-year strategic plan to involve financing suitable Nigerians to obtain larger vessels, which would improve interests in the Nigerian offshore industry. In addition, one of Agbor’s first proposals as the president of NLMA was to introduce necessary reforms towards the Federal High Court pertaining to the arrest of vessels to reduce the court’s backlog and accelerate the process of vessel arrests. She has been influential in the enforcement of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that prevent the constant breach of maritime security protocols by vessel defaulters. Agbor has endeavoured to find solutions that would involve collaborating with the maritime administration and judiciary towards increasing the literacy of judges in maritime law for those who are unfamiliar with the concept. She has also considered incorporating an ‘‘admiralty registry’’ which would smoothen operations in the office of the admiralty marshal.
Since her inclusion into the NMLA, Agbor has been ever-present as a speaker for major functions concerning the maritime industry. She has been a presenter on numerous occasions, such as the “Validity and Enforcement of Nigerian Arbitration Clauses” event in 2015 and the ‘‘Port Regulations and Infrastructure in Nigeria’’ event in 2016. Agbor is also involved in writing several articles, co-authoring pieces for the International Law Office newsletter and contributing to a publication “Getting the Deal Through” in at least five different editions. She has presented various position papers such as “The Incidence of Wreck Removal - The Nigerian perspective” in 2015 at the Marine Casualty seminar held in the United Kingdom and “Port Regulations and Infrastructure in Nigeria” during the Nigerian Business Law “Lagos Law Week” in 2016.
Agbor is an advocate of equal opportunities and this is buttressed by her contributions as a leading trustee towards Arise Foundation, a non-profit organisation that is committed to providing good education and better standard of living towards less privileged girls.
Agbor has used her talents in arbitration and litigation to secure highly prestigious positions in a male-dominated industry. She has engraved her footprints by breaking through the glass ceilings and specializing in a unique avenue of law. Her endeavours thus far will surely encourage young women to chase their dreams, no matter the circumstances.