PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Hairat Aderinsola Balogun, OON
Life Bencher (Nigeria)
By Yusuf Lawal Esq.
“A woman of many firsts!” There is no better appellation to describe the Honorable Hairat Aderinsola Balogun OON, Life Bencher, and the Founder of Libra Law Office. She is an accomplished legal practitioner with an inspiring and fulfilling professional career. Hairat Aderinsola Balogun (Nee Alatishe) has left an indelible mark on the legal profession in Nigeria. Hairat Aderinsola Balogun was born on October 10, 1941, in Lagos, Nigeria, to the family of Alatishe of the Badewa Family of Ososa, Ogun State. She is the first child of her mother, who was the fourth wife to her father who had nine wives. Precisely ten days after her birth, she was placed in the care of her grandmother who raised her in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State.
Hairat Balogun received her early education in Ijebu-Ode; Saint Saviour’s Primary School, Ijebu- Ode, and Christ Church Porogun Primary School, Ijebu Ode where she earned her First School Leaving Certificate. At the age of twelve, she traveled to the United Kingdom for her Secondary School Education, attending Mount School London from 1955-1960. During a visit to Nigeria during school break, Hairat Balogun accompanied a family friend, Mr. Dayo Sonuga to the traffic court in Yaba, Lagos, and was later inspired to pursue a profession in law with the desire to serve as an aid to the people of Nigeria. She proceeded to study law at Gibson and Weldon, as well as the Inns of Court School of Law-Lincoln’s Inn. She was called to the English Bar on February 5, 1963, at the Lincoln’s Inn. She later returned to Nigeria and enrolled in the Nigerian Law School Lagos from April to July 1963, gaining admission to the Nigerian Bar on July 13, 1963.
Hairat Balogun has had a very fulfilling professional life. From 1971 to 1972 she was appointed as an Assistant Director, at the Legal Aid Council. She also served as the Secretary of the Sixth Commonwealth Law Conference from November 1978-August 1980. In August of 1980, in a keenly contested Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) national general election, Hairat Balogun was elected as the General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, making her the first woman to be elected to this position, a position she held for three years. Balogun later became the first Nigerian woman to become a member of the Council of the International Bar Association, serving from 1981-1983, 1992-1994, and 1994-1996.
Hairat Balogun volunteered and taught pro bono at the Nigerian Law School from January 1979 to July 1984, teaching Law Office Management and Professional Ethics, and established an annual prize award in the Nigerian Law School for Special/Handicapped Students who performed exceptionally at the final exams. She further oversaw the compilation and publication of Laws of Lagos State for the period of 1975-1981 and undertook the translation of two edicts from the English language to the Yoruba language—The Environmental Sanitation Edict, 1984 and the Illegal Markets (Prohibition) Edict, 1984. She saw to the creation of two new Divisions; Commercial Law and Law Reform in the Ministry of Justice and ensured the inauguration of prison visits and the holding of sessions by the State Advisory Council on the prerogative of mercy in the prison yards at Apapa, Kirikiri, the maximum and women’s prisons.
Hairat Balogun’s remarkable achievements in the legal profession, both domestically and internationally ultimately led to her appointment as the Attorney General of Lagos State on January 14, 1984. This feat would make her the first female Attorney General of Lagos State, and the second woman Attorney General in the country during the military regime of Governor Gbolahan Mudasiru. Such a remarkable achievement without a doubt paved the way for other women to be subsequently appointed as Attorneys General of their states. As Attorney General of Lagos State, she unified the positions of the Permanent Secretary and the Solicitor General, fusing the powers which were in the past exercised by two people, thereby doing away with duplication of functions and allowing for a more efficient decision-making process. In 1981, Hairat Balogun was nominated as a Bencher to the Body of Benchers, the highest and the most distinguished body in the legal profession in Nigeria. Later in 1989, she made history as the first woman to be made a Life Bencher. She went on to become the Chairperson of the Body of Benchers between 1998 to 1999 and the first woman to be appointed to the position in the history of Nigeria.
Hairat Balogun acted as Chairperson of the State Tenders Board at various times between 1984 to 1986 and as the Chairperson of the Lagos State Transport Corporation from 1984 to1985. Between 1984 and1986, she recommended ten legal practitioners for appointment as High Court Judges. She initiated the Weekly Consultation/Conference session for Counsel in the Civil Litigation and Director of Public Prosecution Divisions. She co-founded the Continuing Legal Education Association of Nigeria (CLEAN). She was a Council member until it was passed over to the Nigeria Bar Association. Hairat Balogun served as a member of the Governing Council of Lagos State University Council (LASU) 1987-1990, and a member of the Management Board, Center for Cultural Services, University of Lagos, 1987-1990. Hairat Balogun was appointed a member of the Transition to Civil Rule Tribunal between 1987-1989 by the Gbadamosi Babangida Military administration in a bid to return the nation to civilian rule from 1992.
Between 1993 and 2001, she served as a Legal Assessor for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) upon her appointment by the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Her duties included rendering advice at the sittings of the ICAN Disciplinary Committee. She voluntarily resigned to spend more time on other national assignments. As a member of the International Bar Association (IBA), she served the section on General Practice of the International Bar Association from 1990-1994 and, at various times, a member of the Nomination Committee of the Election of Officers. She was Chairperson of the Working Group on Gender Issues of the IBA from 1990-1994, and a Founding member of the Council of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association for five years.
In September 2000, Hairat Balogun was nominated by President Obasanjo and approved by the Senate as a Member of the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission, where she served from February 2001 to April 2002, when she resigned voluntarily to return to legal practice. The Rotary International (District 9110 Nigeria) later honored her with an award for the most Distinguished Vocational Service for High Ethics in May 2002.
Hairat Balogun served as a United Nations International Observer at the Lockerbie Trial from 2000 to 2001 where she observed the day-to-day proceedings of the Court. That same year, she served as Honorable Member of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Committee. Hairat Balogun would later become the first female member and the first female President of the Rotary Club of Lagos which she served meritoriously from 2012 to 2013.
Hairat Balogun is a Life Member of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) for her dedication to breaking boundaries and encouraging women to aspire to be whatever they want to be in life. In recognition of her service and steadfast dedication to the legal profession and the nation as a whole, Hairat Balogun was conferred with the highest national honor in Nigeria— Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) on February 14, 2008.
In 2009, she authored 'Women in Law', a book that examined the role of gender difference in the legal profession which was an attempt to chronicle the efforts of the first women doing remarkable work in the legal profession and beyond. In a bid to chronicle and document all her achievements and setting all records straight, she published 'To Serve in Truth & Justice: Law Memoirs' in 2010, which was published by Habiba Balogun Consulting Firm on behalf of Libra Law Office. In 'To Serve in Truth & Justice: Law Memoirs' (pg 151), she remarks, “it is often asked how do you want to be remembered? My answer to that question is “she did her best for the legal profession” because that’s all I strive for each and every day knowing that I only have today to do what must be done.”