PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Kudirat M.O Kekere-Ekun
Supreme Court Judge (Nigeria)
By Pedi Obani, Ph.D.
Hon. Justice Kudirat Motonmori Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun is a serving Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. She is the 5th and youngest female to be appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. This article examines the early life, education, and notable achievements of Hon. Justice K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun.
Justice Kekere-Ekun was born in London, the United Kingdom on 7th May 1958. Her parents were both indigenes of Lagos State, Nigeria. She is the eldest of eleven siblings from both parents. Her father, Alhaji Senator H.A.B. Fasinro, OFR, LL.D, was a fervent Muslim and a very dedicated family man of noble lineage. He belonged to at least 3 Royal Families in Lagos. He was a legal practitioner and very active in politics. Throughout his career, he worked for many years as a Crown Counsel in the old Western Region of Nigeria. He also became the Town Clerk of Lagos City Council (similar to being the Mayor of Lagos). In 1975, at the age of 56 years, he retired voluntarily from the civil service. He subsequently became a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1983. His tenure was however brought to an abrupt end with the overthrow of the Alhaji Shehu Shagari-led civilian government in a military coup in December 1983. He was also an author. He died at the age of 99 on 31st March 2019.
Her mother, Mrs. Winifred Layiwola Ogundimu (née Savage), is a devout Christian. She studied nursing in the UK, where she qualified as a Public Health Nurse before returning to Nigeria in December 1965. Upon her return to Nigeria, she built her career in the civil service of Lagos State and retired years later, at the age of 60. Mrs. Ogundimu is currently the head of a large and prominent Lagos family, the Savage Family.
Alhaji Senator H.A.B. Fasinro, OFR, LL.D, and Mrs. Winifred Layiwola Ogundimu both remarried when K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun was still young. K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun grew up in a polygamous home with her father, stepmothers, siblings, and other relations. One of her stepmothers, who greatly influenced her life, was a teacher. She was brought up in an extremely strict and disciplined environment at home, where she was taught lasting values such as hard work, integrity, contentment, and the ability to get on with most people and to cope with most situations. It was always a full house with extended family and other school children spending their holidays, to earn extra tutoring and a disciplined upbringing.
K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun was privileged with quality education. She attended private primary schools before proceeding in 1970 to Queen’s College, Lagos, which was the best Federal Government College for girls in the country at the time. She studied Law at the University of Lagos, Nigeria, from 1977 to 1980 and obtained her LL.B in 1980. Following this, she attended the Nigerian Law School from 1980 to 1981 and was called to the Nigerian Bar in July 1981. From 1981 to 1982, she was engaged in the compulsory National Youth Service at the Ministry of Justice, Benin City, Bendel State (now Edo State). Afterward, she proceeded to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where she obtained a master’s degree in law in 1983.
After qualifying as a lawyer and obtaining a master’s degree in law from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), she worked in private law practice for a few years. As a result of the toll of the demands of private practice on her domestic responsibilities, she decided to join the bench to be able to enjoy more predictable work hours. She applied and was appointed by the Lagos State Judiciary as a Senior Magistrate Grade II in December 1989. This marked the beginning of her career on the bench. She was subsequently appointed a Judge of the High Court of Lagos State on 19th July 1996. In September 2004, she was elevated to the Court of Appeal. As a Justice of the Court of Appeal, she served in five different Divisions across the country. She was the pioneer Presiding Justice of the Makurdi Division of the Court of Appeal, and also served as the Presiding Justice of the Akure Division of the Court of Appeal before her elevation to the Supreme Court on 8th July 2013. She is currently a member of the Supreme Court Rules Committee and Chairman of the Supervisory Committee of the Litigation Department of the Court.
K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun served as Chairman of the Robbery and Firearms Tribunal, Zone II, Ikeja, Lagos, from November 1996 till May 1999, when the Tribunals were abolished. The constitution of the Tribunal included one Police officer and one Military officer. In the process, the Police officer gained significant insight into the requirements for conducting effective criminal investigations and prosecutions. He was subsequently posted to the Police College (where recruits are trained) as a lecturer and was able to share a lot of what he had learned from his participation in the Tribunal hearings. In recognition of her reputation for integrity and hard work, she was one of 3 Judges of the Lagos State High Court first selected to try offenses relating to financial crimes and money laundering under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment Act, 2004 and the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.
Furthermore, in 2003, K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun served as a member of the Ethics Curriculum Planning Committee of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), in collaboration with the Department for International Development (DFID) and UNODC. This committee produced the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees. She also chaired the Public Complaints and Training Committee that was part of the UNODC pilot project on strengthening judicial integrity and capacity in Lagos State. This was from February 2003 till July 2004. The Public Complaints Committee investigated complaints against magistrates in the performance of their official duties and became pivotal for the reform of the justice delivery system in the magistrate courts. Moreover, she served as a supervisory judge in charge of the Apapa Magisterial District in Lagos State from October 2002 till July 2004. She also served as a member of the committee that drafted the High Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules 2004 from April 2002 till December 2002. The new Civil Procedure Rules introduced innovations in case management such as the front-loading concept, pre-trial conference, and the application of ADR mechanisms for the speedy dispensation of justice. The innovations have also been adopted by most states of the Federation and have proved particularly helpful in the speedy dispensation of electoral disputes.
From December 2001 till December 2004, she served as a member of the Steering Committee of the Lagos State Multi-Door Court House, the first court-connected Alternative Dispute Resolution center in Africa. At the Court of Appeal, she served on the Information Technology Committee, which was to facilitate the computerization of the Court. Hon. Justice K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun is a recipient of prestigious awards. She was a recipient of the Merit Awards of the Lagos State Judiciary, in December 2003 and in September 2013. Again, she was twice awarded the Distinguished Trailblazers Awards by the Nigerian Bar Association Women Forum (August 2012 and 2014). She belongs to several professional associations and groups, including the National Association of Women Judges; International Association of Women Judges; Body of Benchers – Life Bencher W.E.F. 8th February 2018; Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (Fellow); and International Dispute Resolution Institute (Fellow). She is also a member of the Ikoyi Club 1938. Hon. Justice K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun has been married to Mr. Akin Kekere-Ekun, OFR, since December 1983. His work ethic and integrity have been a great motivating factor for her. Their union is blessed with three children who are all graduates and excelling in their chosen fields. K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun is passionate about self-examination, being the change that one wants to see in the world and setting your standards early, starting every endeavor in the same manner as one means to carry on. These have been her guiding principles in her personal and professional life.