PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
First Woman President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association
By Kiadum Nwakoh and Uche Odigili
Boma Florence Alabi OON is a qualified cross-border legal practitioner, admitted to practice law in Nigeria, England & Wales. She is one of the co-founding Partners of Primera Africa Legal (PAL) currently leading PAL’s Dispute Resolution and Pro-Bono practice. Boma was born on 29th May 1966 and hails from Imo State, Nigeria. She was born and raised in a family of lawyers, an occurrence which she admits influenced her motivation in the profession. Her uncle, Ambrose Alagoa was the first indigenous Chief Judge of Rivers State. Another uncle of hers, Justice Stanley Alagoa was also a lawyer who rose to the position of Supreme Court Justice in Nigeria while her grandfather was a Magistrate and the Amayanabo of Nembe Brass, Bayelsa State. Regardless, growing up for her was, with a sense of hindsight, a typical middle-class experience. Her father studied Geography at the University College, Ibadan, and taught for many years before setting up a series of business ventures. He was pivotal in making her who she is today. Her principles and core beliefs were formed in conversations with him and continue to guide her every action today.
Boma undertook her secondary school education at Federal Government Girls College (FGGC), Abuloma, Rivers State, passing the West African Examination Council examination in 1983. She opted to obtain her university education in the oil-rich state from 1983 to 1987, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws (LL. B) from the Rivers State University. After her novel university experience, Boma proceeded to the Nigerian Law school where she impressively graduated with ease in 1988. Still unsatisfied with the knowledge she had amassed, she made a valiant decision to pursue an LLM program in King’s College London where she acquired a degree in Maritime Law in 1989. A decade later, she would enroll at the Qualified Solicitors Transfer Test BPP Law School, London passing and qualifying to practice as a lawyer in England and Wales.
Currently, she leads Primera Africa Legal’s International Commercial Law/Corporate Governance practice with experience in corporate commercial practice spanning approximately thirty years. In addition to being an experienced Arbitrator and accredited Civil and Commercial Mediator, Boma specializes in International Tax Law, Maritime Law, Mergers & Acquisitions, and Capital Market Transactions. She has advised on some of Nigeria’s leading commercial deals in several sectors including real estate and infrastructure, manufacturing, banking, hospitality, telecommunications, maritime, energy, project funding, and development.
As a writer, Boma is as good as they come. Never too shy to share her knowledge and experience, in 2006, she published "Sisters in Law - Career choices for Nigerian women lawyers” a book
aimed at assisting female lawyers in navigating the legal space. She followed up by writing another book, “Survival Manual for New Wigs" this time targeted at lawyers who had just gotten called to the Bar. She has appeared in several newspaper articles and magazines where she has made indelible contributions on legal issues. In addition, she has been a frequent guest speaker on government relations topics and legal issues (keynotes, seminars, workshops, papers, roundtables) throughout the world. Notably, she has delivered presentations for the Nigerian Bar Association, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Commonwealth Law Association, International Bar Association, and the SADC Lawyers Association (SADCLA), to mention but a few. Commenting on why she remains unassuming and grounded despite her achievements, Boma had this to say; ”I am not different from the next person. We are all human beings. We breathe the same air and drink the same water. We desire the same things, which are security for the family, individual happiness and the right to pursue our dreams.”
Understanding the leverage she possesses, Boma has never hesitated to use her legal platform for the good of her community, providing pro bono legal services to vulnerable persons and organizations. For example, she has since 2011 provided legal representation to over 100 awaiting trial detainees and indigent convicts on death row, securing the release of many of them. She notably provided free legal advisory services to True Health Foundation - a charitable organization set up to assist Nigerians suffering from renal failure. In addition, she assisted in the establishment of a medical and education foundation that has since awarded scholarships to over 100 Nigerian youths and sponsored life-saving surgery for three patients.
Boma rendered free legal advisory services for low-income workers and pensioners in relation to employment law and workers’ rights, landlord and tenant issues and pension rights. Understanding the importance of mentorship in the legal profession, Boma initiated, funded and organized an interactive mentoring scheme for law students of the Nigeria Law School (Lagos Campus). This noble cause has been running from 2008 till date and has inspired many law students. In 2014, she served as Head of SADC Lawyers' Association (SADCLA) Election Observer Mission to observe the South Africa Elections. The SADCLA is a voluntary association made up of law societies, bar associations, and individual lawyers from the 15-member Southern African region, and the Election Observer Mission team was made up of lawyers from all SADC region Countries. Boma places children, especially the girl-child, in high regard. As a member of the Advisory Board of WISCAR, she has championed initiatives aimed at empowering career women.
Boma has also organized training for 300 Nigerian teenagers in conjunction with The Adolescent Project (TAP) and British Airways in the Community. In addition, she assisted "Save the Children" in its campaign for the education of the girl-child as one of the faces and voices of the campaign. In 2009, she set up a skills acquisition scheme for less privileged women with the assistance of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and also assisted the Nigeria High Commission to establish CANUK (Central Association of Nigerians in the UK).
Since commencing practice as a lawyer, Boma has continued to earn several stripes of her own. In 2004, she founded Sterling Partnership, a law firm with offices in London and Lagos, committed to providing legal services of world-class standard. At that time, she was a Council Member of the Board of the Royal Commonwealth Society.
In 2005, while still in London, she became the first minority ethnic lawyer to become chair of the Association of Women Solicitors (AWS) in its then 83-year history. The national AWS is now part of the Law Society Women's Division. An accredited civil and commercial mediator, she was nominated the London Borough of Southwark Woman Entrepreneur for 2007. Boma has continued to serve in different capacities notably serving as Member of the Section on Business Law – World Trade Organisation Working Group, Treasurer of the Section on Legal Practice, Nigeria Bar Association, Member of the Strategic Planning Committee, Nigeria Bar Association, Member of the Liberalization of Legal Services Working Group, Nigeria Bar Association, Chair, NBA Section on Legal Practice Professional Development Committee and as a Board Member in the Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR).
As further testament to her trailblazing achievements, Boma was elected the first black and female President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association in Hyderabad, India in the over 50- year history of this association of lawyers. The Commonwealth Lawyers Association represents lawyers from all 54 Commonwealth countries as well as Law Societies and Bar Associations from the Commonwealth. Her role as President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association involved extensive governmental and legislative relations both at the national and international levels including interfacing with commonwealth law ministers in various commonwealth jurisdictions. She carried out her functions diligently from February 2011 to April 2013 where she eventually handed over to her successor. Despite the magnitude of her achievement, she never got carried away and saw that role as an opportunity to serve. It was equally a humbling experience that pushed her even further to break barriers.
Boma has been the recipient of many awards. She was named the Women Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007 by the London Borough of Southwark. In 2012, she received the Distinguished Trailblazers Award which was awarded by the NBA Women Lawyers’ Forum; the Nigerian Human Rights Community’s Appreciation Award and the Award for Distinguished Service to the Legal Profession. In 2014, she was recognized by the Pan African Lawyers Union and the Nigeria Bar Association. In September of the same year, the then President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan approved the conferment of the fifth highest award in the country, the coveted Order of the Niger National (OON) Award on Boma Alabi. Furthermore, in 2016 she was recognized and received an Award for Distinguished Service to the Legal Profession. This was presented to her by the Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos Branch. She was also honoured with an Award of Excellence by the Law Students’ Society, University of Ibadan.
Other awards include an Excellence Award by the Advocates Association of Western India, the
Human Rights Award presented by Open Society Foundations and National Human Rights
Commission, and a Recognition of Outstanding Performance Award which was given by the Class
of 2003 Nigerian Law School Alumni Association. Recognized for her outstanding achievements
and integrity, Boma has continued to embody the essence and values that stood her out in her
service to national development. She has campaigned for civil rights and social action, economic
empowerment, education, environment, human rights, and poverty alleviation. She has no plan
to slow down anytime as she believes that “life is very short,” and we should not “put off anything
you can do today, till tomorrow.”