AMANDLA! WOMEN TO WATCH EDITION
Ifeyinwa Nasiah Okoye
Senior Magistrate, Anambra State Judiciary
Why did you decide to study law?
My passion to study Law was born primarily out of the need to better myself and be the voice for people who may not be able to defend themselves appropriately through no fault of theirs. I had read Sociology as my first university degree but I guess the call for Law was so strong that after my first degree, I then pursued a degree in Law.
What is your proudest professional moment thus far?
My proudest professional moment was when I was appointed as a Senior Magistrate in the Anambra state judiciary. As one with a physical disability, it came with a sense of fulfilment and responsibility to inspire young women everywhere to aspire to whatever professional height they could no matter the challenges facing them.
Looking back, what is one decision/action you would have done differently?
Looking back, one professional decision I would have taken earlier is to have been more resolute in my convictions to help mentor young women lawyers in finding their paths in the legal profession. Mentorship for young women professionals dealing with certain stereotypes appears imperative now more than ever.
Share some major professional challenges you have faced, or continue to face as a woman in law.
There are several challenges I have faced and continue to face in the course of my work. As a person with a physical disability, I have had to climb tough staircases to meet up with cases in Court buildings that should ordinarily have ramps or elevators. Indeed, these institutional errors cascade down to the general distasteful human behaviour towards persons with disabilities, myself included. As a Senior Magistrate, one day while I was sitting in Court with lawyers and court officers before me, there was a rain of gunshots all over the place. This was during the high point of the unknown gunmen menace in Anambra State. In the twinkle of an eye, the Court was empty and I was left alone. Of course, because of my disability, I couldn't run as fast as others who had immediately scampered out. I quietly got up, slowly made my way to my chambers and locked myself in.
What are some practical strategies for survival in the legal profession?
I try to improve my knowledge base within my profession while continuously working on my self-confidence, not to be cowered by any seeming challenge. There is often a thin line between self-confidence and pride in the legal profession but maintaining a healthy balance of proper self-awareness helps me a lot. I also maintain cordial relationships with colleagues at the bench and the bar. I have learnt a lot from the experiences of those ahead of me.