Chairperson, Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission.
Retired Former Chief Judge, Lagos State Judiciary.
AMANDLA! Vanguard Edition
Ayotunde A. Phillips
I always told myself that if God grants my prayer to become a Judge of the High Court, I will strive to make a difference. So, in 1994, when I was appointed a Judge of the Lagos State High Court in Nigeria, I set out to do just that. The country was still under Military Rule, so there was the challenge of adjudicating over Military Decrees instead of State Laws or Acts of Parliament. Furthermore, the Constitution had been suspended, which also presented its attendant problems, especially in the area of the enforcement of Fundamental Human Rights. We, however, did our best despite these constraints to protect the rights of litigants. I did not experience too much interference from the Executive arm of Government. The opinion of the litigants of the Judiciary was very low at that time. Still, I believe we managed to bring a breath of fresh air into the system. With time, the Lagos State Judiciary blossomed. As the years progressed, we had several female appointees. Now two-thirds of the Judges in the Lagos State Judiciary are female. In 2012 I was appointed the 14th Chief Judge and the 4th Female Chief Judge. During my tenure, I worked to decongest the prisons, which were under the weight of a considerable number of detainees awaiting trial. I also tackled staff welfare, which was at a very low ebb. I finalized the introduction and implementation of IT into our Judicial System, which has become imperative for use now that the Covid-19 pandemic has struck.
Most women in law have to juggle the home front with our very demanding profession. I had four children when I started active law practice, and when I was appointed a Judge, I had two teenagers and two very young children. As strong women, we have to do our best, as there will be good days and bad days. With faith in ourselves and some cooperation from our husbands and domestic staff, we succeed in the end. There are good bosses and horrible bosses at work, but with the benefit of hindsight, I have learned from both. I managed to acquire the skill to work with anyone. I have had bosses who were older than me and bosses who were younger than me, but this did not affect my attitude to work at all. My advice is always to be professional, determine what you want to achieve, and remain focused on achieving that goal. Do not sweat the small stuff, and don't let anything derail you. Pick yourself up when you stumble and keep on going as there is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel.