Judge, ECOWAS Court of Justice (ECOWAS)
Director General Consumer Protection Council (Nigeria)
Commissioner, African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
I qualified to practice law in Nigeria in 1978. Marriage came next, and children followed suit. Opting to teach law while my husband – a lawyer too - carried on with a law practice rated as successful at that time. Unfortunately, shortly after, he passed away and in my mid-thirties, I had three under teen children to nurture, with societal downplay of the capacity of widows to succeed on their own. The challenge can only be imagined. But I approached this bleak situation with great fortitude and faith in God, literally blasting through rocks of challenges while also building my competency. The latter motivated me, and at 54 years of age, I obtained a postgraduate diploma in international humanitarian law in Washington DC, pleasantly sitting in class with students of my children’s age.
I served the African Union as a Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights for 6 years, the last two as the chairperson, and making history as the first Nigerian woman to head an AU organ. In recognition of my expertise, the government of Nigeria appointed me as a Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission; the Director General of its Consumer Protection Council and currently a judge of the ECOWAS Court. My maxim is “no excuse for failure, if you believe in it, you can do it.”
The construction of our gender as women presents an inherent bar to success, which is often taken as a given for men. In Africa, traditional practices greet a girl child upon arrival which escalates to socio-political strangulation later in life. To succeed, a woman requires both the uncommon early home support and confidence boosting of an enlightened family or a grasp of the need to wear the breastplate for the battle of survival that lies ahead. To the latter, it requires self-confidence and self- assurance that a woman is a beautiful creation with as great a potential as a man, and capable of reaching any aspired height. The pinnacle of a woman’s achievement is determined by the readiness to engage any and all obstacles by either blasting through, climbing over or going around it. Indeed, law practice, considered an otherwise exclusive preserve of men, requires even greater strength of purpose.