The president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Yakubu C. Maikyau, SAN was a notable presence during the proceedings at the Annual General Conference of the NBA Women Forum in Abuja. He came to show solidarity and pledge support to the Forum.

Speaking at the occasion, Maikyau described the similarities between technology and the inherent creativity and adaptability of the female character, and went on to list a number of remarkable female scientific pioneers who impacted the world, thanks to their knowledge and innovative spirit.

Speaking to reporters shortly afterward, the NBA President expressed optimism about the future prospects of the NBAWF – which, he promised, would be actualized with the active support of the parent Association. He praised the resilience and dynamism of its leadership under Mrs. Chinyere Okorocha and her predecessor, Prof. Oluyemisi Bamgbose, SAN, thanking them for the wisdom and skill with which they guided the Forum after its revival.

Maikyau’s encouraging words came in the midst of two panel discussions on inclusion and collaboration. In the third discussion of the day, which was moderated by Mrs. Inemesit Dike, founder and CEO at the The Legal Concierge (Inemesit Dike & Co.), the discussants sought, among other things, to explore the potential of technology to bring about policies that impact the inclusion of women, and how women can drive the use of tech to achieve that laudable purpose.

On Mrs. Dike’s panel was a lone male, in the person of Mazi Afam Osigwe, SAN, Senior Partner at Law Forte; Hajiya Asia Ahmed el-Rufai, a foremost disability and inclusion advocate who is also the wife of the Governor of Kaduna State; Ngozi Aderibigbe, a Partner at the Law Firm of Jackson, Etti & Edu; and Dr. Aderemi Omotubora, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Lagos.

In her opening shot, Mrs. Aderibigbe, described women and tech as a natural combo, given that women are far more adaptable to new situations and new technologies than their male counterparts. She however said the picture was different when it came to female lawyers. Like the institute they belong to, they are, on average, slow to embrace new technologies. Another problem, she added, was poverty; many female lawyers simply lacks the means to purchase relevant but high-end technological devices. Aderibigbe also advised law firms to cultivate the use of Cloud solutions in storing sensitive documents. She also urged her colleagues to embrace proficiency in coding and other tech skills, describing them as ‘life skills’ in the global economy, in much the same way as literacy and numeracy were in the last century. One low-hanging fruit, she said, would be to showcase one’s abilities on LinkedIn in the quest for visibility and patronage.

Senior Advocate, Mazi Osigwe expressed bemusement at the general apprehension among lawyers with the coming of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the idea that it might be taking jobs away from human lawyers. While not altogether unfounded, the learned silk said, that fear can be dispelled by a higher level of understanding on the part of lawyers with greater insight into the lawyer’s true role in his immediate environment. AI and similar or coming technologies, he said, can be a great complement to the lawyer with superior skills – noting that AI is, after all, made by man.

Also speaking Dr. Omotubora of UNILAG dwelt on intellectual property and technology law, and its evolution in various jurisdictions across the globe. He called on authorities and the private sector to invest more in the technology sector and come up with policies that can bring about a change in the digital gap and greater inclusion.

Inclusion is one subject that is dear to the heart of Hajiya el-Rufai. She began her presentation by noting, sadly, the overall attitude of the Bar towards lawyers with Special Abilities (as she called them). But with the setting up of the NBA Committee on Lawyers with Disability, she is hopeful of a more positive engagement among differently-abled lawyers. Ironically, she said, it is actually tech that has shown itself as a remarkable enabler of inclusion – even when other tendencies in society and the law space tend towards excluding the physically-challenged. Hajiya el-Rufai called for a more intentional investment in user-friendly technology for people in that category.

Summing up, the moderator, Mrs. Dike urged lawyers, law firms and Bar organisations to extend advanced (and continuing) legal education into tech, and called on governments at all levels to help those who are helping others to live meaningful lives and do meaningful work – in law and other areas of endeavour.

The final panel session of the day examined the current state of collaboration between the NBA Women Forum and sister organisations around the world. Moderated by Oyinkansola Badejo-Okusanya, Partner at the Africa Law Practice (ALP), the panel was made up representatives of various law associations dedicated to the empowerment of female lawyers – Sheryl Galler, Chairperson of the New York State Bar Women in Law Section; Ibukun Alabi, Chair, Business Network at BNLF; Cordelia Eke, who is currently a Director at the Rivers State Ministry of Justice; Amina S. Agbaje, the National President of the Nigeria branch of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA); and Mulikat Thomas, Chairperson of Programmes at the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA).

Speaking on the topic of discussion, Galler asserted that her organization’s collaborations across the globe must be a mirror to its own overall objectives – with respect to pay disparities; inclusion and representation in leadership roles; the importance of training and capacity-building; and advocacy for legislation and deliberate policies towards enhancing the rights of women, children and natural environment.

On her part, Alabi saw the need for constant networking, on both bilateral and multilateral levels, which she said her organisation, BNLF, was committed to, as well as raising awareness on the need for women to affirm and promote one another for career and business opportunities.

In line with Alabi’s and Galler’s contributions, Eke, Agbaje and Thomas called on their female colleagues to promote greater cooperation among their respective organisations but among individual female lawyers, saying the ‘Pull Her Down’ syndrome was all too pervasive for comfort. They went on to enumerate their respective organisations’ efforts and programmes towards achieving global solidarity among female lawyers.

In the Q&A session that followed, the President of AWLA, Nigeria’s Mrs. Mandy Asagba, appealed for all female lawyers of African descent – whatever their professional affiliations may be – to come together and see themselves as one big family. Only by doing so, she said, can they hope to present a common front in the fight for gender equity.

The proceedings came to a close with a vote of thanks, which was given by Mohammed Adama, Senior Legal Officer at the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) who doubles as an NBAWF Council Member and Chair of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for this year’s Conference.

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