By NBF News

I can't compromise my family for my job — Felicia Eimunjeze, Deputy Director, Academics, Nigerian Law School

By Josfyn Uba and Rachael Agunta
Saturday , March 13 , 2010

•Felicia Eimunjeze

She was born in Ijebu Ode but grew up in Ibadan where she attended primary and secondary schools. She attended St Theresa's College, Ibadan from 1968-72 and proceeded to University of Ife from 1974-88 (now Obafemi Awolowo University.

She trained as a teacher with the old Bendel State Teaching Service Commission (Delta State Teaching Service Commission) after her youth service but ditched teaching to study law.

She was called to the Bar and started up as a legal practitioner in 1988. She enjoyed practising until the law of teaching pulled her out again when she applied to the Nigerian Law School for a position in 1999. She has remained with the Law School since then.

That is Felicia Eimunjeze. She is the Deputy Director, Academics at the Nigerian Law School. Her office takes charge of both academic and administrative duties. Eimunjeze's basic function is ensuring that the school's curriculum is strictly applied and adhered to.

While in private practice, the Ishan, Edo State born lawyer was mainly into corporate legal practice but also an active member of Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)

In an interview with Saturday Sun recently in her Victoria Island office, Felicia Eimunjeze recalled her passion for the protection of the rights of women and children.

In trying to protect women, Felicia revealed that the women themselves sometimes resist being protected from the relevant agencies.

She also talked about cultural humiliation women are subjected to and how much FIDA is involved to help vulnerable women. She spoke on various issues concerning women

Is it that women do not know their rights as you say that at times, they even resist FIDA in trying to fight for them?

Even when you explain the rights to them in FIDA, they still foot drag in taking decision but we try to encourage women to come forward for free legal presentation. When they come, they are not even prepared to fight for their own children. But the only thing we can do is to keep on with education and advocacy.

In our school, you find out that even the female law students are not better. I have had occasions to ask female law students what they would do to protect women who are unjustly treated under the Sharia. Their response has always been that there is nothing they can do about it. And I tell you also that even female judges at their exalted and high positions get their rights as women trampled upon and they just keep quiet. I think this is rather unfortunate.

It is surprising to know that our women are sometimes not interested in fighting for their rights, especially when it comes to cultural humiliation in our tradition

Can this seeming resistance be attributed to our culture?

I tell you that even female judges also go through cultural humiliation without preparing to fight for their right. A judge was telling me of a trauma she went through when her husband died and she was proud to tell me that her husband's people thought that she won't be able to bear it but she did and at the end of the day, people congratulated her. I am telling you of a highly placed female judge of several years on the Bench.

This is a highly placed and educated woman anyone would have thought that she would resist such humiliation but there she was gladly going through it and commending her efforts. Was that fair and just?

My take on all these is that women should stand up and fight for their rights on all fronts.

What is responsible for that?
It is our social engineering. The society has made women believe that if we are too assertive, we will suffer it. And even the society, does not treat the assertive women any better. A lot of the time, the society sees them as combatant and rude. They treat women who can hold their own badly. Sometimes, they avoid or generally ignore her and see her as powerful woman who wants to wrestle power and authority with the male folk.

Do you think that the society will not see the female lawyers as up-turning the social system when trying to assert themselves?

I don't think they would be seen as being unruly and even intruding into people's private lives. Actually, people are trying from their hearts. It is the courage of the individual that we are talking about. People are looking, for example, for somebody who has done it so that they too could do it. It is leadership we are looking for. But in our private lives, we do not live what we proclaim publicly. I say that even highly placed female lawyers tolerate abuses within the domestic set up.

How do you think they can wriggle out of it?
We will continue the advocacy and education. Proper female education would help them mainly and it has to start from the home. The girl child should be trained to be assertive. She should be trained not to continue to be under the overbearing authority of males around her.

I think the female child is yet to learn to be assertive. Even, with the education they have acquired, they are in cultural bondage. That is why you find that in my law classes, you have like 50-50 as many female as there are men but in practice it becomes something like 70-30 and when it gets to active legal practice, it now becomes like 95-5%.

Look at how many female senior advocates we have as against the male senior advocates. In a year when 15 are appointed, how many female?

It is what you give that you get. If the women are not prepared to put in their best, they cannot get the best. That is the position as at now. We are all guilty of it.

Is there anyway FIDA is organizing seminars, re-orientation and symposium to help women in this regard?

Yes, FIDA does it but I dare say that they are not often widespread enough and FIDA does intervene in some domestic issues where a woman is abused. We have had situations where we invite the members of the husband's family. This is often the case where the woman has lost her husband and she becomes subject to nameless abuses, unfortunately such turns up more often in some parts of the country than the other. And that needs to be dealt with so you will not say a lot of it happens in Lagos but women still get abused in Lagos but it happens more in rural areas.

The enormity of a work on advocacy and education on women's rights overwhelms even FIDA

Women get abused even by their fellow women. As I always say women make the rooms that emasculate other women forgetting that they married into other families and that the women in those families would do the same. They have forgotten that life is a circle and that what goes round comes round.

It is the female members of the family that are called to come and eject another woman either because she is childless or has a problem with her husband and gladly, women like her would resolve to chase her out.

The female lawyer is somebody to be pitied because if you look around you, you see that when the female lawyer tries to be assertive, she could lose her marriage. In her immediate family as well as the larger society, you find out that her initial attempt to defend herself in any matter, whether domestic or official, she is viewed with suspicion which has perpetually placed her in a defensive position. So, at every point in time, it is important that she creates the impression that she is not out to fight anyone or even the society.

The public perception of the female lawyer is that she knows the law and is always trying to fight people in her capacity as a lawyer. Even in her primary family, the males see her as a potential threat. They see her as someone who would use the law as a weapon to disenfranchise them, especially in matters of family will and sharing of family property. But she makes frantic efforts to disprove this belief that she is not going to fight or grab the property because she knows the law. This is the female lawyer's predicament but not many people know.

Many female lawyers have this problem in their domestic set up even with their primary families that they are born into.

Your office is much of hardwork. Give me a sense of how you cope

For me, my family comes first and I think that is what it should be for every reasonable woman. No woman should compromise her family for job. I will not trade in my family for anything, not even my career because no matter what happens tomorrow, the family would always be there. So, for me that comes first.

Yes, my job entails so much work like every other person's but I deal with it by ensuring that the time I spend at home is full. As a matter of fact, I can spend just one hour of constructive engagement with members of my family and the children and friends.

I think it is right for one to spend quality time at home. At times, I would just decide that I am clearing out this weekend and resolve that there will be no outside engagement and I always know when to back out.

Unfortunately, in most instances, in the academics, we don't know when to back it off because one often tucks books in-between the bed sheets and it creates problems. But I am coping and my family understands too

I know a good number of NGO's claim to be into advocacy for women's and children's right but at the end of the day, it only turns out to be a paper thing. They don't really get to practically carry out what they are supposed to do. What is your view?

Talking about female lawyers going into NGO with claims that they are advocating for women's rights and so on, well, we know the story of NGO's of recent and what abuses that manifest in the administration of these organizations. That does not remove the fact that they need encouragement. It is better to have them start and let somebody more sincere see the way forward and move from there, at least, let us know that somebody is whispering in the desert. If we can listen hard enough, we may just hear the person.

A lot of non-governmental organizations, I admit can do better than they are doing but they are constrained by every other person's constrains such as funds and the general social problems. Somebody is trying to organize seminar and there is no fund, it is frustrating.

I tell you most sincerely that many of us are frustrated with the system such that you would want to do something but the system frustrates your effort and you are unable to carry out your desired plan but that does not remove the fact that there are abuses in the administration of NGO's in Nigeria. Many of them are just vehicles for abuses and getting money for courses they are not prosecuting sincerely.

What is your leisure time like?
I try to make out time for leisure. This might sound funny, indeed but there are times, I find members of my family putting off my lap top and urging me to go to bed. But I am enjoying it. I am trying to have time for myself but generally the internet steals my time these days. I find out that even as I try to create leisure, it just goes into the excitement of browsing and surfing on the internet. It is quite engaging but I like it a lot.