NBAWF CHAIRPERSON’S INAUGURAL SPEECH 16TH JANUARY 2023.

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The Chief Judge Lagos State; the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Y. C. Maikyau SAN, all NBA National officers here present, immediate past Chairperson NBAWF, Mrs. Oluyemisi Bamgbose SAN, all immediate past NBAWF EXCO & Council Members, the Chairman NBA Lagos Branch, all members of the EXCo and Governing Council NBAWF, NBAWF Committee Officer past and present, State Leads, Branch Facilitators, distinguished ladies and gentlemen…

I stand before you today, deeply humbled and indeed privileged for the confidence reposed in me, to be appointed the new Chairperson of the Nigerian Bar Association Women Forum. I am truly grateful for all the support, well wishes and the trust received, from near and far and l have an unwavering resolve to honor that trust. It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to stand here today to address the members our illustrious profession and other key stakeholders as the Chairperson of the NBAWF. 

I would like to start by thanking the immediate past NBA President Mr. Olu Akpara for appointing me as Chairperson of the Forum, and under whose administration I served as the immediate past Vice Chairperson of the  NBAWF, for 3 years. Thanks also go to Prof Oluyemisi Bamgbose SAN, as I am sure you must have been consulted about who you’d consider a suitable successor in office and I am grateful for the vote of confidence. I am also truly grateful to you Mr. President, YC Maikyau SAN, as I don’t for one minute believe that you were not consulted before hand, about the my proposed new appointment and had you had any doubt about my capabilities, I would not be standing here today. I am grateful for your support Sir and I promise you that my administration and I will not let you down. 

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I follow in a line of remarkable and impactful leaders and as the saying goes, I certainly have huge shoes to fill, in the person of the immediate past Chairperson NBAWF Prof. Oluyemisi Bamgbose, SAN, as well as those who came before her in 2006, when the NBAWF Forum was initially inaugurated. At this point I want to pay a special tribute to Mr. Paul Usoro, past NBA President, who had the foresight to re-inaugurate our forum in 2019, after a long hiatus. 

All new leaders must at some point have been faced with a moment, such as this; a moment which I now face, which is a critical junction in an organisations history, where the mantle of leadership is placed squarely on their shoulders and I dare say, they will at that time, have one of two choices….Choice number one – They can either cave at the enormity of the task placed upon them, and take flight, or Choice number two – They can chose to carry that burden with a great sense of humility, strength and a sense of excitement; confident in the knowledge that their entire career has prepared them for a moment such as this and they are therefore are equal to the task, that they are not alone in the execution of this mandate and that come what may, the future is bright.

Distinguished ladies & gentlemen, I am here to tell you today, that I choose option number two, and that the future of NBAWF is indeed bright. 

Turning our eyes on the future, a wise man once said that you cannot successfully navigate the future, if you don’t know your past or if your foundation is weak. I would therefore like to acknowledge the solid foundation laid by my predecessor in office Professor Oluyemisi Bamgbose, SAN and her entire Executive Committee, comprising myself as Vice Chairperson, Mrs Nsidibe .T. Aideyan – Secretary  and Hajia Safiya I. Balarabe Treasurer, along with the distinguished past Council Members, I can see Dr. Foluke Dada, Ms. Ayotola Jagun, here present, to mention a few, as well as all past Committee Officers, State Leads and Branch Facilitators.

Without this solid foundation, it would have been more difficult for my new Governing Council and I to take take off smoothly and for that I am truly grateful to the past EXCo, Council Members & Committee Officers etc… for their dedication and sacrifice in the performance of their duties. Indeed with their sacrifice, I find myself in the position of a relay racer being handed off the baton mid flight… The start being just as important as the finish and I assure you Prof, we will give it everything we have, we shall not drop the baton & we will finish strong.

I have always been an advocate for the female professionals and over my 32 year career, as a legal practitioner, I have had a passion for helping women find their voices, speak their truth and become the best possible version of themselves in life, including in their chosen careers; which in this case is the legal profession. 

And so distinguished ladies and gentlemen, now is the time for the Nigerian female lawyer to stand up and take her rightful position in leadership of our illustrious profession and in society in general. 

Our 5 Point Agenda:-

Having carefully interrogated the challenges plaguing female lawyers in todays world, we have come up with a 5 point agenda as our focus areas to make the most impact during our tenure. It is my privilege to briefly touch on each of these focus areas below.

1)  Strengthening the institution.

Strategies to be adopted here include:-

* Institutionalised Transparency in all our dealings

* Creating solid Structures, Rules & Regulations.

* Ensuring Accountability & fostering integrity on all areas of responsibility 

* Building capacity through training and development programs for officers.

* Promoting active participation and engagement from stakeholders

* Generating adequate resources, such as funding to support the forums operations.

* Regularly reviewing and evaluating the performance and making changes as needed

* Building and maintaining strong partnerships and collaborations with other institutions, both within and outside of Nigeria.

* Encouraging and promoting youth involvement

* Building strong and effective communication channels.

2) Capacity Building for Female Lawyers.

* Acquiring Business Skills – Law is a business and up-skilling by way of adopting international best practices in the business world for career & business success, will be our focus. A robust training program will soon be launched nationwide and will include topics like personal branding, networking, public speaking, sales & marketing, accounting for none accountants, personal effectiveness, leadership, Rainmaking, negotiation, emotional intelligence, etiquette etc. 

* Launching a new Mentorship Program – Building on the existing foundation, we will launch and reinvent mentorship of female lawyers by matching Mentee with Mentors , with set parameters for engagement and outcomes. Recognising that there are different career options for female lawyers, our focus for mentorship will include the bar, the bench, academia, in house council and the public sector. 

* Building capacity through international collaborations with sister bodies world-wide. Already begun with the previous administration, we intend to forge new alliances and relationships with other female lawyer professional associations, where we can exchange ideas, run exchange training programs etc., to improve ourselves and collaborate on our shared vision to empower female lawyers for success. 

3) Nation Wide Coverage, Recognition & Reach.

* As you may or may not be aware, apart from our leadership at the EXCo, Council & Committee Level, we also have leadership at the 36 States of the Country, with our 36 State Leads and the 125 NBA Branches, with our 125 Branch Facilitators of the NBAWF(shout out to them). Also a laudable landmark of the past administration, we intend to build upon this foundation by creating the proper structure, terms of reference, recognition & accountability. This will ensure that NBAWF becomes a household name nationwide and become easily recognisable for empowering the female lawyer for success.

* Creating programs that will be run state and branch wide that will enhance the the NBAWF footprint nation wide and be beneficial to career advancement irrespective of career path.

* Highlighting the clear difference between our mandate and that of FIDA Nigeria.

4) Female Lawyers In Leadership.

* Research has shown that women attempting to rise up the ladder in business and in their careers, face cultural, stereotypical and systemic biases or hurdles that make it harder for them to advance. This legal profession is unfortunately no different, and in the NBAs 90 year legacy, there hasn’t been a single female President of the NBA. I must however point out that the current National Officers composition is very encouraging, where 4 out of the 10 Executive members are indeed female. Apart from that, recall the meagre % of female lawyers that rise to the position of SAN… the statistics go on and on. 

* This is really strange, when you consider that the same number of male and female lawyers graduate yearly from law school, but something happens between graduation and when their careers progress, that sees female lawyers never achieving key leadership positions or C-Suite roles. 

* My administration intends to interrogate these troubling statistics further and develop an actionable “Strategic Plan”, to ensure that female lawyers become a force to be reconned with and attain the highest levels of leadership within the profession.  

5) The Work-life balance Initiative.  

* It is my considered opining that women are uniquely position to bring positive change to our profession specifically and society in general, however the multiple hats that women wear sometimes makes it very difficult to progress. 

* My administration will be tackling this age long phenomenal by running programs, training and workshops,  focused specifically on helping female lawyers overcome these challenges and attain the required balance between their personal and professional lives, so that they do not have to choose one over the other.

* In this regard, I am certain that our lack of progress in our careers may not only be as a result of your being a woman, it’s just that you do not have the required knowledge and tactics that can guarantee you are the exception, rather than the rule… 

* One of our initiatives here will be the launching ‘Creches’ as a national project, which will cater for the needs of nursing female lawyers, lightening the burden on them to tend to babies and whilst carrying out the professional commitments. Our slogan will be ‘Help one; Help all’. Let’s say this together when I say ‘NBA Women Forum, you say ‘Help One, Help all’

CONCLUSION 

In closing, once again, it’s my distinct privileged to be handed the mantle of leadership of our illustrious Women Forum at a time when there are so many disturbing economic, socio political and societal issues plaguing our profession and indeed the world today. 

A world where the 9th National Assembly  (NASS) office denied women the opportunity for inclusion and representation in governance; where Odera J. Onumaru sustained gunshot injuries during a kidnap attempt, that eventually led to her death and where our dear sister, Barrister Bolanle Raheem RIP, was shot dead by a Police officer on Christmas Day; to mention a few.

To be appointed the Chairperson of the Nigerian Bar Association Women Forum in this era when there is an intense movement for the voice of women to be heard, not in vexatious protest, but in the echo of the roar of our acclaimed successes. It is indeed a great privilege and honor and one that I do not take for granted. 

I commit to ensuring the lives of every female lawyer matters and that they feel empowered to attain the peak of their careers, whilst positively impacting the world around them. 

I promise you that together with the members of my Executive Committee and Council Members, and the entire NBAWF leadership, we shall not let you down.

Chinyere Okorocha

Chairperson, NBA Women Forum

January, 2023

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