AW Women Series : Barrister Oluwaseyi Ojo – A Sheroe Who’s Not Ready To Drop Her Cape

By Onozasi

Above Whispers Women Series is aimed at showcasing women who are crusading for vulnerable men and women in the society. This is a platform for these women to share their journey with other women around the world and inspire them. On this platform, we love to share stories of inspiring women because we know that women are doing a whole lot in the society.  The purpose of this series is to keep you abreast of the amazing strides that women and young women are doing in Nigeria, Africa and across the World.

 

This week, we are privileged to have the Chairperson of Federacion Internationale De Abogadas {FIDA} Ekiti State Chapter, Barrister Oluwaseyi Ojo. She is a woman whose zest for women’s growth, girl child development, human rights, justice cannot be curtailed. As sensitive, demanding as the task is, she is determined to make sure that women have the voice they need and girls are allowed to fly as high as they want.

In this exclusive interview, she shares her journey, the challenges so far and her success report. We hope that this inspires you. Do enjoy the interview.

 

AW: Kindly introduce yourself to us 

I am Oluwaseyi Ojo, the first child of four children of Chief Olorundare Ojo and Mrs Mopelola Elizabeth Ojo.  I had my Pry education at different Army Children Schools but graduated at Army Children School in Dodan Barracks, Obalende, Lagos State. I then proceeded to Girls Academy Secondary School, Simpson Street, Lagos Island, where I completed my Secondary school in 1993. After my secondary education, I went to Ondo State Polytechnic Owo, now Rufus Giwa Polytechnic to do an OND in Secretarial Administration, I finished in 1996. I did my Industrial Training with the default Nigerian-Arab Bank where I worked as a Confidential Secretary in the Loans Recovery Department, Human Resources Department before been posted to the Victoria Island Branch of the Bank where I worked before going to University of Ibadan to study Law in 1999.

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As a 100 level student at the university, I was nominated as an Ex-Officio Member in the Law Student Society in the Faculty of Law representing my class. When I was in 300level, I represented my Hall of Residence Queen Elizabeth II Hall, as a member of the Student Representative Council University of Ibadan (SRC). In 400level, I contested for the post of the Chairperson, Queen Elizabeth II Hall University of Ibadan in 2003 and won. I reign for one year before graduating from the university in 2004 to proceed to the Nigeria Law School, Abuja Campus where I graduated in 2005 before my NYSC in 2006 to 2007 in Abuja. I served with Women Right Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) briefly as a Legal Officer and finished my service year with the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) as a Media/Legal Adviser. After my service year, I worked with TMG brief before deciding to join the Chambers of Otachie & co where I started my law practice career. I spent only five months there before my father insisted I come to Ekiti to join the Civil service.

 

I join the Ekiti State Civil Service in October 2008 and was posted to the Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel.

 

I first served at the Citizens’ Rights Centre Department under the great Leadership of Mr Adeniyi Familoni who was then the Director (now a Permanent Secretary). Under his leadership and tutelage, I learnt a lot about how to meditate in matrimonial causes, land disputes, tenancy, chieftaincy etc. I also had the opportunity to appear in court in several human right abuse cases. Stating my activities at the centre will no doubt consume a lot of pages hence I will pause. But that department gave me the privilege to serve humanity and taught me so much that no one can learn in any school because I saw real violence and human inhumanity against each other. I became resolute to stand and fight for the depressed, the vulnerable, the deprived, the abused, the shamed, the pained and children. So many cases stood out for me so mentioning some will only take time and space.

IMG-20190711-WA0013Barrister Oluwaseyi Ojo. Chairperson, FIDA {Ekiti state chapter}

In 2011 I was posted to the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) and was assigned several cases to prosecute. Amongst these cases was the case of the State V Ishola Dauda, a case of the rape of an 85years old woman who was late as at the time I took over prosecution of the case. It is important to state that when I was assigned the case, I protested that colleagues before me who were assigned to prosecute the case concluded it was a bad and dead case, but the then Director Public Prosecution (Mr Adeniyi Familoni) insisted that I go to court and prosecute the case. Grudgingly, I went to Court and opened the supposedly dead case. As soon as I opened the case, I discovered that I could resurrect the case which I did gladly and called 6 witnesses including an expert witness, and closed my case in less than two weeks. The Defense Counsel was my very good friend Alhaja Baderinwa from the Legal Aid Council, she also opened her case and closed it promptly before we both closed with our individual oral argument in favour of our cases. In the end, the verdict was guilty and the defendant was sentenced to 26years imprisonment. My joy knew no bounds because that was the first rape case ever prosecuted to the end in Ekiti. And it was giving the much publicity it deserved. That was the beginning of victory for victims and survivors in Ekiti State and that opened another page in my career history. From that case, efforts were put into serious prosecution of rape cases in the state, and not long after that, the sex offender register was opened. Till date, I have been involved in the prosecution of several rape cases, domestic violence cases and other cases like armed robberies and murders.

 

I have served in the Civil litigation Department as well as the Legal Drafting Department of the Ministry. Currently, I serve in the Department of Public Prosecution as an Assistant Chief Legal Officer, am the Special Assistant to Her Excellency the First Lady of Ekiti State Erelu Bisi Adeleye Fayemi, also the Special Assistant to the Hon. Attorney General and Commission for Justice, Ekiti State Mr Olawale Fapohunda. I have been a member of FIDA since 2009 and the current Chairperson FIDA Nigeria, Ekiti State chapter. I am currently studying Gender and Development at the Ekiti State University.

 

AW: Could you give us a proper explanation of what FIDA is especially what the chapter in Ekiti represents?

FIDA means Federacion Internationale De Abogadas. FIDA Nigeria as a whole is a non-profit, non-political, voluntary association of women called to the practice of law in Nigeria. FIDA Nigeria’s primary role is to protect, promote and preserve the rights of women and children in Nigeria. Its core values are transparency, accountability, teamwork, integrity, mutual respect, commitment, service and we are non-partisan. We help women with our professional callings.

 

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AW: Would you say that the number of women and girls in social engagement has evolved in recent times?

Yes, it has, due to the conduciveness of our environment. Even though more women need to get involved. It is better than it used to be.

 

AW: As the chairperson of FIDA Ekiti, what are the punch lines that your administration would focus on?

My Administration will hold on firmly to the vision and mission of FIDA Nigeria in the protection, promotion and preservation of the rights of women and children. We will take our campaign to the grassroots. We intend to touch every community in Ekiti with our Campaigns for a society that is safe, fair and just for our women, girls and children. Our campaign will include GBV, FGM, keeping our girls in schools, no to trafficking, Rape, Drug Abuse, Child Abuse and Molestation, Sexual Harassments. We intend to visit as many schools as possible to give career talks to our girl and boys. We have a lot planned for the next 3 years of my administration.

 

AW: Tell us how your upbringing contributed to this journey of fighting for women and girls’ rights?

Wow, I was born to a military father, and a strong woman who though not educated was not ready to wait for a man to feed her. My mother’s philosophy was if her husband drops N500, she was going to at least drop N200. My parent were disciplinarians, my father wanted a perfect daughter and I didn’t fit the picture hence he resulted to cane and serious punishment to get me to fit in. I, in turn, became a rebel, I fought back at every opportunity. I joined my mum in hawking stuff ranging from groundnuts (epa), oranges, bananas to roasting maize on different streets in Lagos where I grew up. I grew up a fighter, from the day I was born, I started fighting. I was born with the sickle cell anaemia,  so I fought pain and that gave me a lot of confidence in God that I can fight and conquer any situation.

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So in a way growing up was not easy for me hence fighting for survival was a way out. I guess this contributed to my journey in life. Coupled with several incidents of molestation and rape which I will not be talking about today. But aside all of the above I still had fun memories of my childhood.

 

AW: What motivates your everyday goal as a person?

I desire to touch as many lives as I can because the time is getting shorter by the day. Helping someone achieve their desired dreams and seeing them happy drives me each day. And some time wanting to keep the bad guys away for good, but we can only try, with new crime inventions we still have a long way to go.

 

AW: Do you think parents contribute to the inhumane state of women who suffer domestic abuse in their homes?

Yes, a lot of our mothers suffered in the hands of their husbands. So they grew to believe that was the norm and hence every woman must endure domestic violence. Our society is patriarchal in nature, everything relating to culture, customs and religion are practised in such a way that women are disadvantaged and oppressed. And patriarchy has stayed with us far too long hence even the oppressed believed it’s the way of life that should not be changed. But we are taking it one step at a time and I believe strongly that we will reduce incidents of violence against women in our society

 

AW: What would be the three-piece advice you would give young women when getting married?

1. don’t marry because others are rushing to it. Take your time to enjoy your youthfulness because marriage is “forever”. Forever is a very long time.

2. When choosing a partner, take your time don’t be fooled by what he tells you, his money, career, jobs, religiosity or family background do your checks. Victims are sometimes abusers, take your time to know him. Befriend him before marrying him.

3. if you have made a mistake and you are experiencing domestic violence speak out don’t die in silence, seek help. Getting a divorce is not a crime. Walk out of that abuse and save yourself. Don’t get killed. And lastly, there is no law that says you must be married. Don’t let anyone tell you if you are not married you are not complete. Marriage is not an achievement. It is not to be endured but to be enjoyed.

 

AW: Boys become men, as parents, most especially mothers in the home, how do you think the influence of mothers have turned some men to be the animals they have turned out to be in the society?

Our grandmothers and mothers made huge mistakes in their contribution to the stronghold of patriarchy. They trained boys to be self-entitled, selfish and inconsiderate. They contributed to the lack of the education of the girl which I almost fell a victim of. They glorified the male child at the expense of the female child. They followed the practice of tradition and religion to their own detriment and disadvantage. Up till today, some women are custodians of traditional practices that disadvantage women.

 

AW: There is an increase in rape around the world most especially in Africa and some Asian countries, what do you think can be done to cut this menace?

Stronger Punishment, commitments from government and policymakers to enforce with due diligence, not lip service laws and legislation. We need more women in places of authority and at the desk where decisions are made concerning these issues. We need strong women to occupy key areas in the legislative houses, in the executives and the judiciary. We need education and sensitization of our girls and women. We also need the sympathy and collaborations of some good men who align with our struggles.

 

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AW: Is there space for mentorship in your organization?

Yes, there is. We have a lot of corp lawyers working with us. We go to schools to mentor young girls and we are going to be launching our activities on the social media space soon so that young girls can follow.

 

AW: What are you doing as an organization to train young men and women?

We have a program called school outreach where we go to different schools in Ekiti and talk to our student on issues ranging from career, sex, GBV, drug abuse, mental health etc.

 

AW: What inspires you?

I love what I do. Leaving a legacy behind inspires me. My father who is late now inspired me. He never believed I could amount to anything good. He thought I would just die one day and waste the money he spent on my education or become a full-time groundnut seller (lol) so I told myself I was going to shame my father. That got me serious with my studies and kept me off, boys. I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to be great and I wanted him to know that I decide who I become. I thank God I succeeded in shaming him because we became best friends. And it kills me every day to see that he is not here with me anymore. He became my best parent. Also, the fact that I can do anything I set my eyes and heart at inspires me.

 

AW: Who are your mentors, in and outside your industry?

When I was in the University, I was tagged “Margret Thatcher” by Queen Elizabeth Hall Press. Angrily I went to read about her and fell in love with her person, despite some of her shortcomings I wanted to be as strong and a no-nonsense woman like her. Mrs Funke Adekoya (SAN) is another woman that inspires me, her simplicity, carriage and intelligence are some qualities I love, admire and want to emulate. The maturity, intelligence and principles of Mr Obafemi Adewale Esq a former Attorney General of Ekiti I hold in high esteem. The Judicial zeal, fearlessness and intelligence of Hon. Justice Oluwatoyin Abodunde I desire to copy. And in recent times I have had to add to the list of those I desire to follow in their footsteps as I continue in my life journey. The woman I currently work for Erelu Bisi Fayemi, her humility, kindness, devotion to humanity, her voice and intelligence are just a few of her numerous great qualities which I covet so much.

 

AW: What’s the callup line for FIDA Ekiti chapter?

To protect, promote and preserve the rights of our girls, women and children in every location in Ekiti

 

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AW: What’s your advice to young girls who aspire to be like you?

 

(lol) be you. Know what you want and strive for it. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Know that your life is in your hand, you become who you desire to be and work to become. Am not lazy I get up, dress up and show up no matter what. Even when I am sick. Be sympathetic, be humane, be kind and above all be principled.

 

AW: What have been the challenges so far?

So many challenges. It seems like the more you do the more people you need to reach. It gets emotional sometimes, it drains a lot of energy from me when I see women who are suffering and are not willing to seek help. It a challenge seeing so many suffering.  Getting finances to help indigent women. To get people to support causes like this can be tasking if not almost impossible.

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AW: Share some of your success stories with us.

As earlier said above, while at the Citizens’ Rights Department, I did touch a lot of lives too many to be counted. But as requested I will share a few. A girl of about age 14 in ss1 was brought to me from one of the Muslim schools here in Ado Ekiti she had been disowned by her father because of her rebellion against him, so she was sleeping inside the school mosque and was taken home by one of the male teachers. The father had sent her out of the house and had refused to pay for her school fees and necessities. The male teacher was tired of keeping another man’s child and was scared of something happening to the girl so he sought help from the school PTA, and they reported the case at my desk. It was a herculean task to get the father to agree to take responsibilities for the girl who also was stubborn and adamant. To cut the long story really short, I volunteered to be in charge of the girl. She was registered in Baptist High School Igede to complete her secondary school. I visited her every month for two years until I was posted out of the department. Fast forward to 2017 she came to thank me and informed me that she is studying Law at Obafemi Awolowo University ile-ife. The father also called severally to thank me till I got tired of picking his calls. So many stories to share aside from the rapes cases. Also with my experience at the Citizens’ Rights Department, I was able to help strengthen the Legal Team of FIDA Ekiti. I have also fought for the fundament rights of not less the six women and girls at the High Courts in the State.  Too many to count.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Above Whispers

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