Breaking the Yoke of Patriarchy: Nigerian Women in the various
Professions, Politics and Governance, 1914-2014
Siyan Oyeweso, FHSN
Professor of History and Director of Development
Osun State University, Osogbo, Nigeria.
Tel: +234803301892, +2348033359384
Text of the Lecture Delivered at the 2014 National Conference of
Association of Women Judges of Nigeria (NAWJN).
Venue: Otutu Obaseki Auditorium, National Judicial Institute, Abuja
Date: October 24, 2014
Breaking the Yoke of Patriarchy: Nigerian Women in the Various Professions, Politics
and Governance, 1914-2014
Prof. Siyan Oyeweso FHSN
Osun State University,
Tel: +234803301892, +2348033359384
I feel highly honoured to stand before this august gathering of learned women and men as
Guest Speaker. I express my sincere appreciation to the National Association of Women
Judges of Nigeria (NAWJN) for counting me worthy of being invited as a resource person on
this great occasion. This occasion which has been put together by NAWJN in honour of one
of their key members, Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar, the first ever female Chief Justice of
the Federation, is quite historic. The President of the National Association of Women Judges
of Nigeria (NAWJN), Justice Helen Moronikeji Ogunwumiju of the Federal Court of Appeal
(Benin Division), Justice Adedotun A.G. Onibokun of Osun State Judiciary and Justice A.
Aderonke Aderemi of Oyo State Judiciary take the credit for facilitating my presence here
today. Thank you.
The question of the status of women in human society remains a very contentious one.
Whether considered in a historical or contemporaneous sense, academic and non-academic
discourses on gender issues particularly as they concern women are as interesting as they are
controversial. The current advocacy for feminism which encapsulates the totality of the
philosophy, vision and mission of women emancipation, equity and equality in modern
societies has put the question of women position in the front burner of politics and economies
of all modern states in contemporary times.
However, in spite of the huge successes recorded by feminist campaigns and propagations as
exemplified in the advancements made by women in all walks of life, women are still
unfulfilled. This is because while women have succeeded in breaking the gender barriers
militating against their total breakthrough in developed countries of the world, the story is a
bit different in patriarchal societies mostly on the African continent. But it must not be
thought that it is only African societies that are patriarchal in nature. Patriarchy is a universal
phenomenon which is noticeable in most cultures including the Western nations. For
instance, in the United States, women had to establish various women movements to fight for
their various rights and protest against all forms of discrimination. Also, the Western
feminists have largely emphasised the negative aspects of African patriarchy to the total
neglect of the rationality behind it and the outstanding exploits of African women in spite of
the challenges they faced. Modern feminists have also shown total ignorance of the fact that
some African societies were and still are matriarchal in nature and practised and still
practised matrilineal descent.
Against this background, this paper examines the travails of African women across the ages
using Nigerian women as case studies. The paper underscores the fact that, in spite of the
patriarchal nature of the country, Nigeria women played significant roles in the societies in
pre-colonial and colonial eras and have continued to contribute meaningfully to societal
development in contemporary period. The paper also identifies the factors which have
continued to hinder full realisation of the potentials of Nigerian women and suggests ways to
address them. It also chronicles the pioneering Nigerian women professionals who have
achieved outstanding successes in their professional callings and even surpassed their male
counterparts. A major aspect of the paper is the historical documentation of notable Nigerian
women who have blazed the trail in many aspects of the legal and judicial profession. The
paper concludes that the social, cultural, religious and political barriers against the full
realisation of the potentials of the Nigerian woman are gradually giving ways and the 21st
century is the century of the Nigerian woman.
Confronting African Patriarchy: The Travails and Achievements of the Nigerian
Women in the Pre-Colonial Period
Etymologically, the word ‘Patriarchy’ is derived from the Latin word ‘pater’ which means
‘father’. It is simply defined as a social order in which men take charge of decision making
and implementation, as well as policies and actions that affect the affairs of the members of
such societies. Arguably, every human society in the world in contemporary period is
patriarchal in nature. Patriarchy is also rooted in global history at all stages of historical
development and in all the continents from Europe to the Americas, from the Middle East to
Australia and from Asia to Africa.
The African situation was more pathetic. In early African societies, women played the second
fiddle to their men counterpart. They did not have rights to participate in political activities of
the society and they were confined to the home stead. They, however, played important role
in the economic and social lives of the family as they provided home training to the children
and wards and assisted their husbands in their occupation. The advent of Islam had dual
impact on women’s status in African societies. On one hand, Islam strengthened the existing
patriarchal nature of the society by entrenching men supremacy and emphasising women
submission. On the other hand, Islam encouraged women education and literacy. Across all
the ages, a few exceptional women have not only proved the sterling qualities of the
womanfolk but have also successfully challenged the patriarchal nature of their societies and
have reached the peak of their professional callings.
In the pre-colonial Nigerian context, examples of such women who distinguished themselves
as brave and strong individuals in the various sectors of the society abound. Principally,
during the pre-colonial period, Nigerian women contributed mainly to the sustenance of the
family. The economy then was largely subsistence and agriculture was the mainstay. Apart
from being mothers and wives, they were homemakers. They farmed alongside their
husbands and children. In Eastern Nigeria and among the Tiv people of Central Nigeria for
instance, women engaged in productive economic activities such as the production of palm
kernel and palm oil, garri processing and fish drying in order to complement the harvests
from the farms and sustain the family. In all aspects of societal life during this period, women
contributed their own quota.
Nevertheless, women were faced with some socio-cultural challenges such as prevention
from land ownership which was the major means of production. Land was not an inheritance
for women. Yet, they worked very hard to preserve the fruitfulness of the lands owned by
their husbands. Because they were the homemakers, they had to ensure that the most basic
requirement for their families’ survival was readily available; and this they did by ensuring
that the source of that food–the fruitfulness of land resources–was ensured.
In spite of the patriarchal nature of the pre-colonial Nigerian society, it is important to stress
that a few Nigerian women succeeded in achieving great political feats and became
politically relevant in their societies. This was achieved through gallantry and uncommon
bravery on the part of such women. Famous women who became political legends in pre-
colonial Nigerian history included the legendary Queen Amina of Zaria who personally led
series of expansionist wars in the 14th century and conquered many states and kingdoms in
Northern Nigeria. Another one was Iyalode Efunsetan Aniwura of Ibadan who was not only a
rich merchant woman but a very fearful and brave woman of the 19th century who became a
political force in the Ibadan military society. Other historic women in pre-colonial Nigeria
who achieved political fame included Moremi of Ife, Inikpi of Igalaland, Emotan and Idia of
Benin kingdom and Omu Okwel of the Ossomari kingdom. These and other women have
become reference points in discourses on the exploits of Nigerian women in the pre-colonial
Nigerian Women in the Colonial Society: Famous Nationalists and Politicians, 1914-
The advent of British colonialism in Nigeria in 1900 reinforced the patriarchal nature of the
Nigerian society in all ramifications. The colonial economy was export oriented and this
seriously underplayed the prestige of traditional occupations. Nigerian women were largely at
a disadvantage during this period. This was because trading and commerce were the
traditional domains of pre-colonial Nigerian women. As a result of British colonisation of
Nigeria, many smaller markets hitherto dominated and controlled by women were taken over
by expatriate traders and British trading firms such as John Holt, United African Company
(UAC), Lever Brothers and so on. In agriculture, cash crop incentives, technology and
innovations were restricted to men. Consequently, women could not effectively carry out
their previously significant economic roles the way they did in the pre-colonial period.
Also, the colonial political system did not give any formal recognition to women
participation. From the 1920s when Nigerian educated elite began to participate in colonial
activities, men were given more opportunities and leverages. The whole essence of colonial
administration was tilted towards advancing the status of men in the society politically,
economically, educationally, socially and culturally. As a consequence, the majority of the
first sets of Nigerian nationalist and political elite were men such as Orisadipe Obasa, Sir
Adeyemo Alakija, Egerton Shyngle, Kitoyi Ajasa, Eric Moore, Sir Herbert Macaulay and a
host of others.
Despite the unfavourable economic and political policies of the colonial government towards
women, some notable Nigerian women still emerged and became famous during the colonial
period. The Aba Women Riots of 1929 in Eastern Nigeria represented one of the earliest and
most serious anti-colonial struggles in modern Nigeria. These riots were planned and
executed by women to protest the taxation of women by the colonial authorities in Eastern
Nigeria and it lasted several days during which several women were killed by the colonial
police. The Aba riots not only contributed immensely to nationalist struggles in Nigeria but
also showed the strength, bravery and determination of Nigerian women to protect and
defend their interests.
Apart from the Aba women riots of 1929, some individual Nigerian women also made
landmark political contributions in colonial Nigeria. One of such women was the late Madam
Alimotu Pelewura of Lagos. She was a fish trader and leader of the Ereko Market Women
Association in Lagos. She was a major force in the nationalist activities of the first political
party in Nigeria, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) founded by Herbert
Macauley in 1923. Madam Alimotu Pelewura led the Lagos market women against several
obnoxious policies of the colonial government from the 1920s to 1951 when she died. She
belonged to many economic and political organisations and participated in several protests
and demonstrations, consequent upon which she was detained several times. The series of
protests, petitions and demonstrations organized and led by Pelewura contributed to the
improvement of political status of women in colonial Nigeria. The political activities of
Madam Pelewura became so much acknowledged in Lagos that she became a member of the
Ilu Committee in 1932. She was also on the NCNC delegation to the London conference in
Another famous woman in the politics of colonial Nigeria was Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-
Kuti. She was a social crusader and a political icon who established the Abeokuta Women
Union in 1948. She was a leading member of the NCNC and she was behind the 1948 Egba
women riots against colonial women taxation. She also had a face-off with Oba Ademola, the
Alake of Egbaland forcing him to go on exile. She became so popular in Nigerian politics
that the mention of her name scared the colonial officials. She was also on the NCNC
delegation to the London conference in 1946.
Hajia Gambo Sawaba of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) distinguished
herself as the first woman to publicly identify with professional politics in Muslim Northern
Nigeria. As the leader of the women wing of Aminu Kano’s NEPU, Hajia Gambo mobilised
the Northern women and advocated their voting and political rights. She was popularly
known in the Kano-Zaria-Kaduna axis as a freedom fighter and a great mobiliser.
Another prominent female politician of the Pre-1960 era was Adunni Oluwole a rights
activist whose commitment to social justice came to the fore during the 1945 general strike.
Though not a wealthy individual, she supported the striking workers with financial and
human resources. In May 1954, she founded the Nigerian Commoners Liberal Party.
Other women who made political marks during the colonial period included Mrs Margaret
Ekpo. Significantly, in the 1950s, three Nigerian women were elected into the House of
Chiefs. These were Chief (Mrs.) Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti who was elected into the
Western Nigeria House of Chiefs, Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo and Mrs. Janet Mokelu who
were both elected into the Eastern Nigeria House of Chiefs.
The Nigerian Women in the Legal Profession: Achievements, Prospects and Challenges
As we celebrate a rare legal icon today, we should be reminded that her success as a
distinguished legal luminary is not hers alone. It belongs to all Nigerian women and is a
fitting tribute to womanhood which over the centuries has been subjected to the intimidating
influence of men. The emergence of women in the legal profession in Nigeria has come a
long way even though with chequered history. Nevertheless, women professionals have
contributed in their own right, in no small measure, to the advancement of the legal
profession in Nigeria. At the various levels of the profession, we have had women of
distinction who have carved a niche for themselves. The hallmark of their contribution is the
appointment of the rare icon we are celebrating today, My Lord, Justice Maryam Aloma
Mukhtar, to the position of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Through the role of Justice Aloma Mukhtar, female representation in the law profession in
Nigeria has recorded greater quality in spite of the low number in comparison to males.
Particularly, Justice Aloma Mukhtar is a trailblazer. Her recorded accomplishments include
being the first female jurist to be appointed to the highest court in Nigeria. She was also the
first woman to be appointed into the Court of Appeal. She was called to the Nigerian bar in
1967 after she was called to the English bar. She was the first female lawyer in Northern
Nigeria. She also served as the first female magistrate in Northern Nigeria and is currently the
most senior justice of the Supreme Court. These accomplishments solidified her influence in
such institutions as the Supreme Court, the Nigerian Bar, the Appeal Court, the Kano State
Government, the High Court of Kano, the Federation of Women Lawyers, the National
Association of Women Judges of Nigeria, the Federation of Women Lawyers and the
International Association of Women Lawyers.
Within two years of assumption of office of Justice Muhktar as the CJN, another amazon in
the judiciary, Justice Zainab Adamu Bukachuwa was, on March 26, 2014, named President of
the Appeal Court. The implication of these appointments is that the two most powerful courts
in the country are currently manned by women. At this point there is the need to purse and re-
consider the statement once credited to Justice Karibi Whyte, the retired Supreme Court
judge, about the absence of women at the apex court:
So what if there is no female Supreme Court Judge?
Why must there be? It is not a gender issue…Whether
there is a man or a woman it has nothing to do with the
administration of Justice. When a suitable female
arrives, we will appoint her.
On June 8, 2003, Justice Mukhtar was sworn in as the first female Justice of the Supreme
Court. This appointment totally debunked Justice Karibi Whyte’s innuendo that “why must
there be a female Supreme Court Judge”? Of course it is not “a gender issue”, but a woman
can also do it. And they are doing it well.
Justice Mukhtar's ascension to the apex court has since opened the doors for other women
lawyers to be appointed to the country’s highest court. In particular, it paved the way for the
emergence of Justice Mary Odili and Olufunlola Adeyeye as Supreme Court Judges. The two
appointments, no doubt, a confirmation of the new wind of change in Nigeria’s male
dominated judiciary and a good indicator that women judges are now ready to make a strong
presence in the judicial administration of Nigeria. This point was underscored by the
erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu at the swearing-in of Justice
Mary Peter-Odili as a Judge of the Supreme Court:
The action, no doubt, met the yearning and aspirations
of women in Nigeria and indeed, the world…this day
is indeed, significant because we have just witnessed
the swearing-in of another female Justice of this
Honourable Court, Justice Mary Peter Odili. This
brings to three, the number of female justices in the
Supreme Court of Nigeria.
In spite of this laudable achievement, the rejection, in the first instance, of the appointment of
Honourable Justice Ifeoma Jumbo-Ofo as Justice of the Court of Appeal had generated some
debate. The debate centres on the need to review the policies hindering the career
advancement of women in states where their husbands are indigenes. This problem should be
addressed in line with the submission of Justice Olufunlola Oyelola Adekeye, retired Judge of
the Supreme Court who, in a speech made at a valedictory court session in her honour said:
Complaints of this nature are now rampant. Most women transfer their
services to the state of origin of their husbands immediately after their
marriage. This is logical and in compliance with the tenets of marriage that the
two spouses shall become one. In some native customs, particularly among the
Yoruba, the wife no longer has a place in her ancestral home after marriage.
Whenever there is vacancy at the top in the husband’s state of origin, she will
be denied the post and there and then returned to her own state of origin, after
climbing the ladder and putting so many years into the service.1
This remains a challenge that must be surmounted. Hence, Justice Olufunlola Adekeye’s
argument should be critically looked into with a view to addressing this debacle. In spite of
all this, the shining careers of our women in the legal profession are glowing tributes to the
professional capacity of women and the endless possibilities that abound for the coming
generations of aspiring women in any professional field. Justice Mukhtar’s illustrious career
reinforces the success that can emerge from the struggle for women emancipation,
empowerment and participation which the careers of other women lawyers have also shown.
In the current era where the strengthening of institutions is paramount to the overall
development of nations, Justice Aloma Mukhtar has proved that female representation can
increase the dignity of the legal institution which contributes significantly to governance and
socio-economic growth. In this aspect, Justice Mukhtar has shown that the female gender is
up to the task of providing meaningful contribution to the bench. In a profession that
demands a very high level of firmness and resolve, Justice Mukhtar stands out. She was one
of the justices who gave a dissenting judgement that was widely acclaimed in legal circles in
the Yar’Adua/Buhari election result dispute in 2007. On assumption of office Justice
Mukhtar inherited 139 petitions that had been pending in the Supreme Court. Out of this
number she adjudged 106 as baseless and without substance. From the time she assumed
office, she received 198 petitions from which she screened 150. This posture is representative
of Justice Mukhtar’s determination to rid the justice system of ineffectiveness, bureaucratic
bottlenecks and negative tendencies that have found no place in the heart of Nigerians. While
interacting with members of the Nigerian Senate in 2012 before her appointment was
confirmed, she said,
1 “Judiciary: Is Justice for Sale?”, The Vanguard, April 18, 2013.
On the perspective of the Nigerian judiciary by the public, indeed as it is as at
now, it is very bad and I am saddened by it. But then, I said earlier on, I will
try, I don’t want to sound like a broken record. I will try to make sure that the
confidence reposed in the judiciary, as it were before, will be returned. I will
try as much as possible to ensure that the bad eggs that are there are flushed
out; that there will be a cleansing by the National Judicial Council based on
petition. It is sad that the ordinary man on the street thinks and feels that he
cannot get justice. This is because of the situation we find ourselves. I will
ensure that this perception changes.2
Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar’s competence and sheer capacity to influence legal
administration has inspired the forthrightness and consistency of performance among a great
number of competent and skilful women who have traversed the path of legal administration.
These include the Honourable Justice Mary Ukaego Peter Odili who was appointed a Justice
of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2011; the Honourable Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, the
first woman judge in the North Eastern sub-region who was appointed Justice of the
Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2012; and the Honourable Justice Kudirat Motomori
Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun who as a High Court Judge served as Chairman Robbery and
Firearms Tribunal for three years and now Justice of the Supreme Court.
The Head and Not the Tail: The Court of Appeal
Nigerian women are making waves at the Federal Court of Appeal. These phenomenal
women include the Honourable Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa who is the first female president
of the Federal Court of Appeal and the 6th in the history of the Court. It is also on record that
the Honourable Justice W. S. Nkanu Onnoghen Justice of the Court of Appeal from 1998 –
2005. Justice Bulkachuwa was called to Nigerian Bar in 1976 represented Gombe State in
Appeal Court. She was elevated to the Appeal Court in 1998. Before then she had worked as
a judge in the High Court of Bauchi State and served as the Chief Judge of Gombe State.
The Appeal Court, with 16 divisions and 90 judges now has twenty nine (29) women with
the potential and capacity to increasingly direct the course of the justice system in Nigeria.
Distinguished female judges whose role in the Appeal Court has been significant include
Honourable Justices Amina A. Augie JCA, CON; Monica B. Dongban-Memsem JCA, Uwani
Abba Aji JCA; Sotonye Denton-West JCA, Helen M. Ogunwumiju JCA, Oyebisi F. Omoleye
JCA, A.G. Mshelia JCA, Jumai H. Sankey JCA, Uzo I. Ndukwe Anyanwu, C.N. Nwa JCA,
C.E. Nwosu-Iheme JCA, T.N. Orji-Abadua JCA, Modupe Fasanmi JCA, Rita N. Pemu JCA,
Philomena Ekpe JCA, E.E. Iyizoba JCA, Uchecukwu Onyemenam JCA, Onyekachi Otis
JCA, T. Akomolafe Wilson JCA, Fatima Akinbami JCA, Jumbo Ofo JCA, Tani Y. Hassan
JCA, O.A. Adefope-Okojie JCA, M.O. Bolaji-Yusuf JCA, Y. Nimpar JCA, O.E. Williams-
Dawodu JCA and A.O. Obaseki-Adejumo JCA.
The Female Representation at the Federal High Court of Nigeria
Hon. Justice Roseline Ukeje makes history as the first female Federal High Court Judge.
While in service, Justice Ukeje demonstrated strong-will, independent mindedness and
commitment to the tenets of her profession. As Chairman of one failed bank tribunal, she
gave landmark judgment which ruffled some feathers in government. She was certainly a
2 Adam Adedimeji and Francis Famuroti, “Nigeria: Unprecedented- The Making of Three Women
Senior Advocates”, Daily Independent, April 7, 2010.
trailblazer as she was the first woman in the country to emerge as Chief Judge of the Federal
High Court. She retired in 2008.
Although, the Federal High Court of Nigeria is today headed by Hon. Justice Ibrahim Auta,
OFR, some female lawyers have also made their mark in the court. The female representation
in the court today stands at Seventeen (17) comprising, Hon. Justice C.M.A Olatoregun-
Ishola, Hon. Justice A.I Chikere, Hon. Justice B.B. Aliyu, Hon. Justice R. N.Ofili-
Ajumogobia, Hon. Justice P.I. Ajoku, Hon. Justice A.A. Okeke, Hon. Justice Z.B. Abubakar,
Hon. Justice M.A. Onyetenu, Hon. Justice D.V. Agishi, Others include Hon. Justice
F.A.Olubanjo, Hon. Justice I.L. Ojukwu, Hon. Justice Phoebe Msuean Ayua, Hon. Justice F.
O. Giwa-Ogunbanjo, Hon. Justice Evelyn Nmasinulo Anyadike, Hon. Justice Uche Nma
Agomoh, Hon. Justice Oluremi Omowunmi Oguntoyinbo, Hon. Justice Chinda Ruhuoma and
Hon. Sam-Wobo Adele, among others.
Emergence of Female Chief Judges: Breaking the Barriers and Charting New Pathways
On November 16, 1935 the first qualified female lawyer, Stella Jane Thomas (later Stella
Marke) was enrolled at the bar. Prior to this date, law profession was an exclusive male
profession in Nigeria and other commonwealth countries. It was almost impenetrable for
Nigerian women. The enviable position of Stella Jane Marke among the female lawyers in
Nigeria was not rivalled since 1935 until twelve years later when Modupe Alakija (late Mrs.
Renner) came into the scene. She became the second female lawyer in 1947. Two years later
another Miss Adebisi Adedoyin (later Mrs. Adebiyi was called to the English Bar thereby
raising the number of female lawyers in Nigeria in 1949 to three. On November 25, 1952,
Gloria Omodele Rhodes (later Mrs. Jackman) joined the league of Nigerian female lawyers
and rose to become the first Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court. In 1953, the country
produced three female lawyers- Kafayat Abimbola Augusto (later Mrs Bakare), Modupe
Akingbein (later Justice Modupe Omo-Eboh) and Jayoola Aduke Alakija- who stamped their
feet on the sand of time. In 1956, three other females joined the league of lawyers, viz
Martina Efunyemi Akerele, Christianah Osibodu, and Atandare Beatrice Olukemi. By 1959,
another five women were enrolled at the bar. The list includes Atinuke Oloka (late Atinuke
Ige), Abimbola Aina Da Rocha, Remilekun Braithwaite, Muyinat Olabisi Dawodu, Modupe
Maja and Ajibola Olubunmi Adelowo. By 1960, the number of female lawyers in Nigeria
rose to twenty with the enrolment of four other lawyers: Odujirin Olufunmilayo Olabisi,
Onalaja Morenikeji Omotayo, Femi-Pearse Obafunke Folasade and Akintade Sydney
Aderinola. From 1960 onwards, Nigerian women have proved that legal profession can no
longer remain the exclusive preserve of men.
In 1965, Victoria Ayoadede Uzoamaka Onejeme, among others, was called to the bar. She
later became the first female Attorney General in Nigeria’s history when she was appointed
the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Old Anambra State in 1976. Justice
Onajene who hails from Awka in Anambra State later became a judge of the Federal Capital
Territory High Court.
Shattering the Glass Ceiling in Lagos State Judiciary: From Justice Modupe Omo-
Eboh and Justice D.E.A. Oguntoye to Justice Funmilayo Atilade
Existing records available in Judicial Archive indicate that Modupe Oladunni Omo-Eboh
(Nee Akingbehin) was privileged by history as the first female High Court Judge in Nigeria.
She hailed from Ondo State but married a former Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Dr.
Omogbai Omo-Eboh from Edo State. Justice (Mrs) Omo-Eboh died on the 25th of February,
2000. From the perspective of Lagos State Judiciary, however, it was Justice (Mrs) D.E.A.
Oguntoye who was the first female appointed to the High Court of Lagos State.
Indeed, it was Lagos State that also broke down barriers impeding the appointment of female
as a Chief Judge. The first female Chief Judge in Nigeria known to history was Justice
Rosaline Omotosho. She served as the Chief Judge of Lagos State from April 12, 1995 to
February 27, 1996.
With the completion of Rosaline Omotosho’s tenure, the Lagos State Government continued
the tradition of appointment of competent women as Chief Judges. It is indeed on record that
Justice Ibitola Sotiminu (2001-2004) and Justice Inumidun Akande (2009-2012) served
meritoriously as Chief Judges of Lagos State. The fourth female Chief Judge, Justice
Ayotunde Phillips was sworn in on June 14, 2012. Justice Phillips, a former Director of Civil
Litigation was appointed a Judge of the State High Court on February 18, 1994. She attended
the University of Lagos and earned her LL.B degree in 1973. She was called to the bar in
1974. Justice Ayo Phillips held sway at the Chief Judge till Saturday, July 26, 2014.
On July 26, 2014, history was made in the annals of Lagos State judiciary as Justice Phillips
was succeeded by her younger sister, Hon. Justice Funmilayo Olajumoke Atilade. Both
Justice Phillips and Justice Atilade are the first and second children respectively of the four
children of late Hon. Justice James Williams, who himself was a judge in Lagos State and
late Mrs. Henrietta Williams.
A Law graduate of University of Lagos, Justice Olajumoke Atilade commenced her legal
career as Principal Legal Officer at the Nigerian Ports Authority from September 1979 to
December 1981 (2 years 4 months) engaged in legal drafting and litigation. She was
Senior/Chief magistrate Lagos State Judiciary from 1982-July 1996 (14 years 7 months
where she adjudicated over mostly criminal cases, landlord and tenant cases and prison visits.
She was a High Court Judge at the Lagos State where she supervised Judges in her district
and assigned cases to them. She also supervised administrative staff in the district and
supervised all assignments given to her by the Hon. Chief Judge. Still in that capacity, she
adjudicated over cases and headed the general civil division. She did this until August 2014
when she was formally appointed and sworn in as the Chief Judge of Lagos State. Justice
Atilade’s appointment is historic and significant. Its significance is best captured in the words
of Mrs. Funke Adekoya (SAN):
…We are here to celebrate Justice Atilade who has risen to the
height of the Judiciary, who got this at a time when it was
common place that you cannot become a judge if you are a
magistrate and if you want to be a judge, you have to resign as a
magistrate. I know people who resigned from the magistrate
because they wanted to become judges but by hardwork and
perseverance, she got to where she is today. 3
3 (Kemi Ajumobi, Business Day (Lagos), Justice Funmilayo Atilade treading the path of worthy family merits to the seat of honour. September 28, 2014.
However, the appearance and contributions of women of exceptional characters and
competence in Lagos Judiciary Nigeria legal profession has probably spurred Senator Ita
Enang to warn the male lawyers to brace up. He complained that:
In Lagos State, a woman retired as Chief Judge. Her
successor was also a woman of same parentage. So
men, I think it is time for us to come up.4
What Senator Ita Enang has, however, forgotten is the fact that Lagos state has consistently
appointed female Chief Judge in the past years. Apart from Justice Atilade who succeeded
her sister as the state’s Chief Judge, it appears male Judges in the state’s judiciary will stay
for several years before a male could become a Chief Judge. This is given the statistics from
the Lagos State Judiciary which indicate that only 13 out of the 50 High Court Judges in the
State are men. Again, ten (10) out of the twelve (12) judges next in rank to the incumbent
Chief Judge, Justice O.O. Atilade are women. Besides, 128 out of the 184 judicial officers in
the state are women. Given this scenario and stark reality, Senator Ita Enang and his co-
travellers may have to devise other strategies at curtailing women advancement in the legal
Hon. Justice Fati Lami Abubakar also has the enviable record of being the first female Chief
Judge of Niger State. She also makes history as the first female lawyer, first female Attorney
General and first Solicitor General in Niger State. While swearing-in Justice Fati Abubakar as
Niger State’s first female Chief Justice, the state governor, Muazu Babangida Aliyu said the
new Chief Judge has been able to attain an enviable height in the judiciary because she
followed the path of education. He described Justice Fati as a “paragon of empathy and
welfare,” and also urged her to help transform the judiciary in the state. The governor advised
her to instil discipline in the judiciary for citizens to have confidence in the system. Born on
April 12, 1951, Justice Abubakar studied Law at the University of Ife, (now Obafemi
Awolowo University). She was the first female lawyer and Solicitor General and Attorney
General of Niger State respectively. On the 10th of December, 2005 Justice Fati Abubakar
delivered the 33rd Convocation Lecture of Obafemi Awolowo University and was also
awarded a Doctor of Laws (LL.D) Honoris, Causa, making history as the first alumnus to be
bestowed with such honour.
Apart from Niger State, Northern states of Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna currently have
female judges as their Chief Justice. In the saddle in Kaduna is Raila Cudjoe while the highly
Islamic conservative Zamfara State has Justice Hauwa Kulu Aliyu as their first female Chief
Justice. Similarly, Hon. Justice Aisha Dahiru made history as first female Chief Judge of
Sokoto State. Hon. Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkhachuwa had served as the first female Chief
Judge of Gombe State before her elevation to the Court of Appeal. It is on record, too, that
Taraba State also has a female, Hon. Justice Josephine Y. Tukur as the Chief Judge.
Kwara State also produced its first female Chief Judge in person of Justice Raliat Elehi-
Habeeb. In the course of her career, she was sacked by the State Government but was
eventually reinstated by the Supreme Court.
Abia State also recently joined the league of states with female Chief Judge when Governor
Theodore Ahamefula Orji swore-in Justice Nnenna Chioma Oti on April 7, 2014 as the
state’s new Chief Judge. Justice Oti took over from another female Judge, Justice Stella
4 Sunday Aborisade, “Female Dominance of Nigerian Judiciary Worries Senator” The Punch, August
Nwakanma who had served in acting capacity. Even before Justice Oti was sworn in, the Ag.
Chief Justice was also a female, Hon. Justice T.U. Uzokwe. In Bayelsa State, Justice Kate
Abiri is the state’s first female Chief Justice. It is on record too that, Hon. Justice Rosaline
Bozimo the immediate past Chief Judge of Delta State, is known to history as the first female
Chief Judge of the State.
Osun State has also recognized the quality of women in legal profession. Justice Oyebola
Adepele Ojo made history as the first female Chief Judge of Osun State in 2013 since the
founding of the State in 1991. An Indigene of Ede, Justice Oyebola A. Ojo became a High
Court Judge on December 21, 2000 and became the President of the Customary Court of
Appeal in July 2010. Justice Ojo studied Law at University of Lagos and graduated in 1984.
She was called to the bar in the same year and enrolled as a Solicitor and Advocate of the
Supreme Court of Nigeria. She was sworn in as Acting Chief Justice of the State on March 5,
2013 and became substantive Chief Judge on June 17, 2013. In Oyo, the Honourable Justice
Badejoko Olateju Adeniyi was the immediate past Chief Justice of the State.
Ogun State Judiciary today has as its head, the first female Chief Judge, Hon. Justice O.O.
Olopade. Apart from the Chief Judge, Ogun State has also appointed a woman as
Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Mrs. Abimbola Akeredolu. The Governor
also appointed a female as the Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of
Justice, Patricia Oduniyi. In Ogun State, the administration of Justice is now in the hands of
women. This point has been succinctly put thus by Governor Ibikunle Amosun:
Today is a International Women’s Day and there is
nothing more than what we are doing today. Our Chief
Judge is a woman, the Attorney General is a woman and
the Solicitor General is a woman. There is no state in
Nigeria that has achieved this. 5
Again, it is evident that women are also occupying key positions in Akwa-Ibom State. For
instance, in Awa Ibom, the Chief Judge is Hon. Justice Idongesit Ntem Bassey, a position she
has been occupying since September 25, 2008. Justice Isua was appointed a High Court
Judge in December 1991. Indeed, Akwa-Ibom has a triumvirate of three women in key
positions like the Deputy Governor, Noble Lady, Barrister Valerie Ebe, and the Head of
service, Mrs. Cecilia Udoessien. Udoessien’s predecessor in office was also a female, late
Elder Grace Anwana. It is apt to remark that a female, Senator Helen Esuene from Eket
Senatorial District has also joined the gubernatorial race, seeking to become the 10th and the
first female Governor of Akwa-Ibom State.
In appreciating the overwhelming presence of female judges in Nigeria’s High Courts, I need
to add that Lagos State, Delta State, Rivers State, Enugu State, Ogun State and Abia State
have the highest number female judges. While Abia, Enugu and Ogun States have ten female
High Court judges each, Rivers State has twelve, Delta State has sixteen while Lagos State
has thirty three (33) female judges.
It is also important to stress that female Judges have also recorded significant presence in the
National Industrial Court and as at October 2014, the court has ten (10) female judges, viz:
5 Premium Times, May 8, 2013 reported by Dimeji Kayode-Adedeji.
Hon. Justice M.N. Esowe, Hon. Justice F.I. Kola-Olalere, Hon. Justice O.A. Obaseki-
Osaghae, Hon. Justice O.A. Shogbola, Hon. Justice E.N.N. Agbakoba, Hon. Justice O.Y.
Anuwe, Hon. Justice R.B. Haastrup, Hon. Justice O.O. Oyewumi and Hon. Justice R.H.
Another evidence of Nigerian woman overwhelming impact on the judicial sector is the high
number of women judges in FCT High Court. As at today, the court has nine (9) female
Justices: Hon. Justice O.O. Goodluck, Hon. Justice A.A.I. Banjoko, Hon. Justice M.E.
Anenih, Hon. Justice F.A. Ojo, Hon. Justice M.A. Nasir, Hon. Justice C.N. Oji, Hon. Justice
V.V.W. Venda, Hon. Justice A.O. Otaluka and Hon. Justice A.S. Adepoju.
In spite of the phenomenal advancement of women judges, it is important to observe that
Yobe and Jigawa states are yet to produce any female judge till date.
The upward rise in the appointment of female judges in Nigeria is in perfect agreement with
the Beijing Affirmative Action which considers the inequality between men and women in
the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels as one of the critical areas of concern
for the empowerment of women. The Beijing declaration states that women’s equal
participation in decision-making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but
can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interest to be taken into account.
Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspective at
all level of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be
Women of Justice: Aduke Alakija, Hairat A. Balogun, Priscilla Kuye, Atinuke Ige and
Roseline Patrica Ireofe Bozimo.
One of the exceptional women legal practitioners who have been great examples and role
models include the nonagenarian lawyer and diplomat Mrs. Aduke Alakija who served as
President of the International Federation of Female Lawyers, a founding member of the West
African Students Union and member of the Nigerian delegation to the United Nations from
1961 – 1965.
Another woman lawyer who has equally attained the first class status in the legal profession
is Hon. Justice Hairat Aderinsola Balogun. Called to the bar at the tender age of 21 on
February 5, 1963, she later became the first female Attorney General of Lagos State. In 1981,
Hairat Balogun was elected as the first Secretary-General of the Nigeria Bar Association and
held office till 1983. She is also a Life-Bencher, former Chairman of the Body of Benchers, a
recipient of the National Honour of OON (Officer of the Order of Niger) for services
rendered to the legal profession and a Life Member of International Federation of Women
It is apt to acknowledge the contributions of Dame Priscilla Kuye to legal practice and legal
activism. Within the context of the Nigeria Bar Association, she served the Lagos Chapter
and later became a member of the National Executive Committee, and later the Financial
Secretary, the Second and the first Vice-President. The high water-mark of her service to the
bar was her emergence on 24th January, 1992 as the first female President of the Nigerian Bar
Association and the only female till date. It is on record that Pascilla Kuye was also the first
female President of the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce. In 2011 she became a
The late Justice Atinuke Ige was also a giant in the legal profession. Atinuke Ige was called
to the Bar in 1959 and was appointed a Magistrate in 1962. She became the Chief Registrar
of the Western State Court of Appeal in 1975. In 1976, she was appointed a Honourable
Judge of the Oyo State High Court and subsequently appointed a judge of the Court of
Appeal in recognition of her seniority at the bar and bench. Her commitment to duty,
scholarship and incorruptibility was unrivalled. Till death, she enjoyed the respect of other
judges of Court of Appeal who were all junior to her by membership of the Bar.
Hon. Justice Rosaline Bozimo (OFR) is another eminent Nigerian female lawyer who has
made significant impact on the legal profession. She made history as the first female Chief
Judge of Delta State and occupied the esteemed office between April 3, 2003 and January 1,
2011. Rosaline Bozimo graduated from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria with LL.B degree in
Law in 1973 and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1974. She started her legal career as a
private practitioner but later joined the judiciary of the old Bendel State. In 1983, she started
her legal career as a Private practitioner but later joined the Judiciary of the Old Bendel State.
In 1983, she was appointed a Magistrate of Bendel State, a Chief Magistrate in August 1988
and the first Chairman of the Tenders Board of the High Court of Delta State in September
1991. In December 1991, she was appointed a Judge of the State High Court. Bozimo later
served as the Chairman of the Armed Robbery and Firearms. Tribunal Effrum, Delta State
and Chairman, Failed Banks Tribunal, Enugu Zone. On August 1, 2014, Hon. Justice
Rosaline Bozimo broke another record with her appointment as the first female Administrator
of the National Judicial Institute, Abuja, since its establishment on 27th June 1991. Justice
Bozimo took over the mantle of leadership from Retired Justice Eri, former Chief Judge of
Kogi State who assumed duty as Administrator on August 1, 2008. She broke the chain of
male dominated administrators of the institute which started from the tenure of Hon. Justice
Andrew Otutu Obaseki (1991-1995), Hon. Justice Olajide Olatawura (1995-2000), Hon.
Justice M.A. Ope-Agbe (2000-2003), Hon. Justice John Ademola Ajakaye (2003-2006), Hon.
Justice Timothy Oyeyipo (2006-2006), and Hon. Justice Umari Eri (2008-July 31, 2014).
Female Presidents of Customary Courts of Appeal
A number of female lawyers have also made significant presence in Nigeria’s Customary
Courts of Appeals as Judges and as Presidents. In Osun State, the Customary Court of Appeal
is presided over by Hon. Justice Gloria Erhiyowwe Olagoke, a 1984 Law graduate of the then
University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University. She started her law practice in 1986 as
State Counsel Grade II in the Old Oyo State. She rose through the ranks in her career and in
1993 moved from the bar to the bench with her appointment as Senior Magistrate Grade I.
Justice Olagoke has served Osun State in different capacities and at different judicial
divisions of the State. In December 2000, she was appointed a Judge of the High Court of
Osun State. The hallmark of His Lordship’s doggedness was her appointment first as Acting
President of the State Customary Court of Appeal in 2010 and later that year, her conferment,
and sworn in as the substantive President of Osun State Customary Court of Appeal.
It is on record too that Ondo State has produced Hon. Justice Folashade Aguda-Taiwo as the
first President of the Customary Court of Appeal in Ondo State. A woman of enviable legal
academic experience coupled with vast law practice, she was found competent and worthy to
preside over the Ondo State Customary Court of Appeal which was hitherto non-existent. A
woman of sound and rich legal background, her uprightness, profundity, incorruptibility and
impartiality stand her out among the body of benchers and especially in the National
Association of Women judges. Hon. Justice Folashade Aguda-Taiwo is a member of the
Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Management Group (NCMG) among other associations.
Distinguished audience, Pleateau State is another state in Nigeria that has produced the first
female President, Customary Court of Appeal. She is Hon. Justice Julie Kyentu. According to
Justice Nimpar, “Judges as we all know play a vital role in the advancement of human rights
and thereby setting a new way of thinking in the jurisprudence of equality”. At a reception
and Lecture in honour of Justice Julie Kyentu by the Plateau State Chapter of National
Association of Women Judges of Nigeria, Justice Nimpar of the Plateau State High Court
Today, we feel highly grateful to God for one of us who was
recently sworn in as a president of the Customary Court of
Appeal. Her ascension may seem routine to those of us in the legal
profession, being the most senior judge in that court. She still
faced challenges but because God was on her side, today we can
say God be the Glory. Let us put it on record that Plateau State
also has two Justices of the Court of Appeal, the only state in
Northern Nigeria with such representation. The women of Plateau
State are making giant strides in different spheres of human
endeavours but without recognition.
In the same vein, Delta State also has a female President of the Customary Court of Appeal.
She is Hon. Justice Stella Ogene. In Enugu State Judiciary, a female lawyer is also the
President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Justice (Mrs) V.N. Nebo. In Abia State, Hon.
Justice Stella M.C. Ururuka is the President of Abia Customary Court of Appeal while Hon.
Justice Dr. Ngozika Okaisabor is the President of FCT Customary Court of Appeal. Other
states where female have emerged as Presidents of Customary Courts of Appeal include Edo
(Hon. Justice J.N. Asemota, Rivers State (Hon. Justice Christy Gabriel-Nwankwo and
Kaduna State, (Hon. Justice Linda Amina Yaroson).
From Folake Solanke to Funke Aboyade: The Making of Female Senior Advocates of
Until 1975 when Nigeria changed the nomenclature to Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN),
exceptional lawyers who had distinguished themselves in legal counsel and advocacy were
elevated to the rank of Queen Counsels (QC). While few Nigerian male lawyers were able to
receive this enviable honour, no woman was able to reach this status. The maiden honour of
SAN was conferred on Chief F.R.A. Williams and Dr Nabo Graham-Douglas on April 3,
1975. Since the commencement of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria scheme in 1975, Nigeria
has produced about 400 Senior Advocates (SAN) in the legal profession. By October 2014,
eighteen of the recipients - less than five percent- are women. While this number appears
very marginal the quality and strengths that the women brought to the profession cannot be
ignored as they displayed competence and showed commitment to their job.
The first among these exceptional women is Chief Mrs Folake Solanke. Born in Abeokuta in
Ogun State on March 29, 1932 to the famous proprietor of Alabukun medicine store in
Abeokuta, J.S. Odulate, Chief Solanke has proved to be an epitome of success for Nigerian
women. In 1960, she was admitted into Gray’s Inn London for her professional training and
was called to bar in 1962.
Chief Solanke learnt her rope at the chambers of M.A. Odesanya, now Honourable Justice
Odesanya, Lagos, from August 1962 to May 1963 from where she moved to the chambers of
Chief F.R.A. Williams in Ibadan, Oyo State as a junior counsel in 1963. In 1972, she was
appointed commissioner, Western State of Nigeria and Chairman, Western Government
Broadcasting Corporation Television and Radio Network Service. Her diligence and
contributions to the Legal profession earned her the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the
first woman to be conferred with the prestigious rank. The place of Chief Solanke is
historically significant for women in the legal practice because she broke the existing barrier
in the male-dominated profession and opened the windows of opportunities for the later
generation. In 1981, she was conferred with the title of Yeyemofin by the Ooni of Ife Oba
Okunade Sijuade. At the 51st Zonta International Congress in Hong Kong, Chief Solanke was
elected the International President for the 1994-1996 session. This feat is historical for two
reasons. First, Chief Solanke was the first black and African president of Zonta. Second, she
was the first black and African to head any international non-governmental organisation.
Indeed and in addition, her achievement is a source of inspiration for other African women.
In fact, Chief Folake Solanke is generally acknowledged as the lady of many “firsts” among
which are: first lady state commissioner in the Western State of Nigeria, 1972, first lady
chairman of the board of WNTV & WNBS, 1972, first lady Senior Advocate of Nigeria,
1981, first governor of Zonta International, District 18 (Africa), 1982, first non-Caucasian to
be elected international president of Zonta International, 1992. She has also been given many
titles: ‘Queen of the Bar’, ‘Lady SAN’, ‘the Mother Who Knows the Law’, ‘the Yeyemofin
of Ife’, and ‘Grandmother’. According to Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Folake Solanke is ‘A
Beauty and A Brain’.
After Chief Solanke received the SAN, it took about nine years, 1989, before another female
lawyer could be inducted into the exalted rank. Mrs Phoebe Ajayi-Obe was the second female
lawyer who earned the honour. A graduate of Law from Obafemi Awolowo University, Mrs
Ajayi-Obe demonstrated outstanding academic brilliance and excellence. It was not until six
years later that another Nigerian female lawyer broke the deadlock. Late Chief Mrs C.O.
Ajayi Okunnuga was also an outstanding lawyer who distinguished herself among her peers.
Before she embraced private legal practice, Mrs Okununga was one of the first female chief
magistrates in Nigeria. In April 4, 1995, she was conferred with the title of Senior Advocate
of Nigeria (SAN). In September 14, 1998, Mrs Abimbola Williams was awarded the Senior
Advocate of Nigeria. Before her appointment as SAN, she was a member of the Lagos State
Judicial Service Commission for the appointment of Judicial Officers between 1994 and
2009. She was also the African Vice Co-Chair of the International Legal Network, Terralex
between 2005 and 2009. Her appointment was a testimony of her industry and hard work.
Mrs Olufunke Adekoya became the Senior Advocate of Nigeria in September, 2001. She
graduated from University of Ife in 1974 where she obtained LL.B. (Hons) and proceeded to
bag LL.M Harvard Law School, Boston, Massachusetts in 1977. She was called to the
Nigerian Bar in 1975 and became the Solicitor, England and Wales in 2004. She has been a
member of the Body of Benchers since 1999 and was elevated to Life Bencher in March
2007. Mrs Adekoya has distinguished herself as an outstanding lawyer. An expert in
arbitration, she has represented both local and transnational parties as counsel in both
domestic and international arbitration proceedings within Nigeria and abroad. She has also
acted in numerous disputes as either party appointed Arbitrator, Sole Arbitrator, or as a
Presiding Arbitrator. A member of the LCIA African Users Council and the Nigeria’s ICC
National Committee, Mrs Adekoya is listed on the ICDR Energy Arbitrators List, the panel of
neutrals of the Lagos Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration and the
Nigerian Communications Commission. She lectures regularly on arbitration law and
procedure and has been approved by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators as a Tutor at the
Associate Fellowship Course level.
In the year 2007, Mrs Funke Adekoya was nominated and voted as the Most Outstanding
Female Legal Practitioner of the Year by Financial Standard Newspaper and Women
Entrepreneurs African Network. Importantly, Mrs Funke Adekoya is a pioneer managing
partner at LEX, one of the largest and leading full service commercial law firms in Nigeria.
LEX is a product of fusion of Adekoya’s litigation based law firm with three other firms. In
LEX, Mrs Adekoya heads the Dispute Resolution Practice Group that provides legal advice
and representation in all modes of dispute resolution both within and outside Nigeria. In the
contemporary legal practice, Adekoya is acknowledged as one of the most competent
arbitrators and litigators in Nigeria particularly in the area of commercial and corporate law.
Chief Mrs Anayo Offiah was elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in
September 2003. The first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria from the South-East, Mrs
Offiah possesses admirable rear qualities that distinguish her from her peers. She has held
many enviable positions both at state and national levels. A member of many learned and
professional bodies, Mrs Offiah has chaired different election tribunals. She was the
Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Enugu State from 1994-1997, the
Chairperson of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Enugu 1998-2002,
was the Chairperson of the State Local Government Election Tribunal Enugu Zone and in
2006, she was made a member of the body of benchers. An experienced arbitrator, she has
presided in numerous arbitration proceedings all over the country. Another woman of
distinction is Mrs. Miannaya Aja Essien was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985. She has
distinguished herself as the leading business lawyer in Nigeria. She was conferred with
Senior Advocate of Nigeria in year 2007.
In the year 2008, Mrs Olabisi Solebo, the first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria from the
Northern region was admitted into the inner bar. This was followed in 2010 by Mrs. Sylvia
Ekamma Shinaba. Sylvia possessed a Bachelor of Laws Degree (LL.B Hons.) from Brunel
University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, United Kingdom and was called to The Nigerian Bar in
October 1986. Like her predecessors, she was a member of different learned and legal bodies.
Since 2010, percentage of Nigerian women that were admitted into the inner bar has
increased. This includes Mrs. Nella Andem-Ewa, Mrs. Dorothy Udeme-Ufot, Mrs. Anthonia
Titilayo Akinlawon, Mrs. Agatha Obiozo Mbamali, Mrs. Joy Okungbowa Adesina, Chief
Mrs. Connie-Jean Aremu, Mrs. Adele Eberechi, Mrs. Victoria Olufunmilayo Awomolo and
Mrs. Olufunke Aboyade.
In October 2014 when another set of renowned legal luminaries was conferred with the silk,
no female lawyer was able to make the list. The lack of consistent appearance of female
lawyers on the list has raised the question on the criteria for the enviable honour. This
position has been observed by Mrs Derinsola Kappo:
What the significance difference of 10 female senior advocates to
about 300 male SANs means is that Nigerian female lawyers are
not competent enough to be so awarded. While one is not saying
the criteria be lowered, we cannot say women are not doing
enough to merit the award. This is a profession that does not
recognise gender. We have eminent lawyers who deserve the
award, for example, Mrs Hairat Balogun, a former Attorney
General of Lagos State and one-time Chairman, Body of
Benchers. One is yet to see the reason why she is not given. I
understand she had applied for the award in the past and was not
considered for the award... So I feel the politics is weighing more
in favour of male than female lawyers.6
It is significant to note that whereas the number of Nigerian women in the legal profession
may be low, the few who made their ways into this male-dominated space have continued to
make their presence felt. This great feat was observed by the Chairman, Senate Committee on
Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, when he complained that:
Women are as equal as men, none is weaker than the other but it
does appear that men are almost showing that they think they are
stronger, hence they went for private practice and allow the
women to take the greatest of places.
Imagine in Nigeria, the Chief Justice of the Federation is a
woman; the President of the Court of Appeal is a woman; and it
also appears now that the next Chief Justice of the Federal High
Court is likely going to be a woman. Therefore it is dangerous for
men, not too dangerous but men should also come forward.
In Akwa Ibom, it is becoming more dangerous, the Deputy
Governor is a woman, the Chief Judge is a woman, the Head of
the Civil Service of the state is a woman, and now, a woman is
contesting to take over as the next governor.7
Emergence of Female Professors of Law and Deans, Faculties of Law
Prof. Jadesola Akande in her lifetime was a maker of history and a pacesetter in law education
in Nigeria. She was not just the first female Professor of Law in Nigeria, she was also the first
Dean of the Faculty of Law, Lagos State University (LASU). During her tenure, LASU set an
enviable record at the Nigeria Law School. For many years, LASU Law Faculty was the best in
Nigeria. She was succeeded in office by another female Professor of Law, Prof. B.A. Susu.
6 The Nation, April 23, 2013.
7 Sunday Aborisade, “Female Dominance of Nigerian Judiciary Worries Senator” The Punch, August
At the University of Ibadan, the Faculty of Law has also been headed by two female Professors
of Law. The Faculty was first headed by Prof. Yinka Omorogbe, a graduate of the University of
Ife and London School of Economics (LSE). She was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1979. She
initially lectured at the University of Benin between 1983 and 1990 where she pioneered the
teaching of Petroleum Law. She was also at the University of Lagos between 1990 and 2002.
Yinka Omorogbe later became a Professor in the Department of Public and International Law,
University of Ibadan. Between August 1, 2005 and 2007, she served as the Dean and the first
female elected Dean of the Faculty of Law, upon completion of her tenure she took up
appointment as the Corporations Secretary and Legal Adviser to the Nigerian National
Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). She occupied that position between January 2009 and July
2011. Prof. Omorogbe is an internationally recognized expert and consultant in Energy and
Natural Resources Law.
Prof. Yinka Omorogbe was succeeded in office by Prof. Oluyemisi Bamgbose, a Professor of
Criminal Law and Criminology. She teaches Criminal law, Criminology, Law of Evidence and
Comparative Criminal Law and Procedure. Prof. Bamgbose has a strong interest in women and
children issues. Apart from being the Dean, she is also the current Director of the Women’s
Law Clinic (a Specialized Law Clinic) at the University of Ibadan. She is an Alumni of the
University of Lagos.
At the Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. Ifeoma Enemo had made mark as
the immediate past/ first female Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Enugu
Campus. She is currently the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria and the
Supervising Dean, Faculty of Education. She obtained her Master’s Degree from University of
Lagos and her Doctorate in International Law from the University of Nigeria. Ifeoma Pamela
teaches Family Law, the Law of Tort and International Law at the undergraduate level and the
Law of International Institutions at the Post-Graduate level.
The Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, has also produced another distinguished female
Professor of Law, Prof. Ngozi Ezeilo. Prof. Ezeilo is an activist and versatile legal scholar and
is recognized as a leading authority in the field of human rights, especially on the rights of
women and children. She is of the Department of Public and Private Law, University of Nigeria
and pioneered, since 1997, the teaching of the Course ‘Women, Children and the Law’ hereby
making her Faculty and University the first to do so.
The Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Akoka, has also been headed by a female Dean, Prof.
Chioma A. Agomo. Prof. G.A. Agomo holds LL.B. and LL.M from Queen Mary College,
University of London and was later admitted to practice law at the Nigerian Bar. Her areas of
specialization include Law of Contract, Industrial Law, Insurance Law and Gender and the
Law. In her long career, Professor Agomo served as Head of Department of Commercial and
Industrial Law at the University of Lagos and became Dean of the Faculty of Law in 2004. She
was the first female academic to occupy that position and the first female elected Dean of a
Faculty since the establishment of the University in 1962.
Another distinguished female Professor of Law at University of Lagos is Prof. Ayo Atsenuwa,
a research professor of Law. An accomplished academic, Professor Atsenuwa received a
Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Ife before proceeding to the University of
London where in 1987 she obtained a Master of Laws degree in Criminology and Criminal
Justice. She capped her academic quest with yet another Master of Laws degree from the
University of Warwick (Law in Development). For about 24 years now, Professor Atsenuwa
has been engaged in academic research and teaching at graduate and undergraduate levels in
the areas of Criminal Law, Criminal Justice, Human Rights.
Women Making Waves in the Academia and University Administration
Another major area of professional attainment in which women have been exceptional is in
the academia and university administration. Foremost among such women is Professor Grace
Alele Williams who was the first Nigerian woman to earn a PhD degree, the first Ph.D holder
of Mathematics in Nigeria and the first female Professor of Mathematics in Nigeria. Her
laurels include her appointment as the first female Vice Chancellor of a Nigerian university.
Another career that speaks volumes about the resilience of the Nigerian woman in this aspect
is the career of Professor Mrs Jadesola Akande, who obtained her PhD in Law from the
University College London in 1971 and became a Professor of Constitutional Law in 1991
and then the pioneer Dean of the Faculty of Law and the first female Vice Chancellor of
Lagos State University.
In addition to this is Professor Comfort Memfin Ekpo, the current Vice Chancellor of the
University of Uyo with a Ph. D degree from Wales and many years of teaching experience at
the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where she has also been a member of the University’s
Governing Council. Professor Charity Angya, Vice Chancellor of Benue State University is
another example. She has PhD in Theatre Arts from the University of Ibadan and today
exemplifies the increasing status of the Nigerian woman in institutional administration.
Moreover, Professor Oluyemisi Obilade, a Professor of Adult Education and Women Studies
is the current Vice Chancellor of the Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun, Ijebu Ode,
she obtained her doctorate degree in Education from the Obafemi Awolowo University. I
must also add that Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, is also currently headed by a female
Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Mrs. Cordelia Ainenehi Agbebaku. Prof. Agbebaku, a Professor of
Law, was the Acting Vice Chancellor of the University from 2nd May, 2011 until her
appointment by Governor Adams Oshiomole with effect from 18th February, 2014. She was
appointed a Professor of Law in 2003 and had served as the Dean, Faculty of Law, prior to
her present appointment. Prof. C.A. Agbebaku was born in January 1961.
The University of Mkar, Benue State also had a female as its foundation Vice-Chancellor,
Professor (Mrs) Nancy Ngunan Agbe. Until her appointment she was a Professor of
Geography at Benue State University. Furthermore, Professor Sidi Osho, the immediate past
Vice Chancellor of Afe Babalola University Ado Ekiti is also in this category. With a PhD
from the University of Ibadan, over 160 publications and over twenty years of teaching and
research experience, Professor Osho remains a role model in agricultural research in Nigeria.
She completed her tenure on 3rd January 2014.
Professor Oloigbe Imouokhome Aize was also the former Vice Chancellor of Covenant
University. She had her PhD in Counseling from the University of Ilorin and was formerly
University teacher at the University of Roehampton in the United Kingdom.
In the same vein, the current Vice-Chancellor of Oduduwa University, Ipetumodu, Osun
State is also a female, Professor Mrs. Olajumoke Olayiwola. Prof. Olayiwola holds a PhD in
Analytical and Environmentary Chemistry of the University of Ibadan.
Furthermore, Nigerian University administration has benefited and is still benefitting from
the enviable services of Nigerian women in the area of the position of Registrar of
Universities. Mrs. Moji Ladipo and Mrs. Omotayo Ikotun have been Registrars of University
of Ibadan so has been Mrs. Iyabo Ipaye also of University of Lagos. The flourishing careers
of these women are fitting testimonies to women’s efforts in the breaking of barriers in the
male dominated Nigerian society.
Select Women of Distinction in Science, Engineering and the Humanities
In the field of medicine and pharmacy, women have also distinguished themselves. These
include Mrs. Ore Green, the first female pharmacist who was registered in 1919. She was the
first black woman to obtain the Apothecaries certificate of the Pharmaceutical Society of
London. The late Professor Mrs Dora Akunyili of blessed memory was another distinguished
woman whose influence in the Drugs Administration in Nigeria was exceptional and won her
accolades from within and outside Nigeria. Professor Mrs Cecilia Ihuoma Igwilo obtained her
PhD in Pharmacy in 1983 from the University of London and became the first female
Professor of Pharmacy in 1991 and then the Dean faculty of Pharmacy from 2001 – 2013.
Professor Chinedum Peace Babalola obtained her Ph.D in Pharmacy from the Obafemi
Awolowo University and is the current Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of
Ibadan. Dr. Mrs Lovet Akueyinwa Uzondu served as Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy
University of Benin and is also Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy Madonna University. Dr.
Taiwo Olayemi a Parmacologist is the only woman from the sub-Saharan Africa to receive
the 2014 Elsivier Foundation Awards in recognition of her research on medicinal properties
of Nigerian plants.
In other areas of Science, Chief Dr Mrs, Elizabeth Awoliyi emerged as Nigeria’s first female
medical doctor and also the first female West African doctor who qualified in 1936. Other
Nigerian women pioneers in Medicine and Nursing include Lady Oyinkan Abayomi, Chief
Mrs. Kofowoola Abeni Pratt and Mrs. Hilda Adefarasin (Nee Petrogact). Indeed, Kofo Pratt
set the groundwork for other women to follow in the field of Nursing Science. She was the
first qualified registered Nurse and the first African Matron at the University College,
Hospital, Ibadan. Both Kofo Obayomi and Kofo Pratt set an unprecedented scaling of hurdle
for women. Dr. Abimbola Abolarinwa is also acknowledged as Nigeria’s first female
Urological Surgeon. In this category is Dr. Elizabeth O. Ofili who was the first woman
President of the Association of Black Cardiologists.
In the Engineering Sector, Women had in the past struggled for status and presence. Their
challenges had been as one of psyche and nature in an environment seemingly seen as male-
defined, male centred and entirely male-dominated. However, women have not only broken
into the sector, but have also made enviable achievements that have placed them on the same
pedestal with their male counterparts. Of significant attention is Engr. Olatokunbo Somolu. She
stands out to be the first female with PhD in the Engineering field and she became the first
female in Structural Engineering. A woman of vast experience, Dr. Olatokunbo Somolu
worked with the engineering and technology Division of the Nigerian National Petroleum
Corporation. She also lectured at the Yaba College of Technology. Dr. Somolu is a fellow of
the Nigerian Society of Engineers. Another notable force in the sector in Engr. Rs. Joanna
Maduka. She is a woman Engineer of substance as she is the first female COREN Registered
Engineer as far back as 1974, the first female Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers
(FIEE), UK, the first female fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers FNSE, and the first
female fellow, the Nigerian Academy of Engineering. Mrs. Maduka worked as a lecturer in
Applied Physics at the then University of Ife. She has over the years served on several National
and International Boards, Governing Councils of tertiary institutions and committees.
Prof. Bolanle Awe, holder of Doctor of Philosophy degree in History in 1964 from Oxford
University, UK, is no doubt a trailblazer as she sets the record of being Nigeria’s first female
Professor of History. For several years she taught history and women studies at the
University of Ibadan. She was also Director and Research Professor of African History at the
Institute of African Studies. It is also a delight to report that she was the founding Director of
Women Research and Documentation Centre (WORDOC) at the University of Ibadan. She is
the author of Nigerian Women: A Historical Perspective (1992) and Education, Women
Empowerment and Reproductive Health (1998), among others. Blossoming and following her
footsteps today in the profession are Professors Funke Adeboye of University of Lagos and
Eno Ikpe of University of Uyo.
Another Nigerian woman of letters and distinction was Prof. Zulu Sofola. She had the
enviable distinction of being the “Matriarch of the Nigerian Theatre” and the first published
female playwright in Nigeria. A trailblazer in every respect, she was also Africa’s first female
Professor of Theatre Arts and a true personification of African womanhood. Prof. Sofola used
some of her plays to criticize the mistreatment of females in our society within the contest of
social injustice. She was a liberal feminist “who as a writer sought justice for all. In her play,
Wedlock of the Gods, Sofola questions the outstanding tradition that reduces women to
chattels, the view that “a man’s daughter is his source of wealth” (Okonkwo, 2012)
Prof. Ebun Clark, unarguably, is also an accomplished teacher, researcher and author. She is
a committed theatre scholar and was also a pioneer in theatre studies, being the first Nigerian
lecturer at the University of Ibadan. Prof. Stella Johnson, Department of Foreign Languages,
is acknowledged as the first female Professor of French Literature in Nigeria.
Chimanda Ngozi Adichie, the internationally acclaimed and award winning author of Purple
Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing around Your Neck and Americanah is also
unquestionably one of Nigeria's greatest contributions to world of literature, arts, and culture.
Women in Banking, Accounting and Insurance Sector
In the modern banking, accounting and insurance sector, the far reaching contributions made
by women are too enormous to be over-looked. This is no surprise because from the earliest
period in our history, women have been playing lofty roles with their significant presence and
domination of the economic activities. In any local or modern market today, women
constitute the larger percentage of the key players.
Women of substance who have against all odds completed and successfully made giant
achievements in this sector include: Chief Mrs. Toyin Olaunrin who is the first woman on
the continent of Africa to become a chartered Accountant. A highly cerebral woman who has
carved a niche for herself in her chosen profession, she was at one time or the other the
President of the prestigious Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and
President of the Society of Women Accountants in Nigeria (SWAN).
Another woman of lofty achievement in the accounting profession is the well known Mrs.
Bolajoko Kuforiji-Olubi. A first female graduate member of the Institute of Chartered
Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), she was elected the first female ICAN President. As a
foundation member and Grand Matron of the society of Women Accountants of Nigeria
(SWAN), her sterling qualities and experience were more than enough for her to become the
first Nigerian woman Managing Director of an international company in Nigeria, VYB
(Nigeria) Ltd in 1977. The hallmark of her achievement was her appointment as the Minister
of Commerce and Industry of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In the insurance industry, Mrs. Olutoyin Omogbadegun is also breaking the ground. With
about three decades of vast experience in the insurance industry, she has the rare opportunity
to be first female Chartered Insurer of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria. Her
experience in the insurance industry spans through Heritage Insurance (Now Mansord
Insurance), Prudent Insurance Brokers and Consultants, Royal Exchange Assurance Plc and
Alico Insurance Plc.
Nigerian Women in the Executive Arm of Government in Contemporary Period
Until modern time when franchise is defined in terms of universal adult suffrage, the rights of
women to vote and be voted for have been very limited. It is quite unfortunate that women
were erroneously considered politically irrelevant and administratively incompetent. The
reasons for this are not far-fetched and are easily traceable to colonial origin of modern
politics and governance in Nigeria. First, the elective principles introduced by the British
colonial administration in Nigeria were characterized by limited franchise. These principles
were gender specific - adult male suffrage, with emphasis on minimum annual income of
£100 and residency in Lagos or Calabar. This thus limited women participation and affected
their view on politics as essentially masculine affairs. The case of the Northern women was
worse as they did not gain voting rights until 1979.
Second, in spite of the continuous increase in the population of women in Nigeria, they still
remain at the periphery of politics perhaps due to lack of confidence on their part or women’s
reverence of Africa’s age-long tradition of conceding leadership roles to men. Third, there is
also the petty jealousy among women themselves which hinders their political growth. One
ready example in this regard was that of the 2011 PDP primary election in which the only
vote the female contestant, Mrs Sarah Jibril, obtained was obviously cast by herself in a
gathering of thousands of delegates and hundreds of women. Nevertheless, Nigerian women
have proved to be exceptional in Nigerian political landscape as they have distinguished
themselves in various political and governance positions in the executive, legislative and
judicial arms of government. In this section, the exploits and pioneering roles of Nigerian
women who have made landmark achievements in the executive and legislative arms of
Nigerian government since independence will be examined.
In the executive arm of Nigerian government, no Nigerian woman has ever attained the
position of President or Vice-President of Nigeria. The highest executive position ever
attained by a Nigerian woman is the position of a state governor. This feat was achieved by
Dame Virginia Ngozi Etiaba in 2006 when she became the Governor of Anambra State in the
South-East of Nigeria. Her assumption of this exalted office was facilitated by the
impeachment of Governor Peter Obi by the state House of Assembly in November 2006, and
she, as the Deputy Governor, was sworn-in as the Governor. Apart from Mrs. Etiaba, no other
woman has attained this position in the 54 years of Nigeria as an independent country.
However, many notable Nigerian women have occupied the position of Deputy Governor in
many states across Nigeria. In fact, the list is numerous. It begins from Alhaja Lateefah
Okunnu, who blazed the trail to become the first female Deputy Governor in Nigeria when
she was appointed as Deputy Governor of Lagos State from 1991 to 1992. Indeed, Lagos
State leads in the comity of states which have produced many female deputy governors.
Other notable women who have held this position in Lagos are Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu (1992-
1993), Mrs. Bucknor Kofoworola Akerele (1999-2002), Princess Sarah Adebisi Sosan (2007-
2011) and Princess Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire (2011-Date).
In other states of the federation, there have been several women deputy governors. Mrs.
Pamela Sadauki and Mrs. Cesilia Ekpenyong were the Deputy Governors of Kaduna and
Cross River States respectively from 1991-1992. In Ogun State, Alhaja Salimat Badru was
Deputy Governor of Ogun State between 2003 and 2011, while Mrs. Pauline Tallen was
Deputy Governor of Plateau State in the Fourth Republic. In Osun State, Erelu Olusola
Obada was Deputy Governor from 2003 to 2010 while Otunba Grace Titi Laoye-Tomori has
been serving as Deputy Governor of the state since 2010 to date. Professor (Mrs.) Modupe
Adelabu succeeded the late Mrs. Olufunmilayo Adunni Olayinka (2010-2013), following her
death as Deputy Governor of Ekiti State in 2013. Akwa Ibom State has also appointed a
female Deputy Governor, Lady Barrister Valerie Ebe.
It is important to note that several women have served in other executive capacities as
ministers, commissioners and heads of service at the federal and state levels. In this regard,
the list is just too numerous either in the present or recent past. In the past, women like Mrs.
Janet Akinrinade and Mrs. Adenike Ebun Oyagbola were appointed Federal Ministers in the
Second Republic and they performed creditably well. In the last years of military rule in the
late 1990s, Mrs. Onikepo Akande and Dr. Laraba Gambo-Abdullahi served as Ministers.
Other prominent women ministers in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic are Dr. Kema Chikwe, Mrs.
Dupe Adelaja, Dr. Amina Ndalolo, Hajia Aishatu Ismail, Dr. Mrs. Obi Ezekwezeli, Mrs.
Esther Nenadi Usman, Professors Joy Ogwu, Dora Akunyili, and Ruqayyatu A. Rufai, among
Nigerian women making waves in ministerial positions currently include Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-
Iweala, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mrs. Diezani
Alison-Madueke, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Professor Viola Onwuliri, the Minister of
State for Foreign Affairs, Hajia Zainab Maina, Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Omobola
Johnson, Minister of Science and Technology, and a host of others.
The list of female commissioners is endless and we may not need to bore ourselves with the
numerous names. The same thing applies to the position of head of service in different states
of the federation. Mrs. Tejumade Alakija was the first woman to be appointed as Head of
Service of a State Government when she was appointed as Head of Service of Oyo State
during the Second Republic. More importantly, Mrs. E.O. Okeke made history in 2007 when
she was appointed as the first female Head of Service of the Federation by President Umaru
Yar’adua. Also, some women have attained this status at the state level. For example, Mrs.
Kosemani Kolawole was appointed Head of Service of Ondo State in January 2013 and she
became the first woman in the state to be so appointed. Also, Mrs Cecilia Udoessien was
appointed Head of Service of Akwa Ibom State in 2013, Mrs. Modupe Abibat Adekunle was
appointed as Head of Service of Ogun State also in 2013 while Mrs. Oluseyi Josephine
Williams is the current Head of Service of Lagos State. Mrs. Williams also had the honour of
being the first Accountant to be appointed as a Permanent Secretary in Lagos State.
With these women in these high executive positions at the state and federal levels, it is hoped
that in the nearest future more women would not only emerge as deputy governors but attain
the position of governor in several other states in Southern Nigeria. It is also expected that in
the Northern states, women would attain position of deputy governors as no woman has
attained such position in any of the Northern states.
Nigerian Women in the Legislative Arm of Government
The Legislature is another governance arm where Nigeria women have equally made
significant presence and contributions at the federal and state level in contemporary period.
Since independence in 1960, Nigerian women have been making frantic efforts to make foray
into national and state legislatures. For instance, Mrs. Wuraola Esan became the first member
of the Federal Parliament in 1960 on the platform of the Action Group. Other women like
Mrs. Margaret Ekpo, Mrs. Janet N. Mokelu and Miss Ekpo A. Young were also elected into
Eastern Regional House of Assembly in the First Republic from 1960-1966. Franca Afegbua
remains a significant phenomenon in Nigerian woman participation in politics since 1960 till
date. She made history as the first woman to be elected a Senator, Federal Republic of
Nigeria in 1979 and in the Centre black race she represented the Old Bendel State. During the
Second Republic too (1979-1983), women such as Mrs. J.C. Eze, Mrs. V.O. Nnaji and Mrs.
Abiola Babatope were state legislators in Anambra and Lagos States’ Houses of Assembly. In
the botched Third Republic in 1992, only Senator (Mrs.) Bucknor Kofoworola Akerele won a
senatorial seat while few women won seats into the House of Representatives. One of such
few women was Mrs. Florence Ita-Giwa.
Historically, Nigerian women are yet to produce a President of the Senate but a quantum of
them have been elected into the Senate since 1999 and served meritoriously. From 1999 to
2003, there were only three female senators. They were Senators Florence Ita-Giwa, Stella
Omu and Khairat Abdulrazak-Gwadabe. Other prominent women senators from 2003 to date
include Senators Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, Grace Folashade Bent, Iyabo Anisulowo, Joy Emodi,
Gbemi Saraki, Patricia Akwashiki, Joel Danlami Ikenya, Uffot Ekaette, Nimi Barigha-
Amange, Maina Maaji Lawan, etc. In the current 7th National Assembly, there are only 8
female senators out of the 109 senators in the Nigerian Senate from 2011 to 2015. These are
Senators Nkechi Justina Nwaogu, Helen Udoakaha Esuene, Chris Anyanwu, Nenadi Esther
Usman, Oluremi Tinubu, Zaynab Abdulkadir Kure and Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan.
While Nigerian women have not been able to produce President of the Senate since inception,
one of them, Honourable Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, made history as the First Speaker of the
House of Representatives in June 2007. Even though she was unjustifiably removed as the
Speaker after six months on flimsy allegations of corruption, she was exonerated of any
corrupt practices at the last sitting of the Sixth Nigerian House of Representatives in October
Nigerian women representation in the House of Representatives has not been satisfactorily
impressive, but the few ones who have been there have performed creditably well. In the
Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, names such as those of Honourables Iquo Minimah, Lola Abiola-
Edewor, Dorcas Odujinrin, Binta Garba Koji, and others ring a bell in the list of female
members of House of Representatives. However, it is quite unfortunate that out of the 360
members in the current Federal House of Representatives of Nigeria, there are only 24 female
members. While we call for emergence of more women in the federal legislature, the active
representations of these 24 amazons must be acknowledged. These female legislators are
Honourables Nkiruka Chidubem Onyejeocha, Nnenna Ijeoma Ukeje, Aisha Ahmed Dahiru,
Uche Lilian Ekwunife, Azodo Okwunna Eucharia, Stella Oluwarotimi Ayamara Dorgu,
Christina Demnenge Alaaga, Ibrahim Kaamuna Khadi, Rose Okoji Oko, Nkoyo Esu Toyo,
Evelyn Omavowan Oboro, Stella Uchenwa Obiageli Ngwu, Peace Uzoamaka Nnaji, Binta
Maigari Bello, Raffequat Arinola Onabamiro, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Olajumoke Okoya-
Thomas, Ayo Omidiran, Mulikat O. Akande-Adeola, Abiola Adebukola Ajaja, Beni Lar
Blessing Ibiba Nsiegbe, Betty Jocelyne Okagua-Apiafi and Khadija Bukar Ibrahim. In spite
of their numerical disadvantage, these few women have carved a niche for themselves in the
House by active representations of their constituencies and making laws for national
development. It is significant to mention that one of these women of honour, Honourable
Mulikat O. Akande-Adeola, is the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives.
At the state level, a few women have served as Speakers while some are still serving as
Speakers of Houses of Assembly in addition to membership of the states’ Houses of
Assembly. For instance, Mrs. Titi Oseni served as the Speaker of the Ogun State House of
Assembly from 2004 to 2007 emerging as the first female Speaker of a House of Assembly in
Southwestern Nigeria. Also, Mrs. Monsurat Sunmonu is the first female speaker and current
Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, a position she attained in 2011. Other female
speakers of states’ houses of assembly are Mrs. Jumoke Akindele of Ondo State House of
Assembly and Mrs. Uche Nwaebili of Anambra State House of Assembly. Women have also
served and are still serving as Deputy Speakers in many states’ Houses of Assembly across
the federation. The table below shows the percentage figures of the representation of women
in Nigerian elected political space between 1999 and 2011:
Women Elected to Public Office in Nigeria, 1999-2011
1999 2003 2007 2011
President 1 0 0 1 0 1 0
Senate 109 3(2.8) 109 4(3.7) 109 9(8.3) 109 7(6.4)
360 7(1.9) 360 21(5.8) 360 27(7.5) 360 25(6.9)
Governor 36 0 36 0 36 0 36 0
990 24(2.4) 990 40(3.9) 990 57(5.8) 990 68(6.9)
829 18(2.2) 881 32(3.6) 887 52(5.9) 887 -
710 13(1.8) 774 15(1.9) 740 27(3.6) 740 -
Councillors 6368 69(1.1) 6368 267(4.2) 6368 253(3.7) 6368 -
Women Elected to Political Office by Region (Nigeria)
2011 Governor Senate House of Reps State House of
North-Central 0 1 2 15
North-East 0 1 4 4
North-West 0 1 1 2
South-East 0 2 6 21
South-South 0 1 4 12
South-West 0 1 8 15
Participation by Gender in Elections by April 2011 (Nigeria)
Office contested Gender Total
2011 Female candidates Male candidates
Presidents 1 19 20
Vice Presidents 3 17 20
Governor 13 340 353
Deputy Governor 58 289 347
House of Reps. 220 2,188 2408
Senatorial 90 800 890
Women as Change Agents
The Nigerian women might not have held the highest percentage in political, legislative,
judiciary or executive offices in the country, but as it has been revealed in the above
chronicles, they possess the capacity to act as change agents in several significant aspects of
our society. Women are the mothers of men, they are the trainers of men and women, they are
the bearers of children, they are the wives and closest confidents of men. In short, women are
the nurses of the nation. The last population census puts the number of women above that of
men. With a little more enlightenment and education of women, they would identify the right
of individuals to vote and be voted for in general elections; they would refuse bribes; they
would take more care of their children' they would influence their husbands and partners to
be better persons in the society; they would fight rape and come out of their shells to report
rape cases; and at the end of the day, they would have played a great role in making our
society a better place to live in. Also, when they hold offices, they do their very best to leave
a lasting legacy.
Contemporary Challenges Facing Nigerian Women/Barriers to Women Emancipation
Several factors have been identified as being barriers to the emancipation of women. The
most prominent of the factors is education. In both developed and developing societies, males
have been shown to be better educated than females. Therefore education constitutes the most
important institutional barrier to women emancipation. Female participation in education is
usually hindered by socio-economic restraints like limited parental resource (poverty), early
marriages, pregnancy, sexual harassment, high level of illiteracy, childrearing, among others.
In many societies, the education of women is considered unimportant since girls do not
normally “pay back in full measure” the money invested in them.
Also, in the early life of colonialism in Nigeria, the missionaries held a virtual monopoly of
education in Nigeria, particularly in the Southern part of the country. For several decades, the
government left the control and direction of education in the hands of the missionaries. The
missionaries therefore took control of the educational arena and used it as a means of
proselytisation. Sexism became manifest in educational practices. The differentiated
educational orientation of men vis-à-vis women contributed immensely to the range of
opportunities available to men at independence in l960 and thereafter to aspire not only to
leadership positions in the state of affairs of modern Nigeria, but also to a higher status in the
society. The role of socialization in the subordination of women cannot be denied. The
gendered colonial ideology thus denied women equal access to resources as men and they lost
a source of political power. Societal prejudice tends to limit the scope of educational and
professional training open to women. Education is therefore seen by the feminist as an
effective means of regaining lost economic power which is crucial to the acquisition and
wielding of political power.
There are also socio-cultural barriers. Women are expected to depend on men for their daily
needs. This limits the hope and aspirations of women. They often become less achievement-
oriented and are often distracted by domestic duties. Also religious practices of keeping
women in purdah hinder the participation of women in professional endeavours and other
economic activities. In fact, it has to be stated that the use of the hijab by Muslim women
must never be a barrier to academic and professional attainment in life.
Another factor relates to extant legislations. Some employers believe that they have legal
justification to discriminate against women because of the International Labour Organization
(ILO) Convention which stipulates some protective measures aimed at protecting women and
enhancing their effective participation in the labour market. Arising from the negative
impacts of the conventions, the ILO is making serious efforts to remedy some of these
contradictions in its set standards.
Another factor that has been identified is the nature of women themselves. Some analysts
posit that women are their own worst enemies. Some women have lackadaisical attitudes to
work and many lack proper education and are not making positive efforts to improve
themselves. Again, women often fail to accord fellow women leaders much respect as they
would accord male leaders. Lack of networking among women has also been observed to be a
barrier hindering women’s upward mobility and emancipation. The primer status of women
as mothers and housewives coupled with low productivity during pregnancy and their rate of
absenteeism to take care of their children again constitute a major barrier, although with
adequate planning and commitment, women have been able to surmount this obstacle.
Conflict in multiple roles militates against women emancipation. In addition to the foregoing,
women are less geographically mobile than men. Women are often saddled with mother-wife
roles which tie them to their husbands. In the same vein, women are naturally considered as
“secondary breadwinners” compared to the male family head. This encourages the attitude
that it is right and proper that women should be paid less than men. Again, some also believe
that women are naturally weak and lack the supervising ability. This deprives them of the
opportunity to get to the top and acquire more experience and expertise.
In sum, women are faced with multitude of challenges which include the discriminatory
socio-cultural practices which frustrate women in their quest for power sharing, lack of
support from fellow women, monetization of the political process and the violent nature of
Towards Improved Women Status in Modern Nigeria: Policy Recommendations
Having gone this far in our analysis of the travails and achievements of women in Nigerian
history, it is now appropriate to suggest ways through which the challenges facing them can
be successfully addressed in Nigeria. While no one can exhaustively proffer solutions to
challenges facing women, we can draw from the various global best practices in women
treatment without denigrating our cultural heritages and philosophy. It is my fervent belief
that putting the following recommendations into our policy frameworks and implementing
them would go a long way in our collective efforts at improving the status of our women:
● First, Girl-Child education must be taken very seriously from the pre-primary to
● While we must strive to protect our cultural heritage, we must jettison every aspect of our
cultural practices that denigrate our women such as child marriage, levirate system, forced
marriage, using women to entertain visitors, using women as advertisement stunt,
especially in products not having much to do with women, etc.
● Governments and government agencies at all levels must have clearly-defined gender
● Certain percentages of appointive and elective positions must be reserved for women.
Interestingly in this regard, some international protocols have come up with
recommendations stipulating 35% percentage of opportunities to be conceded to women in
national political, social and economic arrangements. Some of such international protocols
were Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), African Union Solemn Declaration for Gender
Equality, African Protocol on People’s Rights and the Rights of Women (APPRRW) and
the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW) among others. We can begin from the recommendations of these global
platforms and even surpass them in the shortest possible time.
● Women must be actively involved, encouraged and supported to participate in politics.
Women need to be encouraged as part of the process of guaranteeing their rights as human
beings and because of the contributions that they have made and can make to the political
process in Nigeria.
● Political parties that are genuinely interested in the cause of women should require the
states that they control to implement the policy on these areas.
● Constitutional provisions need to be put in place to ensure women’s maximum
participation and involvement in the political process.
● In order to enhance effective women participation in future party politics leading to
positive change in governance, it is also suggested that politically-inclined NGOs and
Women Associations must assist in providing a conducive cultural environment for
women’s participation in politics and governance. This can be done through systematic and
integrated campaigns in both rural and urban centres to soften gender stereotypes of public
● The potential roles of women in promoting good governance must be highlighted and
popularised to elicit mass support. Alliance must also be forged with civil society groups
that strive to re-engineer political values devoid of violence and manipulations.
● Female politicians must support one another to create a wider political space for women
folk. Public policy in favour of women cannot on their own improve women’s status in
Nigeria. Therefore, politically focused NGOs as well as gender sensitive political activists
need to be vigilant and alive to this responsibility.
● The crusade against nepotism, corruption and lack of transparency within Nigeria’s male
dominated society remains a task that distinguished women in law should confront
significantly in spite of the complexity of the legal structure and the high wired politics that
characterize appointments and performance in the Nigerian polity.
● A particular challenge this distinguished body of legal luminaries must forcefully confront
is the condition whereby women are disempowered and discriminated against. This has been
the concern of many human rights organisations, activists and international agencies
concerned with the protection of women’s’ rights. This body must be seen to be a champion
of women’s’ rights and should be in the forefront of such activism.
•Rape is one serious abuse against women that requires the collaboration of all women
of note to make right and reject vehemently.
In conclusion, this paper has attempted a historical analysis of the position of Nigerian
women across all the historical epochs from the pre-colonial, through the colonial and up to
the post-colonial and contemporary periods. It has shown that the Nigerian woman is
hardworking, responsible, responsive, diligent and resilient. The Nigerian women have
succeeded in combining several socio-economic and political roles as house wives, home
builder, care giver, trader, farmer, politicians, nationalists, social crusader and stateswomen
and have also made their marks in intelligence service, policing and in the military service.
The African cultural lives have put so many responsibilities on the shoulders of women and
they have successfully discharged these responsibilities. Examples abound in the pre-
colonial, colonial and contemporary history of Nigeria of these trail blazing women. It has
been shown here that for contemporary Nigerian women to fully realise their potentials and
contribute more meaningfully to societal progress and development, some important steps
and actions must be taken by every stakeholder in Nigeria from the governments at all levels,
to individual women and men and policy makers as well as women organisations and
societies. May I conclude that National Association of Women Judges in Nigeria (NAWJN)
must be the leading society in this struggle if many Maryam Alomas are to be replicated in all
other sectors of the Nigerian society without further delays.
My Lords, I thank you all for listening.
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