By Henry Uche
Ifeoma Chinenye Onuike is one of those to reckon with, who has defied all stereotypes and overcome challenges facing the girl child in a common Nigerian society. Ifeoma obtained her first degree in Business Management in 2012, from the University of Nigeria (UNN) and a second degree in law from Girne American University, Cyprus.
After her call to the Nigerian Bar, she pitched her tent with intellectual property, corporate/commercial law and project finance. Since then, she has extended her contributions in research and practice. She has consulted and handled intellectual property briefs for top-notch corporate organisations. During the Eastern Nigerian International Film Festival, Ifeoma was a facilitator. Ifeoma started a one-on-one mentorship session with creatives and start-ups to bridge this gap and provide right legal assistance. She shared her thoughts on the United Nations SDG goal on the IMUN platform and this has earned her several awards. She was recognized in 2018 as a Nigerian Goodwill Ambassador. She also has a women network group, a platform for professionalism and service. An offshoot of Enhancement Modules for Best Legacies and Essential Reformation (EMBLER) in Cyprus.
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In this interview with Daily Sun recently, she touched on some issues in the legal profession and also spoke about her plans to give the girl child and women more visibility in the scheme of things.
What is your take on the notion that many Nigerians have lost hope in the justice system, as some don’t believe the judiciary is the last hope of the common man, given the way justice is dispensed? How can the judiciary be reformed?
I will take on the stand that justice is delayed in our legal system. This is because it takes a longer time than expected to get justice in Nigeria, in most cases. In as much as we want to put the blame on the judiciary, this is not entirely the case, as the counsel and even the litigants are sometimes the reasons for the delay in justice. However, there are also instances were counsel and litigants are in court but the court won’t sit without any prior notice. These reasons, one way or another, make justice delayed and expensive. On another hand, the common man who does not understand principles, procedure and legal technicalities, may be misguided as to the outcome or procedure of his/her case and, if it does not turn out that way, the next available option is to accuse the court of partiality.
On the thought that, if you don’t have money you may not get justice. I would address it thus: if you don’t have money to get the best legal representation, you may not get the best services and in turn not get the desired outcome. If I am made the Chief Justice of Nigeria, I would like to reduce the number of awaiting trials we currently have in police stations and correctional centres. I commend the efforts of the CJN and the judiciary for their efforts so far. I also believe a lot can still be done to produce suspects in court and diligent prosecution of defendants.
I would also try to ensure the effectiveness and the independence of the judiciary. The judiciary is the third arm of government and should be independent to properly discharge its duties without interference. This is one of the ways we can ensure the impartiality of the judiciary.
Of late, prisons congestion and jailbreaks have been a nightmare to the authorities. The reasons for the congestion are delayed trials and abandoned cases, among others, and the authorities seem to be overwhelmed. What is the way forward?
In Nigeria, our correctional centres are congested. They are in inhumane conditions and never a place for an innocent man/woman until proven guilty. This is not the case, as there are many reasons leading to the congestions. One major reason for this is the lack of diligent prosecution. Most criminal cases before the court lack diligent prosecution as the prosecutors, in some cases, keep taking adjournment, some won’t show up, some keep raising objections to issues when they already know the correct principle of law, all in a bid to waste the time of the court. That’s why there are some criminal cases for more than two years and still at the stage of the defendant’s application for bail.
Another reason is that most defendants lack resources to get legal representation in court. Even with the presence of the Legal Aid in Nigeria, most defendants do not have legal representation and also may not be able to represent themselves. One solution to this situation is that the correctional centres should make a list of cases with issues as to no legal representation and send to law firms they believe can handle pro bono cases. This is because most law firms want to render pro bono services but may not be able to know defendants who truly deserve these services.
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What makes your organization, Women Network Group, unique, since there are many such NGOs today just out to enrich their promoters?
The Women Network Group is an off-shoot of EMBLER-Enhancement Modules for Best Legacies and Essential Reformation-an NGO I started in Cyprus alongside a few friends. The Women Network Group basically operates like a support group for women in building their various professions, vocations and skills, as well as provide service to humanity. This is by meeting the social and welfare needs of indigent women.
Women Network Group is different from other NGOs because it has a wider platform for women to join or benefit from the services. Our core values lie in building professionalism as much as we are kin on service to humanity. Our goal is to create a support group for women to develop and grow careers. Each quarter, we champion a societal cause and lend our contribution towards it. There are many women organisations, yet there are women out there who have no financial base or provide economic value; there are also women who still go through domestic abuse without any way out. There are women who are survivors of rape and so many women who still suffer one form of discrimination or the other.
How would you deploy your mental prowess for the betterment of Nigeria, especially in public administration and management? Do you have plans to contribute to the leadership of your country?
I have always had this inalienable mandate for leadership that’s why no matter how I try to hide wherever I find myself; somehow the mantle still locates me. Yes, indeed it is no secret that Nigeria has some talked about problems and leadership issues across board. I believe the issue first is lack of proper understanding of what it means to occupy a position as a public administrator and manager. It is important to note that public administration and management is effective when leaders serve the nation/community to advance the common good and effect positive change. The role people discharge in public administration is to analyse information, oversee expenditure, draft and implement government public policy amongst other things. It is important to note that every duty discharged should be geared towards the good of the community, society and nation at large.
One menace that has constantly faced the public sector is corruption. Corruption has eaten into the fabric of our nation and destroyed whatever good and positive growth that is supposed to come from it. If given the opportunity to serve, I will start from the basic by ensuring that the right bidder gets the job. Also, institute an evaluation culture into projects. An important aspect also is ensuring that government gets their revenue as and when due to enable it implement policies.
What is your contribution towards girl child education, women participation in politics, protection against sexual abuse, violence against women?
It is important we all note and always remember that women are humans and deserve every respect, opportunity, justice and fairness accorded to humanity. Girl child education is very important and should be considered so in homes, communities, cultures and government policies. As the saying goes “When you educate a girl/woman you are educating a whole village.”
We have come to an era where everyone now knows the important of educating the girl child. We need more policies geared towards this course. Women participation in politics is indispensable; there are lots of women who have excellent leadership qualities looking for an opportunity to serve. Political parties should open their platforms and give credible women the opportunity to run for office and create gender balance in their party structure.
All hands need to be on deck to fight against sexual abuse, violence against women and workplace harassment not only against women but men too. More conversations need to be held around these topics and social policies should be formulated around these situations. Safe environments should be created for women to report issues of such and effort should be made to properly and timely prosecute perpetrators in other to build confidence in the minds of the people.