By Christy Anyanwu
Boma Ozobia (OON) made history in February 2011 when she was elected the first female President of Commonwealth Lawyers Association in Hyderabad, India. Commonwealth Lawyers Association comprises lawyers from all 54 Commonwealth countries as well as law societies and bar associations from the Commonwealth. She’s the senior partner at Sterling Partnership in Nigeria, having previously been a partner at its London office. Boma is the Treasurer of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and chairs the Professional Development Section of the NBA. She’s the co-author of Sisters in Law: Career Choices for Nigerian Women Lawyers and Survival Manual for New Wigs. Early this year, she became a member of the Board of Benchers. She spoke with Sunday Sun recently on some issues of life.
As a child did you ever think you would become a lawyer?
We just celebrated Rivers at 50 and if you watched it on TV, you would have seen the first Chief Judge of Rivers State, Ambrose Alagoa, my uncle, my mum’s brother.
My grandfather at a point was also a magistrate, so in my family we have always had lawyers. My uncle, not long ago, retired from the Supreme Court. I used to admire lawyers in their robes. These motivated my interest in the profession. I also believe in justice and fair play and besides, I’m more of an activist.
Given your achievements, what would you say makes a successful lawyer?
I don’t know how you measure success but success as someone once said, “…Is being something you love doing and doing it well”.
To that extent, my definition of success will be different from somebody else’s and it’s not about how many cars or houses you have and I’ve found that quite a number of my classmates are doing different things and they are happy doing what they are doing. So, to that extent, they are successful.
Besides, I’m more vocal and because of my activism, I want to change things. So, because I’m more vocal, I’m more visible. But I wouldn’t say I’m more successful than anybody else. Also, when I believe in something, I pursue it to a logical conclusion. I believe in this democracy, I believe in this Nigeria.
That’s why I came back from the UK. I lived and worked in the UK for over 20 years.
So, I’m not going to sit back and not be engaged. I have to make a difference. That’s why I’m visible, but I’m not more successful than my classmates.
Earlier in your career, did you ever face any discrimination?
We face discrimination all the time. It’s up to you how you deal with it. When I started my career and in my 20s, I remember on my complimentary card, I wrote Boma Ozobia without my marital status, because I don’t make an issue of my gender and I don’t want anybody else to make an issue of it either. I just want you to assess me on my ability.
A client just saw Boma Ozobia on my card. The name is actually unisex and in all that time we were communicating and he was taking advice he didn’t realize he was talking to a lady.
I was in London, he was in Lagos. I flew into Lagos from Italy and walked into his office and sat down in the boardroom.
The gentleman comes in for the meeting, looks around and retorted, “Where’s the lawyer?” When he saw me, he said “I don’t do anything serious with women”.
I picked up my bag to leave and he now said, what of the money I paid you? But I had provided services to a point and that was it. He didn’t even have a choice, because in that area and from the work I had already done for him, he knew that he could not get anything better. Nobody told him to come back.
He came back, despite the fact that I was a woman because I’m good at what I do. For me, that’s how I deal with discrimination. You’ll have no choice if I’m the best at what I do.
What has life taught you?
Life is very short, don’t put off anything you can do today till tomorrow. If you want to do something now and you are able to do it, do it now. I’m still beginning, there is so much to do and by not procrastinating, it means you are able to achieve some milestones. First, don’t procrastinate.
Secondly, treat people the way you want to be treated.
Not everybody subscribes to that philosophy but as a result of which most people remember your kindness when they can and will reciprocate. So, treat people the way you want to be treated.
You look so young and trendy. What’s the secret?
I eat unripe plantain flour, pounded yam, eba, okra but you won’t see me eating meat pie or sausage.
I eat egusi soup and whatever is seasonal is fine for me. Last Saturday morning, I ate corn and the small pear.
There’s nothing I don’t eat but moderately. I eat purely African food, which is better than processed wheat and semovita. Our food is the magic. I don’t diet but I haven’t gained weight since I was in London.
I just eat purely African food. I hardly wear make-up and even my hair is natural. African food will give you all the nutrients you need as an adult.
I take vegetables too, our food is good. I drink palm wine too; it’s good for the eyes.