‘I feel I can still do more at 60’
She is one of the few women who have reached the pinnacle of their law career as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. MRS. VICTORIA OLUFUNMILAYO AWOMOLO (SAN) is one woman who combines brains with beauty. Elegant, cerebral and resilience were the attributes that helped while climbing the career ladder. Did she start out as a lawyer? No. In fact, her only encounter with law was while working as a Court Clerk after secondary school in 1975. And, having worked as a Chemistry teacher for 10 years, through determination and encouragement from her husband, she dumped the chalk to embrace law. As she turns 60 next Monday, she does some reflections on her life path in this interview with The Guardian
Congratulations madam on turning 60. How would you say life has treated you in the last 60 years?
I would say that God has been faithful. I have enjoyed my life beyond some of the challenges people face in life. I mean God has been very kind to me having come from a middle class family, which isn’t too bad, and at the same time not too rosy. Along the way God showed mercy and here I am today.
Your resume shows how you transited from being a science teacher to becoming a lawyer. How were you able to accomplish this feat, dumping the chalk for the gown, given your science background?
I was doing well as a teacher, then I have a husband who has always shown interest in me and my career since the first day we met. By the time opportunity presented itself to toe another career path, he held my hand and pulled me up by throwing his weight behind me. Apart from God, my husband has been there all the way. I remember after almost 10 years as a teacher, I told him I wanted to go into business and he just told me he didn’t have that kind of money to start my kind of business.
As I said earlier, I was a teacher, having studied Chemistry at the University of Benin and taught for 10 years before I dropped the chalk and embraced the gown. It wasn’t easy at the initial stage because my children were still young. That time coincided with my husband’s political appointment in Osun State as First Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. What helped me was my determination and the willingness to do it. When I enrolled at the University of Ibadan, Faculty of Law in 1991/1992, I was discouraged by many people including my lecturer who felt I was being forced to come and enroll for the degree. He would even say sarcastically that I know some of you would open hair salon at the end of the law degree programme. Some close allies even confronted me and were saying, “Madam, what do you want again. You are a graduate, a teacher and you are well taken care off.” To top it all, my husband had just been made Commissioner in Osun State. They felt I should go and join Better Life for Rural Woman, an NGO founded by the late First Lady, Mrs. Mariam Babangida and be carrying headgear as one of the top government officials. The opposition was so much that I stood my ground and told them that it is not my husband that is pushing me, I am interested and I wanted to do law. There was that motivation from inside of me that pushed me till the end. And when people try to shower praises on my husband he would simply tell them to divert it to me because you can only take a donkey to the river-bank, but you can’t force it to drink water.
What was the education standard like then, compared to what it is today?
The standard was high in those days. There was no distraction as we would teach the students in the morning and come back again in the evening for Prep or coaching and lesson. We would also organise tutorials on weekends. The teachers were committed and dedicated and the students were also willing to learn. It was a girl’s school where some were forced to do science by their parents. But there were outstanding ones among them. So motivation and cooperation from all the tiers of the system really helped in those days. But today, reverse is the case. Again, the impact of social media is doing more harm than good. You know students are chatting endlessly on the phone, getting carried away by different social media: Twitter, Snap chat, Instagram and the rest are like their second home. They are so pre-occupied that it has taken the space of studies. I remember when my baby was going to SS2, we were asked to buy a laptop. I went to his school and opposed it that it was a distraction. I even suggested that since the school has a computer laboratory, they could schedule class periods to expose it to them. They didn’t take to my advice, so we bought a laptop for my son. The school authority later found out that around midnight when the house master would be going round, some of these students were busy watching movies on those laptops. They now banned it and only gave them out during school hours. This was the onset of distraction. Students these days don’t read and they use goggle search to look for materials, copy and paste without attributing it to the source.
Tell us some of your most memorable moments in life?
Well, I have had many memorable moments in my life. Being called to the bar was memorable. Becoming a mother and grandmother was significant as well. The icing on the cake was in 2013 when I was elevated to the highest peak in the legal profession in Nigeria as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). It is a privilege and I am grateful. .
Looking back do you have any regrets, I mean things you would have loved to change?
I don’t have any regrets about life. I have had a good marriage surrounded by a loving husband and wonderful children and grandchild. And things I would have done differently…maybe to have studied Law earlier. I worked as a Court Clerk shortly after secondary school in 1975. Maybe if I had had good counsel I would have studied law instead of Chemistry as my first degree. I wouldn’t call it a regret but a path of life that I have to toe.
Would you have loved to go back to teaching?
Yes. This time as a lecturer in a tertiary institution because I love to impart knowledge on younger people.
They always say life begins at 40, what would you say about life at 60?
Many believe life at 40 is the beginning of life, but life at 60 is like going ahead and being fully accomplished. My life at 60? I feel good, I feel young and I feel at 60 I can still do more.
What do you think is the secret to longevity?
From my own little experience, it is having a peace of mind and don’t be troubled by the ups and downs of life, be content with what you have and take each day as it comes. And when one is faced with life’s challenges I just laugh over it and don’t allow it to get to me because I believe it is a phase that will blow away.
Tell us about your early life, growing up and all that?
Well, my parents were from Ponyon in Yagba East Local Government of Kogi State. My parents migrated to Ilesha in the present Osun State where I was born. I was born on the 18th of December 1957, a week to Christmas, into a loving family. My father was working at a sawmill at Ilesha then while my mother was a petty trader. I am the first born of my mother but have two senior sisters who were born from the previous marriages. It was wonderful growing up in Ilesa which was and still is a cosmopolitan city. There was electricity with its eclectic nature though. We managed with kerosene lantern particularly during examinations when I had to study. I grew in a large compound where my parents were tenants but they still instilled good values in us. I imbibed these values and this has helped me in my endeavours.
How did you meet your husband?
I met my husband 35 years ago in my brother’s office. I didn’t know he had interest in me because I just greeted him and left. A few days later, my brother called me that his friend (my husband) was interested in me, but he had already told him that I was a serious-minded person. By the time we got talking he showed genuine interest in me and was passionate about my career. He didn’t sound desperate. Looking back, I saw a man who knew what he wanted and waited for it. We dated for two years and realised that our chemistry just jelled and here we are. He is a loving, kind and generous man. He likes to showcase me wherever he goes. The marriage is blessed with four children- two boys and two girls. One of them is a lawyer. My first son read Economics and is currently studying Law, the last one whom I had while pursuing my law degree did Electrical Engineering at Afe Babalola University Ado-Ekiti. Another one read Mass Communication in Bowen University and went to University of Aberdeen in Scotland to study Human Relations. So far we have had a beautiful life.
What’s your life’s mantra?
Fear God. The Bible also enjoins us to do good to all men in Galatians 6: 10.
What’s your advice for young lawyers?
I would advise them like I tell my children to be hard working, not to give up, and not to be distracted, and be focused. Like I always say, the blacksmith would put iron in the fire and bring it out when it is very hot, he will be hitting it until it becomes flat. If he gives up along the line he may not achieve the desired shape. So don’t give up, be hardworking and passionate with what you do because a lot of them embrace the larger society without knowing what they are doing and they make mistakes.
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