Being a lawyer in Ghana, which system is analogous to that of my motherland Nigeria, has been one of the boldest unpredictable steps I have ever taken: next to marrying a Ghanaian at the time when I wasn’t sure where Ghana was on the African map.
Schooling at the Ghana School of Law was a different bargain of stress; the type of institutionalized stress that the General Legal Council proudly accepts and attributes to the sanity and success of Ghana’s legal education.
While I would do this all over again if I had to; the amount of uncertainty and mental workload faced was far from being ‘analogous’ to the Nigerian law school experience.
Funnily, the common consensus at the Ghana school of Law (Postcall class) was that products of the Nigerian Law School stand a higher chance of passing the Ghana Bar at the first sitting. The pressures of our Nigerian society, the culture of focus and dedication, the ‘vibe’, the doggedness, the ‘superiority’ mentality follows us Nigerians everywhere we go. And true, most products of the Nigerian Law School pass the Ghana Bar at once!
I had to carry our flag on my shoulders everyday, figuratively while schooling. I was watched, taunted with some embarrassing questions filtered from the news media, for example: “Liz, is it true hooligans beat a judge in the courtroom in your country?’ ‘Is it true you guys stash money in cemeteries ?’ Oh Gosh! I swallowed hard and furtively tried to ‘explain’ sometimes, but what can one do?!
I was sometimes treated with ‘suspect’. That’s funny; especially so, because I’m too prim and proper to actually try anything ‘suspicious’. One of those ‘suspicious’ moments was when an e-mail was sent to the Nigerian Bar Association to confirm whether I was in good standing. While other foreign Bar Associations readily e-mailed their confirmation the same day, I kept being pulled out of class for months to ‘attend to your NBA confirmation’. After 3 gruesome months, through which I kept calling and e-mailing whoever I can find in the NBA, we found out the Ghana School of Law sent an e-mail to the NBA info account, and just expected a response (just like that). I had almost forgotten where I came from! I then remembered that in Nigeria, I have to ‘chase’ to get a ‘confirmatory e-mail’, which I did eventually. The e-mail got lost among the lot; that was the reason for the delay. When the confirmatory e-mail came, it came in a grand fashion ?; well written and honorable. Mrs Fit and Proper!!!
Fast forward to Ghana Bar examinations, every student saw hell!!! I have never studied so hard in my life! With two young toddlers, ‘stress’ had a different definition level in my dictionary. Thanks to about 20 different nannies who kept ‘having funerals to plan’ right in-between my mock tests. The Ghana Bar exams were meant to test your ‘experience of the law’, rather than merely your ‘classroom knowledge of the law’; even though the examining board may not totally agree with that popular conception among applicants.
Well, as expected, we Naija-trained lawyers passed at once. Actually, only 13 of all the applicants in our class of approximately 50 passed. That day was a memorable day. Sometimes I wonder if I’d try re-write it again if I failed! The mere thought of those 20 undependable nannies still gives me nightmares.
We were called to the Ghana bar shortly after in a very grand inspiring ceremony. And I had the honor of being handed my Certificate by the Chief Justice herself. It was an emotional day on many levels. And it was my 36th birthday 3 days after.
My experience as a lawyer this second time is different from the first call in Nigeria in 2009. This time around, I felt like I truly have a mission to achieve, a honor to protect, a country to carry its flag, a second bite at being all I wish I could have been.
It was a journey of chance. One which I still wait to see how far it brings me.
The system here is great….well, just as great as Nigeria’s, maybe a lot more technical, maybe a bit more set in the Rule of Law. Lawyers here are a very elitist class. They carry themselves high and uphold the ethics of the profession. Actually, the greatest fear amongst lawyers is being invited for a breach of ethics. Licenses are suspended every year for some ethical breaches one can get away with in a less-structured jurisdiction.
Yet, Nigeria and Ghana are brother-nations; and our legal systems seem to flow through the same vein.
I feel like I now have a bigger mission, much like my former Boss, Dr. Dapo Olanipekun SAN once predicted shortly after I got married. He mentioned that if I get the Ghana Bar, I could be a conduit for my colleagues back home. It wasn’t clear then; but very clear now- I am gradually becoming that conduit; helping my colleagues back home and around the world navigate the system here. I am becoming a channel through which my colleagues back home get their jobs done in Ghana, and how I love my role!
I wait to see what else lies in my path.
Nigeria will always be my root. The ‘vibe’, the ‘doggedness’, the ‘crazy focus’ are some of the exceptional attributes whipped into me in Nigeria that has helped me on this journey.
I hope my story encourages someone to take more adventures and see where their feet take them.
Greetings from Accra!
Adewumi Elizabeth Olaoye-Aggrey