Elizabeth Pentho Whesu is a rising star in Nigerian law. The past winner of the SimmonsCooper Advocacy Development Initiative and aspirant to the Bar spoke to Lagos correspondent, Ugochukwu Kingsley Ani, for Africa Legal’s Young Lawyer series.
Elizabeth, you have achieved excellent internships with top law firms. What advice would you give to young lawyers wanting this same success?
First, there is no rule that you must intern at a large or top tier firm. The essence of interning is to learn and prepare yourself for your career and this can be achieved in any firm, regardless of size. So, if you secure internships in a mid-sized or small firm, do not waste the chance or, if you are not getting the large firms, try the mid-sized or small firms instead of wasting your time. Second, securing internships is extremely competitive so you need to apply early in the year and keep following up with the firm until you get in. And, finally, put in effort in sending an excellent application (your CV and covering letter must stand out) and learn to write emails in a professional tone. These things make a difference in your application being ignored or favorably considered.
Where have you been an intern?
These include Perchstone and Greys, Aluko and Oyebode, Banwo and Ighodalo, Wole Olanipekun and Co., and Ikeyi and Arifayan and Simmonscooper and Partners .
What is the SimmonsCooper Advocacy Development Initiative or SCAD and why is it important?
It is an advocacy competition and I participated in my final year at university in 2016. It involved writing a brief and an oral presentation. Being selected as one of the best 10 candidates, from hundreds of entries in the written stage, and eventually winning the oral stage was a tremendous confidence booster. Before the SCAD competition though, I had participated in national and international moot competitions, but as a part of a team. SCAD was my first individual competition and it confirmed to me that I had what was needed to be an excellent lawyer.
Which university did you attend?
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State
Which area of law interests you?
For now, I am keeping an open mind since my career is just taking off. I am broadly interested in dispute resolution (litigation, arbitration and mediation), energy and corporate practice. With time, I will make an informed decision on my specialty.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Lagos.
What inspired you to go into law?
I grew up being told I would end up a lawyer because of my sharp tongue. I was very argumentative, inquisitive, liked to analyze situations, speak for my friends and siblings and I talked a lot. I was the child who questioned an instruction rather than the one who jumped to obey. I was always participating in debating competitions, so everyone expected me to be a lawyer. When the time came to pick a course to study, I recognized that I had the basic skills needed to succeed in the profession.
What is your impression of the state of the legal system in Nigeria?
I believe our legal system is evolving. We are starting to take advantage of technology and its benefits. However, I think that we pay too much attention to procedure (the decision in Okafor v. Nweke for instance). There is still so much of the English common law system here, the pervading corruption, poor implementation of laws, executive interference in the judiciary and government’s disregard for the rule of law. Also, our system is not exactly the best for commercial cases that are required to be dispensed with on time. These things are gradually eroding public confidence in our legal system
What would you do to make it better?
Do away with archaic laws and procedures, ensure strict independence for the judiciary and compliance with court orders especially by the government. Also, Nigeria has its own peculiarities and, as such, a system that is very effective in one jurisdiction might fail woefully here. I think it’s necessary we identify our peculiarities, develop a system around them and move away from this borrowed legal system.
Lawyers have a major role to play in developing sound government across Africa. Could you give your opinion on where this is happening effectively?
The legal profession has strong representation in government and these lawyers should be held to a higher standard than others. Law is a very noble profession with a lot of emphasis on integrity and you do not stop being a lawyer because you have a seat in government. I would expect to see all the values that make the profession so noble in every lawyer in public office. So far, I think the lawyers who have and are serving in various public offices have done well given the peculiarities of politics in Nigeria and the various challenges facing holders of public officers but there is always room for improvement.
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