Having set the stage for this year’s 3rd Annual General Conference with a well-attended cocktail party the previous evening at the foyer of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, the Nigerian Bar Association’s Women Forum (NBAWF) got into the Conference proper – which coincided with the commemoration of the 2023 International Women’s Day (IWD).

Activities of Opening-Day at the event venue – the Sapphire Hall, A Class Park & Event Center, Plot 102, Kashim Ibrahim Way, Maitama, Abuja – were made up of speeches and panel discussions around the Conference theme, TECH HER IN: ‘INNOVATING FOR GENDER EQUITY’.

In her address of welcome to conferees and special guests from across Nigeria, the Chairperson of the Conference Planning Committee (CPC), Dr. Foluke Dada stressed the urgent need for women lawyers to leverage on technology as a means of advancing their careers, expanding their professional networks, enriching their business and other relationships, and achieving a healthy work-life balance. The theme of the Conference, she said, was motivated by the need to give women the tools and leverage they require to express their ideas effectively, to connect with their peers worldwide, and to scale new heights in their professional trajectories.

The Chairperson of the NBAWF, Mrs. Chinyere Okorocha, who spoke next, said the theme of this year’s Conference was a reflection of the current focus by the United Nations (UN) on advancing the use of tech to fight gender bias and dispel false stereotypes about women, as well as the role of female lawyers in leveraging tech to shape the future of the Bar and the nation as a whole. Mrs. Okorocha stressed the immense potential of tech to create a level playing field for all, irrespective of gender. She was full of praises for all who had helped in actualizing the Forum’s 3rd AGC, singling out the members of the CPC led by the aforementioned Dr. Dada, as well the various State Leads and Branch Coordinators across the country. She expressed her confidence that the panel sessions slated for the 2-day hybrid gathering would deepen the conversation on the opportunities and challenges female lawyers face in the practice of their profession.

In her Keynote Address, the Special Adviser to the Nigerian President on the Ease of Doing Business, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole said the basic nature of any technological advance is innovation, which she defined as the birthing of a new idea, a method or device.

Herself a former law lecturer at the University of Lagos, Dr. Oduwole went on to talk about how her office and the Presidential Enabling Business Council (PEBEC) under the chairmanship of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. PEBEC’s has intervened proactively and effectively in the tech space. This intervention is in recognition of the increasingly assertive role tech-driven companies and start-ups are playing in the Nigerian economy. It is, she said, in line with the federal government’s quest to bring about a more open, equitable and inclusive environment for professionals (such as lawyers) and businesspeople, whatever their gender.

Dr. Oduwole said the benefits of technology to the legal profession – such as remote work; more confidential ways of sharing documents; legal efficiencies; better court operations and communications; virtual options for court proceedings; the digitalization of judicial databases, etc. – present numerous opportunities and challenges, which she said, are now being addressed by relevant government ministries and agencies. One key intervention, she pointed out, is the signing of the Nigerian Startup Act 2022 by President Muhammadu Buhari.

To maximize these benefits, the Keynote Speaker called on her female colleagues to avail themselves of training opportunities; to consider the possibility of becoming ‘non-techy’ founders of tech startups; and to have the right networks and connect with the right people.

Dr. Oduwole’s eloquent address, which drew sustained applause from the assembled guests, set the stage for the panel discussions that followed, as the Conference explored the four following topics:
• EQUITY UNVEILED: What Does Equity Mean?;
• TECH TRANSFORMATION: What’s Next?; and