Nigerian attorney says gender shouldn't limit career goals

When she was a child in Nigeria, Aye Joana Obe remembers how a classmate’s mother would be dressed when pick up her son from school. She would be wearing a traditional English robe and wig. It was a rare sight, as the woman was a lawyer in a male-dominated field.

Obe grew up when the country was under military rule, which ended in 1999. Fathers and uncles would just disappear.

That’s not the way the world was meant to be, she thought. People should be able to criticize freely.

And moreover, women should be able to enter whatever profession they wanted.

“I wanted to give this a shot,” Obe said. “I want to be a woman who can make a difference in the world and in my community.”

She decided to pursue an education in law, and just 20 percent of her undergraduate class were women.

She was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2008. After one year of compulsory service through the National Youth Service Corps, she joined Pac Solicitors, a corporate law firm in Lagos, Nigeria. After working as the house legal counsel for Availsys Limited, she realized that her passion was with working with younger solicitors and interns. 

“Thus, the dream of creating a career for myself in academia was birthed in my heart,” Obe said. “Obtaining an LL.M. and a Ph.D. thereafter is my means to that end."

Pursuing that goal in the U.S. was attractive because of the practical training that lawyers receive.

“Here, you don’t just gain knowledge, you learn a way of thinking, a way of reasoning, and for me that is what I see as true education,” Obe said. “It’s not just book knowledge, but a change in perception. Here you’re not just taught the law, but how to apply it and how to create it since it’s constantly evolving.”

Because she didn’t have any background in American law, Obe says she has had to do twice the amount of work as other students, but she has done well in her courses at Valparaiso University School of Law.

Being an international student has had other, personal challenges. While she has made a few close friends, there are also people who wouldn’t give her a chance because she wasn’t from the U.S.

Obe intends to cap off her U.S. studies with the one-year OPT program, followed by a career in practice litigation here.

“I don’t believe your gender should limit you from achieving whatever you set your mind to achieve,” Obe said. “Your sex, your color, your looks — that’s not the real you. Gender shouldn’t affect anything you want to do in life, that’s the message I want to share with African women and women all over the world.”

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