Young Legal Personality Of The Month

Interview piece with Barr Mrs Lois Onagie Hibbert as the Young legal personality of the month.


Mrs. Lois Onagie Hibbert Esq is being featured by The Lead as the legal personality of the week. Mrs. Hibbert answers questions in this interview with Lawrence E. Paul, giving insights into her law practice, passion for humanitarian work as well as advice to other legal practitioners across Nigeria.

Q: *Please can you give a brief introduction of yourself?*

A: My name is Mrs. Lois Onagie Hibbert Esq. I am a wife, private legal practitioner, and consultant with experience in intellectual property, corporate, commercial, investment law, and family law as well as litigation and arbitration arising from them. I am the Principal partner of a Port Harcourt-based law firm Paul and Paul Solicitors(Eunoia Chambers) and the founding President of a humanitarian-driven body called Eunoia Foundation that both highlights and promotes the nexus between conflict resolution and community development. I am the convener of the "Talk Peace" seminar/Lecture Series which I hold quarterly and through which I travel around secondary schools in Nigeria delivering free law awareness lectures and increasing information on peace/conflict management. I have written over 20 articles on law with a desire to enlighten the public. I am presently a member of the Nigerian Bar Association Isiokpo Branch in Rivers State and a registered member of the American Bar Association. I practice law and reside in Port Harcourt with a wonderful husband and I enjoy reading novels, cooking, watching movies, traveling, and taking long walks which I find very therapeutic.

Q: *Have you had any challenges starting your career as a lawyer and if so what were the main challenges?*

A: Yes, I have indeed had numerous notable challenges in my career as a legal practitioner. Upon graduation and my call to the Nigerian bar, I was faced with the unfortunate but inevitable situation of being a fresh wig that needed to work without a salary in a law firm. In my first year of practice, I almost gave up the profession because of the discouraging experience some senior lawyers exhibit with fresh wigs. One day, I spent over 8 hours in court and I was given an appearance fee of N150 by my principal after the client had paid N10,000 for that court appearance. It is really a norm that must change and I'm doing all I can in my own way within my environment to change that practice.

Another challenge I faced was getting briefs. I kept asking a lot of friends who were senior lawyers how to get clients and retain them within the Rules of Professional Conduct since such was really difficult because being a young lawyer, people look at you as inexperienced and unable to handle their briefs but the truth remains that people should give young lawyers a chance to prove themselves. Some of them are really good and with advanced research tools available to the younger lawyers they could being a fresh perspective to a brief to the advantage of the client.

Q: *What has been your worst day as a lawyer?*

A: That's a tough one... Well, I remember one incident that stands out. In my early days of practice, I was sent by my principal to the Federal High Court to make an oral bail application on behalf of a client who was detained. Knowing that the court was a superior court of record I didn't make the oral application as instructed so my client was remanded in prison custody until a motion for bail was properly made. When I got back to the office I was tongue-lashed by my principal and almost beaten up by the family of the client. I received phone threats about my life and I was almost in hiding for several days until the situation blew over. It was indeed a harrowing experience.

Q: *What has been your most memorable experience in practice?*

A: I really have had a lot. But I must say that every day in Court that I witness the wheels of justice turn in proper process and procedure and the three-way street Justice as opined by Justice Oputa of blessed memory is achieved, those days are always memorable to me. Furthermore, towards the end of 2017, In one of the seminars I hold, I spoke to a gathering of about 600 senior secondary school students in Nigeria on how they can imbibe simple strategies and techniques for dispute resolution from their classrooms to their respective homes. When the light of understanding came to them, their expression of joy was unprecedented and their appreciation knew no bounds. More than half of that student audience made an instant resolve to become lawyers and I'm proud to say that some of them are already studying law in various institutions around the country. It was an awesome experience speaking to the young ones and creating enlightenment and awareness through our program.  

Q: *Who has been most influential in your life?*

A: I have learned a lot from a lot of great people in my life. Let me start with my mother, Mrs. Selinah Halliday. She thought me to read and she taught me to possess the character and will power that would uplift me in life and have an unending quest for knowledge. As a busy small-scale businesswoman, she still squeezed out time to teach me English, Mathematics, Writing, Sciences, and even some languages ahead of my mates in school. She was a deeply rooted disciplinarian with high morals and her lifestyle was my first education. In her words, she taught me to “see the truth, know the truth and say the truth” at all times without prejudice or favor to anyone and she taught me to love books, newspapers, journals, and anything readable. She believed every knowledge was important irrespective of her chosen career path. Today, reading, counseling, and being an advocate of a beautiful character in young ones have become my lifestyle even before becoming a lawyer and thanks to my mother.

Q: *Why did you become a lawyer?*

A: My first glimpse into the spectacular world of the legal profession was when I watched the proceedings of the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission of Nigeria commonly referred to as the "Oputa Panel" which was inaugurated in 1999 by then President Olusegun Obasanjo to investigate Human rights violations by the military from 1984-1999. During the proceedings, I was held spellbound by the intricacies and language of the legal profession. The way they spoke, the way they dressed and even the way they carried themselves made me yearn to become one of them. Furthermore, I was particularly intrigued by a female lawyer Dr. Mrs. Joy Nunieh Esq who conducted her case with the finesse, skill, and aplomb of an opera maestro. Several times in my sitting room I rose and gave her a standing ovation because I was awestruck. This birthed a desire to know more about the legal profession and inevitably study law. But I can firmly say now that I became a lawyer to know my rights and duties, protect them, then defend and enlighten others on the same.

Q: *What would you say is the reason for high divorce cases in Nigeria?*

A: You see, I try to stay away from giving direct opinions about issues relating to divorce. This is primarily because over the years I have come to understand that the term "marriage" is one of the most intricately complex issues that we could delve into. There is and must always be understood that no two marriages are the same and every marriage has its own unique and peculiar atmosphere which makes the couple act how they do and take the decisions they choose to take. That said, somebody told me that research shows that out of 10 marriages within a period of five years, at least four of them break up to the point of seeking divorce and that is in Nigeria today. Many of them don’t even last till five years. This issue can be the discourse for another day where I'll gladly spend enough time with you on it but however let me say this. Human relations have shown that the man a woman thinks is the worst man and divorces that man may tomorrow be the best husband to another woman.

So, in a marriage, it is the individual that makes up the marriage that determines how it ends. Many girls will want to get married to rich men and men to rich women in search of security and when they go into marriage, they find many unforeseen realities and incompatibility. I think that society has contributed more and our desire to accumulate money may be one of the main reasons. I am not too sure because no man can give advice to another man on how to relate to a woman. No woman can give advice to another woman on how to relate to a man. It is the personal and unique experience in that marriage that determines it.

Q: *If you had not become a lawyer, what would you have chosen?*

A: Honestly, I would have been a medical doctor and a surgeon because as odd as it seems, until the day I watched the Oputa panel, I was a science student in the science field.

Q: *What other causes do you lend time to?*

A: In my role as president of the Eunoia Foundation, I ensure that the foundation is at the forefront of digital enlightenment by implementing online campaigns and programs focused on highlighting issues that aid conflict resolution and dispute settlement initiatives. I lead a team of diverse, forward-thinking, and talented creative minds in planning and delivering these active campaigns, which ensure that “Talk Peace” is useful, practical, well implemented, and impactful both at the grass-root level and nationally. I am presently working on a blueprint that merges our work at Eunoia foundation with initiatives and activities created by the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators which are at the forefront of dispute resolution studies in Nigeria.

Q: *What is your advice for young girls?*

A: To the young girl, struggling with self-confidence who intends or has the desire to be a shining star, you just need to develop the power of self-love. Always remember that education will remain the passport to your future and knowledge is an essential instrument to effect change no matter your environment. The process of achieving your dreams will require sacrifices, resilience, dedication, and hard work. Let your just morals always guide your merits and protect your bodily integrity at all costs.

Q: *Where do you see yourself ten years from now?*

A: Well, hopefully on the bench of the judiciary as a judge because I always aim for the pinnacle. My passion aside from defending and advising clients is to increase the peace and harmony in my state and the country through the promotion of peaceful initiatives everywhere as well as how to best avoid disputes and promote peaceful co-existence.

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