I stand for the defenceless women, says Albert Benson
Nneoma Albert-Benson is a humanist and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. She is the Principal Partner at Albertha Legal Consults and President of BEFA Women and Child Care Foundation, an organisation that provides aggressive, quality legal services to women and children, which enable them to gain equal access to the court, empower them to control their lives and impact on the major causes and effects of poverty. In this interview, the United Kingdom-based Barrister spoke to IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA on her drive for being drawn to women in crisis.
Tell us about your growing up?
I WAS raised in a Christian home and I am the last of three children. Ours was a closely-knit nuclear family. My parents encouraged us to pursue our dreams, which is the reason I am the only one who ventured into the arts in a family of passionate scientists. My father was a priest and my mother was a public servant and a serial entrepreneur. My siblings and I imbibed entrepreneurial skills at a very early stage in life. We were not ‘rich’ but we had all that we needed.
What has influenced you to take this path?
Growing up, I was a very inquisitive child. I saw lots of injustices meted on women around me. I always wondered why women were the subjective species. My mother was an orphan and I watched as she suffered several injustices because there was no one to speak for her. This actually inspired my passion to study law. From age six, I wanted to be a lawyer. If physical fights were legal, I may have been fighting a lot too (laughs). I can’t stand injustice on a woman. It gives me so much pleasure defending and fighting for the rights of women who want to fight for their rights but can’t find the means. That is actually the difference. I defend only women who actually would have defended themselves if they had the means. We empower them to ensure they can defend themselves in the future.
At what point did you set up BEFA Women and Child Care Foundation?
After I was called to the Nigerian bar and had practised law for a whole year, I knew it was time for BEFA to be born. It’s a vision I had nursed for so long and I couldn’t wait any longer. BEFA was incorporated in 2009. BEFA Women and Child Care Foundation was granted Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in August 2013.
What are some of the issues you have been able to address with your foundation?
We address issues of the gender-based violence/abuse, child labour, human rights abuse. We have successfully defended women in and out of courts. Especially regarding domestic violence/abuse, widows who were subjected to obnoxious practices, children exposed to various forms of abuse and women in prison. It’s a work in progress. My experience traveling around the globe shows that patriarchy, which is the root of the subjection women suffer, is a global issue, but it’s worse off in these parts. Here it’s fueled by ignorance, culture and religion, these are very strong impediments that may take a while to conquer. We have continually challenged norms, kinship structures and taken-for-granted behaviours that make women inferior to men. We are strategically raising women who will teach their boys to respect women as they would themselves and to teach their girls that they are not inferior in any way to the boy. Our mission is to build a society where a person’s rights and livelihood are determined not by their status as male or female but as a human being.
As a lawyer and female rights advocate, where is our society getting it wrong with issues of women and their children in prisons?
We do not have adequate welfare and social assistance funds. We have not made any concrete provisions for foster care. Where do we keep the infants? We have good laws and policies in place but they are paper-tigers, mere theoretical postulations if we do not take steps to put structures in place to support these policies. We need to institute proper child welfare structures. We need to make provisions for foster care. It’s not too much to ask of a developing society. All we need to do is to get our priorities right.
Having worked in different worlds (U.S .and Nigeria), what similarities and differences in handling women and girls issues are there?
We have a lot of similar problems with the U.S. but the difference is their approach to these problems. Gender-based violence for instance is a global issue. In the U.S., the response to this issue is very rapid. It’s not taken for granted. Perpetrators are prosecuted speedily. Survivors are not stigmatised. This is quite different from what we have here. It is so difficult to prove a case of rape here and survivors are demonised so they rather suffer in silence than speak out. Our laws are increasingly in conflict with the lived experiences of the poor Nigerian woman. This has to change.
As a mother who is passionate for justice among women, how do you combine both functions?
It’s not easy but with focus and determination, I have effectively combined both functions successfully so far. I do a lot of thinking and planning. I am not impulsive. It helps me set my priorities right. I also enjoy the assistance of a wonderful mother. She has continually assisted me in keeping my home front in perspective. My children are an awesome breed too! I take a lot of work home because am in the field most of the daytime and then I have to research and study at home much later. I spend lots of time with my kids after work hours and when they retire to bed, I have all the time to study and work again. I don’t know how long my body can take this stretch but so far, it’s handled it perfectly well. I believe things will begin to change around here very soon so that I’ll find time to rest well (laughs).
What advice do you have for women especially those who are prone to landing into criminal issues?
I have learned that behind every crime committed by a woman, there is a secret. I say to them; think, think and think again. Don’t stay angry or idle for too long. Don’t be impulsive. Study.Work. Pray. Do not be misled.
How do you relax? What are your likes and dislike?
I relax with my kids. When I am not working, I am watching ‘frozen’, ‘tangled’ or ‘lion king’ with my kids. I also study and think a lot, so when my kids retire for the day or are with their Grandma, I cherish my me-times. I learnt to do Yoga in the U.S. recently too so this has also helped me relax after a hard day’s job. I am drawn to passionate people and people who lay down their lives for the cause of others. I hate injustice! I fight injustice! Anyone who perpetuates injustice is my sworn enemy.
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