A while back, one of my readers contacted me to commend me on a well-written post which resonated with her. We exchanged kind words, and she shared a dream of hers; to create a platform for Nigerians in diaspora to connect online, share ideas, and inspire one another in their various endeavours. I spurred her on, and without taking any credit for its fruition, she contacted me 6 or so months after to inform me she'd bitten the bullet and Nigerian Network Community was born. I expressed my interest in being a part of such a great initiative & she invited me to share my experience, motivations and career aspirations in a frank interview. Please read below and show Monsurat some love here.
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
It feels like the start of every interview but I will broadly brush over my history by stating I was born and bred in Nigeria & moved to the UK when I was 9. Since then, I have studied law (professionally qualifying and being called as a barrister in 2013) and pursued a career in rights advocacy. I have worked both in the UK and Nigeria advocating for equal gender rights, and the eradication of harmful practices such as FGM, domestic violence, honour marriages and maternal mortality.
What inspired you to choose your career?
I don’t speak much about this, but the thought first struck me prior to my move to the UK with my family. I remember running under a market stall during the riots following the assassination of President Abacha, frightened that I would be killed by the open fire of military trucks parading the streets in broad daylight. It struck me: why are the people meant to be protecting us, posing a threat to us? Or a more elementary version of that sentence. That’s really what kept me motivated; the injustice and inequality that’s rife in all parts of the world.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Gratitude a client expresses when I intelligently convey their interests in court. People take for granted the need for legal services in this day & age. We understand we need a doctor when we’re ill or an engineer to maintain the basic amenities we’ve grown accustomed to, but the need for a lawyer is constantly played down, as evidenced by the drastic cuts to legal aid. Court is terrifying, and if you haven’t trained as an advocate and don’t have the paperwork ready, it can be a daunting process. Being able to assist litigants-in-person is so rewarding, and I hope to help on a grander scale in future.
What have been the challenges?
Pupillage, and the pedantic nature of the legal course.
Where would you like to see yourself in a couple of years from now?
Legal or rights advocacy on an international scale. I have come to accept the fact I am quite the romantic, and I idealise what it would be like to live in a better world. I think its possible, but others may not. It is up to me, in that case, to do my very best to prove it is. That means following through with my words, and helping to serve others through my speech, writing and other skills.
You are also a very vocal activist on women issues and empowerment, which is a running theme on your blog (BLEURGH). What inspired you to advocate on this issue?
I remember the first time my oldest brother asked if I was a feminist? I was genuinely outraged that he would think such a thing! I have since come to educate myself on that term, and seen that I have always been an advocate for equal gender rights (which is fundamentally what a feminist is), right from childhood. I was the ‘stubborn’ (Nigerian parents don’t like the word “no”) daughter who would pinpoint the difference in my upbringing time & again; why was far more emphasis placed on my culinary abilities than my brothers? As I grew older, I saw this same inequality mirrored in the education system and the workplace, and I thought it silly for us to sit on the side and complain, yet do nothing to effect change.
In what other ways have you advocated for women rights and if not do you plan to do so?
In Nigeria, I worked as a gender rights’ advocate and developed initiatives to tackle gender based violence in rural communities, and appeared in court to assist with injunction applications on behalf of female victims based on new legislation. I led workshops in other cities (Ogun, Osun, as well as Lagos and Abuja) illustrating the need for the implementation of solid legislative frameworks to protect women from discriminative practices such as child marriage and FGM.
In the UK, I volunteer as a McKenzie Friend and assist litigants-in-person in courts seeking injunction applications to protect their home, children and selves from perpetrators of domestic violence.
There’s certainly an awakening, and openness, on the sexism and discrimination women face in Nigeria with popular trends like #BeingFemaleinNigeria highlighting this. What are your thoughts and what more do you think needs to be done both home and in diaspora?
I love being a woman, and there’s a general misconception that this youthful uprising of females challenging the norm in Nigeria and advocating for equal rights is on the premise of hating what we are and wanting to be more like men. Sexism is the root of all the wahala we (as a gender) face; from polygamy being accepted in certain tribes, child marriage, adultery, high percentage of female-illiteracy, to name a few. We can close our eyes and pretend these issues don’t exist because we have the luxury of education to cushion the blow, but speaking honestly, we still experience it in one way or another. The extent to which might be relative, but speaking up via social media, and actively seeking to rectify it by challenging the norms within our respective families first, is the best way of changing gender-based discrimination in Nigeria in future.
A large number of young Nigerians abroad are becoming openly more in touch with the country and culture which was not so years ago; what are your thought on this?
I love it! I remember once claiming I was a 1/5 Brazilian or was it 1/6 American? All in a bid to ‘fit in’. Now our younger counterparts proudly choreograph dances to Afrobeats songs for school talent shows; I’m proud of how far we have come!
Do you think it’s important for young Nigerians to be connected and how do you think a community like NNC can support this?
I think it’s very important to remain rooted to our culture, and maintain ties to Nigeria and Africa at large. Building a community like NNC allows one to keep abreast of the issues that affect us as a nation, yet still experience authentic Nigerian life in our respective cities by connecting with others in diaspora. That’s the beauty of the current millennial age; we need to embrace it.