Our legal system is archaic, gives little room for interventions —Oluwaseun Folajuwon-Banjo, lawyer and founder of SJF
Oluwaseun Folajuwon-Banjo is a lawyer, co-founder of Folajuwon-Banjo and Co. law firm and founder of Savingcross Justicepoint Foundation (SJF). As a human rights advocate, part of her work involves reaching out to indigent people in the community and in the prisons, and also helping to address domestic violence in the society. In this interview by Kingsley Alumona, she speaks about why she decided to be a lawyer, domestic violence in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal and prison systems, the almajiri controversy and her advice for young people.
What inspired you to study law? And, what motivated you to leverage your legal expertise for humanitarian endeavours?
Being a lawyer has always been my childhood dream. I grew up witnessing my father harassed by his neighbours and tenants and I saw how he struggled to get justice from the malicious prosecutions, when this dream became a reality. I knew it was God’s grace and that I’d to do more than just earn an income from the profession. So, I decided to advance it for humanitarian service.
Law practice is seemingly becoming less lucrative in Nigeria. Did you opt for other jobs before settling for law practice? Tell us about the law firm you co-founded and who you founded it with?
No. I didn’t opt for another job. I’ve always been in active law practice. By the grace of God in 2014, I co-founded Folajuwon-Banjo and Co with Ayodotun Folajuwon-Banjo who’s now my husband and the law firm is growing everyday.
Briefly tell us about your Savingcross Justicepoint Foundation (SJF) and how many people have benefited from it. And, what is your foundation’s major success story so far?
Savingcross Justicepoint Foundation is a non-profit organisation based in Oyo State with partnership ties across Nigeria. The focus of the organisation is on promoting justice, human rights, peace, leadership, and empowerment through: free legal service to indigent members of the community particularly women and indigent inmates at correctional facilities; advocacy programs and public enlightenment for members of the public; and free legal aid and counselling for families against domestic violence.
About 232 women benefitted from our leadership and empowerment program held at Aiyegun-Oleyo of Oluyole Local Government in Ibadan, in November 2019. About 16 former indigent inmates had benefitted from our free legal service in Ibadan, Oyo State.
How do you fund your foundation’s projects? Does government support you in any way?
From inception till now, our work has always been self-sponsored and through donations from family and friends. I’m truly grateful to God for sending us great people who support us by volunteering for our projects and also donate to the cause. We hope to get the support of the government in the future.
Through which ways/medium are you and your team engaging the girl child and women to know their rights and the appropriate people/places to turn to when they need help or justice in the event of abuse or violence, especially during this lockdown period?
We create awareness and public sensitisation through advocacy at markets, religious centres, public places and schools, and through empowerment program, leadership trainings and free legal clinics. During this lockdown, we’ve collaborated with other partners to carry out more awareness via WhatsApp and video messages. We’re currently working on our next virtual program to further this cause.
What four basic lessons do you think men should learn to understand their wives/partners better in order to avoid or end abuse and violence at home?
First is friendship. A man should be his wife’s best friend and not her headmaster. Friendship will open doors for the man to gain access in understanding the personality of his wife/partner and also give room for consistent communication between them. Second is tolerance. Every man should be willing to stretch himself to overlook his wife’s error as much as he does for himself. Thirdly, a man must build his own self worth and esteem so strong that no unexpected circumstance would get him threatened by the success of his partner. Fourth is love. Love is more than the tingling sensation we feel. It’s a deliberate and intentional action. Love conquers all things and love covers offence. These four lessons will definitely help to avoid violence in relationships/marriages.
Many people believe that the Nigerian legal system is a patriarchy space and that if there were more female judges than the male ones, things would have been better than it is now. Do you think so? And, what is your consolation do you have for those who do not believe that ‘the court is the last hope for the common man’?
God is the last hope for everyone, both common and not. I don’t think that the gender of judges is responsible for the challenges in the legal system. Judges (male/female) are called to do justice, and irrespective of the gender, the duty comes first. The common man must continue to keep his hope in the system alive. Yes, there’re shortcomings but they’ve nothing to do with the gender of judges, and these challenges are surmountable.
Some state governments in the country are setting up mobile courts to try lockdown violators and other law offenders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Could you briefly educate us on how this type of court works and how effective it could be in this pandemic era?
The mobile courts are not new courts but extension of the existing courts to try offences relating to the COVID-19 regulations. Some jurisdictions have magistrates positioned in some public locations outside their court rooms where the violators will be brought, tried and where found guilty, penalised according to the law. This procedure is guided by the Lockdown Rules and Quarantine Act of such state. This initiative was introduced to bring effectiveness to the COVID-19 regulations and ensure compliance.
As someone who works with prison workers and inmates, if you were the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Prisons Service, how would you make the prison system more effective and conducive for inmates?
I will ensure that the prison system is more of reformation than punitive. This’ll be achieved by upgrade in facilities and healthcare systems in the prison. Staff will also be trained on humane ways of treating prison inmate. I’ll also work with as many lawyers and non-governmental organisations that are into justice reform to facilitate the reduction of awaiting trial cases at the correctional facilities in the country.
As a lawyer, what is your take on the massive deportation of the almajiris to their home states by some governors?
It is the right of these children to come back to their homes. It’s also the duty of a government to take care of its subjects. So I see these children as finally having the opportunity of reuniting with their loved ones and saved from the indecent livelihood they’re forced to live as Almajirai.
How have you been coping with your law job and humanitarian practice in the face of this pandemic and lockdown?
The pandemic has certainly introduced a new reality to almost all sectors and projects, including the legal profession, all over the world. A larger part of this change, though long overdue, came with a suddenness that isn’t without effect. I hope to fully utilise this new reality for more positive results in my work.
What is the major challenge face in your line of career? And, what keeps you going against all odds?
Our legal system is too archaic and it gives little room for modern interventions. The system needs to grow to face the realities of our modern times. The hope we give to people we‘re able to help out through the extant system has been a source of strength.
What do you like doing at your leisure? If you were to make a wish in your next birthday, what would it be?
I like handcrafting and meditating. My wishes are numerous. But, having all the joy my heart desires will gladden my heart.
What advice do you have for young people, especially the female ones, who are aspiring to be like you?
Be resilient, strong, and intentional. Be a blessing to the world. The world needs more solutions to its numerous challenges, and you can be the agent of change. Just remember that your little is much.
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