The only real crime in Nigeria is poverty —Nworah, US-based writer

Adorah Nworah is a Nigerian-born United States-based lawyer and writer. A Dechert law firm associate with a specialty in real estate finance law, her work ‘The Bride’ was recently shortlisted for the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. In this interview by KINGSLEY ALUMONA, she speaks about her U.S. experiences, what she misses about Nigeria, the type of law she would recommend to the National Assembly, and how her law training has affected her creative writing skills.


Briefly tell us about your life and family in Nigeria before you relocated to the United States. And, what necessitated your relocation to the U.S.?

I am the third of four wonderful kids. I was born in Lagos, and I spent most of my formative years there. I moved to the U.S. for college shortly before I turned 17. It was an exciting period in my life because it came with tons of freedom. I got my first debit card, signed my first lease, and could finally buy the clothes I wanted to wear (sorry, Mum!)

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How did you manage to pay for your University of Houston-Downtown and Temple University Law School fees? What was your law school experience like?

I am fortunate to have supportive parents who sponsored my college education and continue to be bastions of support in my daily life. I earned a full scholarship from Temple Law School, so I didn’t pay tuition. Law school was a mixed bag of experiences and emotions. To sum it up in a few words: it was challenging and rewarding. I earned my much cherished juris doctorate, and I made some lifelong friends along the way.


How did your internships at the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit and at the Christian Legal Clinic of Philadelphia help to shape your career?

Both internships connected the dots between legal theory and the real, multidimensional humans that are caught in their crosshairs. My internships taught me empathy, which I like to describe as sympathy’s prettier, less erratic, second cousin. I think it’s important to have a well-rounded understanding of an issue, without letting your emotions get the best of you.


Has your skin colour posed a problem for you getting into your dream school, internship programme or job?

I was fortunate to get into the law school of my choice, and I landed the internships, and ultimately, the job I set my sights on. That said, racism is far from a myth. An acquaintance once told me that I would be selected for a coveted internship because “blacks get everything.” Needless to say, that was my last interaction with the individual. I try not to dwell on ignorance, but I recognise that I’m only able to brush off ignorance because I occupy a position of privilege that shields me from its ugliest forms.


With the U.S. legal system in mind, how would you rate that of Nigeria? If you were to recommend a law on women issues to the Nigerian National Assembly, what would it be about?

My primary grouse with the Nigerian legal system is its selective enforcement of laws. There is a tendency for our laws to favour the highest bidder if and when they are enforced. I often hear that the only real crime in Nigeria is poverty. I agree with that sentiment. If I could recommend a law targeted at women’s issues, it would be a Violence Against Women’s Act that prioritises the safety and the financial independence of domestic-violence victims, and severely punishes their abusers.


How and when did you stumble into creative writing? And, in what way did your law training help in bolstering your literary skills?

During my stint in secondary school, I wrote to entertain myself because I was bored with the minutiae of daily life. My stories were mostly influenced by my consumption of Harry Potter novels and the Goosebumps series. I shared my stories with a couple of friends and they encouraged me to keep writing. The rest is history. My legal training has done more harm than good to my creative writing. I find that good legal writing is somewhat formulaic. It calls for clear and concise sentences. I try to keep that away from my creative writing. I want my stories to be strange, and fun, and ambiguous, and a little rough around the edges. I don’t want to write a story that reads like a legal brief.


What was your reaction when you heard your story ‘The Bride’ was shortlisted for the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize? If you are fortunate to emerge as the winner, what would you do with the £5,000 prize money?

I prayed to God, because I’m incapable of achieving my goals without God. I shed tears of joy, and sent the lovely news to my family and a close friend. I haven’t put much thought into what I’d do with the money if I win. I already won by making the shortlist, you know? Anything after that, including this interview, is ‘jara’.


Briefly tell us how you are faring in the U.S. Are you married or in any relationship?

The U.S. is my home away from home. I’ve made a handful of lifelong friends here, and it’ll always have a place in my heart. I currently spend my days practicing real estate finance law in a magnificent glass building in Philadelphia. I maintain my wits by writing, listening to Afrobeats, investing in good skin care, dining out with girlfriends, watching Netflix till I fall asleep, and taking spontaneous trips to New York to remind myself why living in Philadelphia is a much better decision. I’m not married, so I get to focus squarely on myself.


What are the two things about Nigeria that makes you homesick? If you are given the opportunity to work in Nigeria as a lawyer, would you accept it?

Food and my loved ones. Nigerian food is magical. I often wonder who concocted the first stick of suya, or the first pot of jollof rice, or the first bowl of egusi soup. I’m eternally grateful for such great contributions to mankind. Nigeria is home to many of my loved ones, so my favourite adult thing is to fly to Lagos for Christmas. Watching my parents drink green tea and discuss politics, catching up with my siblings, and checking out restaurants, plays, art markets, and shows with my girlfriends are so important for my soul. I’m able to let my hair down, and laugh, and love without a care in the world. I’m open to working in Nigeria for a cause that improves the lives of everyday Nigerians in a real, quantifiable way. That said, I don’t have a Nigerian law degree and I’m not prepared to go back to school.


What is your greatest challenge as a lawyer? And, what do you like doing at your leisure?

My greatest challenge as a lawyer is feeling like I’m not doing enough to reduce human suffering. The world is full of downtrodden people and there are not enough of us advocating for such people. I know I can do better, and I plan to do better in the near future. My leisure time is spent reading good novels, laughing at my family in the family group chat, buying every skincare product at Sephora, and preparing a master list of all the goals I plan to accomplish.


What advice do you have for young people, especially the female ones, who are aspiring to be like you?

Trust the process. It can be disheartening to receive numerous rejections, but I promise it’s all part of this wacky, wondrous process. The gatekeepers cannot ignore you forever if you are talented and you continue to push against the metaphorical gate. Reach out to me if you ever feel discouraged. Let’s race to the finish line!