Mfon Usoro: Beyond the Courtroom

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Back in 2006, no one saw her coming, until she hit like cold wind. Her appointment as the first director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). While the men shuffled their feet, deep down, they knew it was a good move. It proved to be.

She was the only one who was not surprised about her emergence as the agency’s pioneer director-general. Instead, she considered it one of the opportunities she was waiting for, she midwifed the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act of 2003 (the Cabotage Act), a landmark legislation and building block for a viable maritime industry in Nigeria.

No, law was not her first love. It is her eternal love; although she first got a degree in sociology from the University of Calabar and had to have her baby before pitching into fulfil an almost live-long dream.

She did, though and it was her ticket into the barn. She zeroed in on maritime law; ship finance, ship litigation, policy formulation as well as legislative drafting and advocacy. She burst onto the scene like mustang and it was dizzy to watch her go. Today, she is a specialist. A proud one.

Of all her achievements as the pioneer head-honcho of the NIMASA, she is most proud of her attention to human capcity development, which brought about the Cabotage Act.

“I remain happy and proud that Nigeria took a bold step to trigger the development and growth of indigenous capacity in the shipping industry. A good number of Nigerians operating in the oil services transportation space today are beneficiaries of the cabotage regime. The cabotage legislation is just one aspect of the building blocks for a thriving maritime industry. Its major challenge today is that we have not seen the commonality of purpose amongst all the agencies of government that have critical roles in expanding access, attracting capital and investment to the sector.”

Today, she is an accomplished lawyer – LL.M in Maritime Laws from University College London, an LL.B (Hons) from the University of Buckingham, B.L (Hons) from the Nigerian Law School – and is a managing partner of Paul Usoro & Co., a leading law firm in Nigeria.

 Usoro has been there, done that. Her quiver is full of arrows.

But the top can be lonely. She needs more woman up there. Having risen by dint of her own hard work, she is a strong voice for women and always has a word on how they can get to the top, maintain it and run their homes.

“It is important for women to admit that there is gender inequality and that admitting same does not make us appear weak and conversely denial of the systemic gender bias does not increase our chances of acceptability by the male folk where power is concentrated.

“It is possible to have a successful career, be a mother and a wife. If a sister finds that a desirable goal, do not be deterred by the obstacles along the way, stay on course knowing that other women have walked the path and so can you,” she emphasizes.

Usoro has, at various times, consulted for the African Union Commission. Working with a group of experts, she was pivotal to the drafting and negotiation of the African Union Maritime Transport Charter 2009. She is periodically invited by the African Union

Commission Department of Infrastructure to participate in workshops/chair meetings held in Addis Ababa, Cairo etc.

Usoro is a member of the African Network for Women in Infrastructure (ANWIn), an African Union Commission initiative.

Consulted for UNEP [Nairobi] and UICN [Senegal] to work with two other consultants from South Africa and Togo for the revitalization of the Convention for Co-operation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central Africa Region [Abidjan Convention].

Usoro was, for several years, the sole maritime legal consultant to the Maritime Organisation for West and Central Africa (MOWCA), an inter-governmental body of countries in West and Central Africa headquartered in Cote d’ Ivoire.

She currently serves as chairperson, Board of Directors of TIB Asset Management Limited; an independent director on the board of The Infrastructure Bank Plc; a non-executive director on the board of First City Monument Bank Ltd; a non-executive director on the board of Board of Geometric Power Limited.

Her efforts and unwavering contributions to the African maritime sector have not gone unnoticed. Usoro was conferred with the Officier de L’Ord de Mono, a national honour of the Republic of Togo in 2002 and the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Merite Maritime, a national honour of the Republic of Cote D’ Ivoire in 2015. This kinda says it all.

Usoro is a lot of things to many; a war horse in time of trouble; a steady help in times of need, an encouragement to the down-trodden, an exemplary mother, a woman of valour, one who plays as much as she works, a no-nonsense boss, a woman for all times…the adjectives are endless.

One things is certain, though; her persona extends beyond the courtroom; an almost larger-than life image that stretches like a shadow. What’s more; this is an opinion many agree with…as patronising as it sounds. The new entrant into the sexagenarian club is truly a remarkable woman.

 


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