“Having my kind of brothers made me to become boyish in my activities. My brothers were into karate; I got into it and became a black belt”
It came as no surprise when Mrs. Jean Chiazor-Anishere, a legal practitioner and quintessential woman of many firsts was inaugurated as the African President, Women in Maritime Industry (WIMAFRICA) on October 29, 2018. Apart from being the president of Women International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA-NIG), Anishere has served as a maritime legal consultant to the House of Representatives Committee on Maritime Transport, international conventions and trained the first set of the Cabotage Enforcement Officers for the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). She is the first female editor of Admiralty Law Reports, which that has been cited in Nigeria and other African countries. In this interview, she talks about her the Ubuntu spirit and other issues.
You were recently inaugurated as the President of WIMAFRICA. Were you on the board of WIMAFRICA or just a member before you became the president?
Yes, I was in fact a founding member of WIMAFRICA.
Now, that the responsibility rests on your shoulders as the WIMAFRICA president, what do you intend to achieve?
First, I will ensure that WIMAFRICA covers every African country. Before WIMAFRICA was established, there were other regional associations like Women in Maritime in East and South Africa WOMESA. We also had the Arab Women in Maritime ‘ARWIMA’. I spoke to the ladies when we met in Egypt for the maritime administration conference. I invited them and they came for the inauguration and signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate with WIMAFRICA. Ours is to coordinate the bodies, because we are not regional. We have a little work to do on WOMESA because before now they had gotten the approval of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which sponsors their activities. As a fortified body, we all have to collaborate to make great exploits. Within this month, we would all gather in Nairobi, Kenya to celebrate the blue economy of Africa in a larger scale, during a conference organised by the Kenyan government in collaboration with IMO and the African Union. Also we will meet there and use the opportunity to meet with WOMESA and discuss further.
Therefore, my mandate as the president is to ensure that WIMAFRICA becomes a very strong organization for women in the maritime industry. Again, I want to ensure that every African country becomes a member of WIMAFRICA because we have an observer status in the African Union.
How did you become the WIMAFRICA president?
It was at a regional conference in Durban, South Africa, which was hosted by the African continent and Women in Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) International, Dr. Lamini Zuma, wife of the former president of South Africa, was the first female president of the African Union. She was a special guest of honour at the regional conference in South Africa. It was at that conference in Durban that some of us met with Dr. Zuma and told her we would appreciate if she could use her good offices, then as the Chairperson of the African Union, to promote the issues that African women in maritime industry were facing. She was excited about that and asked how many African countries were members of WISTA International. At that time, it was just three countries, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. She was not impressed with the number. She asked us to go get more countries to join WISTA International. Not knowing that she had met with other African women who had maritime seminars and conferences in South Africa where the same idea was also brokered. To me, Dr. Zuma had also wanted African women to come together to have a common voice. She was willing to give a helping hand to such organization. Madam Rosa Suprinho from Angola led the able sponsorship of the Angolan government as they called for a conference in Rwanda. It was at that conference that many other African women from other countries organized by the Angolan WISTA president called for a conference in Rwanda and 11 other African countries were present. It was at that conference that Women in Maritime (WIMAFRICA) was formed. So we are African women in maritime. We had deliberations on the way forward and what we want to achieve with WIMAFRICA.
Did you start your career in the maritime industry?
No, my first stint as a legal practitioner was at the Federal Ministry of Justice, where I worked at the Department of Director Public Prosecutions (DPP), and then I moved to work with Jane Afolabi & Co as a solicitor for 18 months. I also worked with the late Bayo Kehinde (SAN). Then, in 1998, Olisa Agbakoba invited me to come manage his Law firm because of his other human rights activities. It was there that I was introduced to Maritime Law practice and got stuck till date. Later I left Olisa Agbakoba and Associates to open my own law firm, Jean Chiazor & Co.
Whose footstep did you follow to become a lawyer?
My venture into Law practice is an exciting one. Way back in my secondary school days I sat for 10 arts and science subjects in the West African School Certificate examination (WASCE) and excelled in all. I was a Head Girl in my school then – Reagan Memorial Baptist Grammar School, Yaba. When I finished my WASCE, I went to Federal Government Girls College (FGGC), Benin, for my Advanced Levels. I maintained pure sciences for my A‘Levels. So my JAMB had nothing to do with studying Law. I chose to study Medicine and Optometry, and I was admitted into in University of Benin. It was my late father, Dr (Chief) Philip Chiazor, who was a broadcaster and the General Manager of Bendel Broadcasting Services, who felt that one of his children should be a lawyer. He actually wanted to be a lawyer himself but paucity of funds prevented him. He finished from St. Patrick’s College, Asaba, before he went into broadcasting. He chose me to drive his ambition through. Then, UNIBEN did not have a Law faculty. My father’s good friend, Prof. Frank Ndili, who was the Vice Chancellor of University of Nigeria Nsukka, saw my excellent result in all my arts subjects, and made it possible for me to be admitted into the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus (UNEC) to study Law. But I did not graduate from Nsukka, rather I finished from University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) Ile-Ife because my mother took ill and as an only daughter I came down to nurse and be close to her and missed almost a session. I had a choice of either repeating the class at Enugu Campus or come to University of Lagos to be close to my mum. Unilag and Nsukka curriculum did not tally. It was Ife that had the same curriculum with Nsukka, so I went there and finished from Ife and added a Master’s degree from Lagos immediately.
How was growing up like?
More of a tomboy! Having my kind of brothers made me to become boyish in my activities. My brothers were into karate; I got into it and became a black belt, so I could fight back anyone who wanted to beat me up. Growing up was interesting, My dad was a commander of English Language being a broadcaster, and we were pretty close. I enjoyed my childhood. I had fun, and a fulfilled childhood.
How do you cope and excel as wife, mother and a full time legal practitioner and president of several organisations?
My husband lives, stud and works in England. We visit each other. That is how I have my space to run around and carry out my responsibilities as president of the different organisations.
You have done a lot with women, but people say, women are their own worst enemies. In your experience dealing with women over the years, is this statement true?
It is very unfortunate. I remember the Hon. Minister for Transport, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, who is the patron of Women in Maritime Nigeria, when he attended our conference on October 29, 2018, noted in his keynote address that women should endeavour to love one another, work together as a team, because women are the enemies of their own. They should stop the bickering, the envy and all those nasty parts that lead to nowhere. It is a horrible challenge. As the president, I have to look above it. What we decided as the executives is to introduce a form of greeting that is largely acceptable. When we shout ‘WIMAFRICA’, we raise our arms with a loud ovation and respond ‘Ubuntu’ which is a South African greeting.
Ubuntu was a South African folklore of young ones who were going out and visited a woman. These young ones, some were from the same parents. They were invited to eat, but the woman tried to separate their foods. The boys refused and said if you are going to give food, all of us will eat as one, so it is the spirit of ubuntu, one love, one spirit and togetherness. When I heard this folklore, I said to myself, how about greeting ourselves like that. We can do exploits if we are one. The spirit of UBUNTU, teamwork, is strong. The message is what we are trying to drive through. It was hugely embraced. All the chapters of WIMAFRICA embraced it.
We heard that you met Princess Diana when she was alive. Please talk about this.
I am a Princess Diana fan! I was so crazy about her. I slept on the street to catch a glimpse of her wedding gown in London on her big day and it was awesome. Despite the fact that I am a dark black girl, I had my hair styled like Diana’s wedding hair in London. Again, I went to see her when she came to Nigeria during the regime of former President Ibrahim Babangida. The then First Lady Mrs. Maryam Babangida, had a project called ‘Better Life for Rural Women’, and Diana was pregnant for William, when she came to Nigeria with her husband Charles. I went to Marina where she was received and screamed from a far. ‘Princess I was at your wedding’ she heard that and turned; security was so tight, but as the people’s princess who she was, she told security to allow me in that she wants to have a word with me; she shook my hand and asked me ‘how are you? I was just happy. Diana gave birth to William in a particular ward at St. Mary’s Paddington Hospital in London; though it was exclusively reserved for the royals but Diana said anybody could have her baby there. So when I got married and became pregnant, I told myself I would have my baby where Princess Diana had hers. In my husband’s excitement, I told him where I wanted to have my baby though he didn’t know why. After my delivery and the hospital management brought the bill, it was huge. My husband screamed; they told him, our baby was born in the Candour-Hall where Prince William was born. I was just happy and satisfied.
What did you do when Princess Diana died?
It was a sad moment for me. I was in Texas for my summer holiday when the bad news broke. I flew from the United States to London to lay some flowers at her residence in Kensington.
How did you meet your husband?
It was in December of that year. I had planned to enjoy myself partying with friends. My mother who was getting worried about my spinsterhood took me to Deeper Life Church prayer camp. As the prayers were going on, I was just sleeping. My mother would use her elbow to wake me up; I would look at her from the corner of my eye, close it and continue sleeping. In fact at a point my sister-in-law reported to my mummy that I was still sleeping, Mummy said, leave her; as far as she is here body and soul, she is participating. Exactly on January 3, 2000, we returned to work and I told my colleagues how my mummy spoilt my Christmas.
Shortly, my staff came to announce that there was a client who wanted to see us. I told them to attend to him there; I was not in the mood to receive any client. The staff came back and told me that the client came from England to buy a property. Oh well, let him in, the company needs the money. He walked in and introduced himself and also stated his mission, I told him we are not into properties, but maritime inclined. He insisted that we should get him a property. Instead of buying the property, he bought me and here we are today.