Work-based learning experiences in Strathmore are structured to help a student make career decisions, network with potential employers, select courses of study, and develop job skills relevant to future employment. Through the interaction of work and study experiences, students enhance their academic knowledge, personal development, and professional preparation. Or at least, this is the kind of experience Collins and Verah were enriched with when they began their internship in Obra Legal LLP; a leading law firm in Nigeria.
How it all began
Having received an email advertising an eight-week internship in Nigeria from the director of international partnerships at the Strathmore Law School, Allan Mukuki, both Collins and Verah applied and won the golden opportunity. On 30th April they flew to the Southeastern part of Nigeria, Enugu State, where Obra Legal is located. Grateful for this opportunity, they beam with excitement as they narrate their experiences.
What are some of the challenges you experienced?
Collins: Well, for me, a major challenge we experienced was Covid and the ongoing judicial strike. Unfortunately, when we arrived the courts were on strike. The strike came to be when the judicial arm was clamoring for financial autonomy. Nigeria is a federation therefore the states are not completely autonomous despite having their own chief justices and High Court Rules etc. In this case, when the Budget is set out, it is the state, headed by the governor that decides the distribution of the finance. For this reason, the judicial arm demands full autonomy of its finances once the national budget is approved, instead of going through the states. It is quite a conundrum.
Verah: Other than the aforementioned, the weather in Nigeria was extremely hot and it wasn’t the kind of weather I was used to. Most of the time, the rooms were equipped with air conditioners that would stay on for the better part of the day. Additionally, the language barrier was a major challenge especially for me. Many times, especially while at the office, my colleagues would speak the Igbo language and I had to adjust and learn a few words. English was mostly used only while addressing official matters in the office. This taught me that sometimes in life when you get an opportunity to work outside of your home country, you may need to make painful but necessary adjustments including learning a new language.
What are some of the activities you engaged in given the ongoing strike?
Verah: Obra Legal is a litigation firm which means that they access the court on a regular basis. For this reason, when the strike happened, we faced a major crisis. I would however say that despite this, we were fully engaged throughout the internship. We were drafting legal opinions and pleadings, managing case files and any other activities assigned to us.
Most importantly, we visited some of the most esteemed persons and law schools. We visited the former governor of the Enugu State, Sullivan Chime. He was very cordial and warm as he hosted us. We also visited the current Chief Judge of the Enugu state. We were extremely delighted when she summoned the judges to be present during our meeting. We had a chance to ask questions and even learn the background of the Chief Judge and the history of the state. It was an enriching discussion. We also visited the Attorney General of Enugu state, and we were given a tour of the Ministry of Justice.
In addition, we got an acknowledgement as the interns from Strathmore university during the ECOWAS court sitting. We visited Enugu state university and Godfrey university. The idea was to benchmark and we noticed a few differences when it comes to their school year. While in Kenya, law students spend four years studying law before joining Kenya School of Law for one and a half years, Nigerian law students study for five years then join Nigerian school of law for one year.
Collins: Apart from the aforementioned highlights, my most gratifying desk experience was contributing to a high-profile legal opinion. During my last few days, I had the opportunity to work on a legal opinion for Shell Petroleum. As a young aspiring lawyer, one finds it extremely enriching to be engaged in matters of such magnitude. Furthermore, when the courts resumed during the last few weeks, I had an amazing time.
How would you describe your internship experience?
Verah: This experience has expanded my legal network and offered me the possibility of applying my theoretical knowledge. I hope to practice more of the skills I gained and become an even more avid reader. Additionally, Obra Legal has now become more of a family to me and who knows, one day I might go back and look into practicing law in Nigeria.
Collins: From this experience, I have built and honed practical work experience and skills in law which I will need throughout life. This includes communication skills, decision-making, teamwork, critical thinking and a lot more. As a parting shot, I would say that a major lesson I picked is humility, especially while in a position of power. It was really profound especially to me as I observed the principal partner and how she carried herself in a humble and very respectable manner expressed even more in her demeanor. It was a major challenge to me as a leader. We visited the courts during our last two weeks. The image of a pregnant woman accused of child abuse, her soberness and outflow of emotions when the Attorney General issued her a Nolle Prosequi on her behalf will always remind me of my first day in a Nigerian court.
As we conclude the interview, the conversation ends with an exchange of pleasantries. I immediately said hello in Ibo, “Kedu”. Collins, being a Nigerian native, giggles at my attempt to correctly enunciate the word. Verah responds with “Nne o̱ dinma” having caught on the Nigerian accent, after eight weeks of working in the Obra Legal firm.
This article was written by Briege Mwangi.
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