This week on the Loretta Reveals motivational space, the excitement of the team is palpable. Why? It is because it seems we have been able to solve what first appeared to be a jigsaw puzzle of some sort! It appears we have found the links between Lipsticks, Laptops and Professors!
Have you ever thought that, “I do not look the part for xyz?” Does what society think of you or your work sometimes become a stumbling block to your passion, talent or interests? Have you been a victim of stereotyping? Or profiling? Have you been guilty of stereotyping or profiling others? It does not really matter whether or not you belong to any of these groups. What truly matters is your ability and capacity to break any real or perceived barriers, and remain focused on your way to progress and success.
Our guest feature for this week is an example of how breaking barriers and pushing positive boundaries can become a lifestyle.
With a well-known name in health law, international human rights and policy, particularly within the Global South and sub Saharan Africa, this individual’s academic works have enhanced and profiled advanced legal research in human rights, gender equity, reproductive health and leadership development of women throughout the continent. We hope you enjoy this week’s dose of Loretta Reveal’s motivational fuel.
I come from a middle class academic Nigerian family. My mother was a secondary school teacher for many years, who eventually ended up as vice principal and principal of Federal Government Colleges in Benin, Sagamu, Warri and Onitsha. My father is a Professor of Mathematics and I grew up in university environments throughout my childhood and formative years. My siblings and I were exposed to books, and we developed a culture of reading and studying quite early. There were no social media, tweets, blogs or computer games at the time! We had access to educative resources for children such as encyclopaedias, cartoons, novels and bestsellers. There were frequent family and school trips to the library, zoo and theatre to watch plays and drama. This exposure positively affected our diction, grammar and prose. My mother, in particular, instilled in us a love for the arts and music. She also ensured we went to the best Federal Government Colleges at the time. I attended Federal Government Girls’ College Benin.
My favourite subjects were literature and biology. My parents, especially my father, subtly nudged me towards the medical sciences, however, after a couple of years, I changed my course of study from dentistry to law. It was a radical shift, but surprisingly, I did well with little effort! I believe that my exposure and capacity in the sciences and arts in high school enabled me successfully apply myself to legal studies and research at the university.
I graduated from the University of Benin and the Nigerian Law School, and then served with the Ministry of Justice in Benin City. After my service year, I got a lecturing appointment with my Alma Mata, the Faculty of Law at the University of Benin. Subsequently, I proceeded to the University of Lagos for my Masters in Law.
My Interest in Health Law
After my Master’s degree, I became increasingly interested in health issues, especially the negotiation of law with health and gender. Again, I think my science background greatly influenced this interest. At the time, legal research in health, especially reproductive health, was still in it’s infancy, and the legal and human rights linkages with health and gender were largely unexplored by legal academics and professionals. Health law research, particularly in African legal scholarship, was almost non-existent. I started writing and publishing in related areas and almost immediately started getting invitations to speak at conferences and courses outside Nigeria.
When I started my doctoral research in Reproductive Health Law at the University of Lagos in 2003, I encountered challenges in the acceptance of my research area because of the unfamiliar gendered terrain of the topic! At the time, many of my Nigerian colleagues were cynical, and believed that my work was all about women’s rights! However, I persevered and remained focused and completed my doctorate in 2009. My dissertation was very highly acclaimed and positively rated by the School of Post Graduate Studies as ‘an appreciable mastery of the area of study and a clear exposition of the concepts of rights in Nigeria’. Subsequently, my thesis was sent by the University of Lagos for external assessment by the Nigerian Universities Commission. In 2012, it emerged as the best Doctoral Thesis in Law by a candidate from a Nigerian university and won the prestigious Nigerian Universities Commission NUDTAS award. I arrived from the University of Heidelberg in Germany where I was participating at a conference, to receive the national award at an impressive ceremony organised by the NUC in May 2012. A law dissertation had not received this award in eight years. That national award marked an obvious highlight in my academic career. The best part was that many professional colleagues in the academia came to appreciate and recognise the advanced legal analysis that informs discourses in reproductive health and rights.
After my PhD, I continued to travel and speak on gender issues, particularly reproductive health and law issues in sub Saharan Africa. A year after my award, I published a text on Reproductive Health Law for postgraduate research. Subsequently, I designed and launched a Masters of Law course in Reproductive Health Law that has remained, till date, one of the more popular postgraduate courses at the faculty of law, University of Benin. Surprisingly, this postgraduate class is made up of a large number of men, not just women! That has been very encouraging, and goes to show male appreciation of the multidimensional issues that accompanies studies around health, law and gender. Many colleagues have also started researching and collaborating in these areas, and I have mentored and refereed a number of younger academic staff in recent times, especially for conference attendances outside the country. Some of my postgraduate students are undertaking doctoral studies in related areas of research in University of Benin and elsewhere. All this has been quite exciting and encouraging for me, considering that reproductive health law is a relatively new area of study and legal research in Nigerian universities. In fact, my faculty was the first faculty to offer the postgraduate course on Reproductive Health Law within the Nigerian University System. Hitherto, the course had not been taught in any university in Nigeria.
I received my Professorial Chair in Health Law from the University of Benin in 2014, just short of my 50th birthday! Two years earlier, I had been invited as visiting Professor at the IISL at Onati in Spain. But the Nigerian Professorship at the University of Benin where I started my academic career was the icing on the cake! As a younger lecturer, I had set a realistic, practical target for myself, which was to be a full Professor of law before I was 50! I’m very thankful to God that I narrowly made it!
As a woman, mother, wife and professional, it obviously hasn’t been easy to combine all the roles. Particularly in our environment! It has taken the grace and love of God to succeed and thrive in all the aspects of my life. I can truly and honestly say that God has been my corner stone, my way maker. I have received Grace in uncommon situations. He has located me even when everything points to the contrary. I have been celebrated in my modest achievements because of His favour. He has provided destiny helpers along the way; a loving nuclear and extended family, supportive children who have pushed me to my limits! I’ve often joked that if I didn’t have the kind of children I have, I may not have been that ambitious! My kids have literally been the wind beneath my sails. As young as they were when I travelled very often, they spurred me on. My parents, siblings and husband also have huge impacts in my life. Without their support, it would have been very difficult.
I always say to younger women who are juggling roles at home and at the workplace; work hard and cultivate a support network. The latter may be immediate family, friends or even colleagues. Wherever you find help or support in your work, harness it and work as hard as you can. Women are built for strength and resilience. Trust me – we often don’t know how strong we are until we need to be that strong! Our environment is often ‘unfriendly’ to women who are striving to excel or succeed in their careers, especially when they are married with young children. Often, we are subtly ‘discouraged’ from trying too hard ‘to be like men!’ We are often told to remember that ‘we are women’! Thankfully, the tide is changing, and the society is gradually becoming more accepting of women entrepreneurs and professionals in all sectors of society. Many women have broken the glass ceilings for the rest to scramble through! However, there’s still a lot to be done, still a lot to achieve. For me, success has meant hard work, a dogged determination to succeed and reach the zenith of my career, and last, but definitely not the least, the constant presence of a loving God throughout the journey.
We hope it is clear by now, why the LR crew was so excited about Professor Nkoli. This woman, on first encounter, could be mistaken for a runway model, with only her beauty being the passport to success! However, she has proven to observers that beauty and brains sometimes do go together, and that intelligence and gorgeous looks can be found in the same woman! She exemplifies determination and resilience in her chosen career path. It is a story of success and favour; a story of hard work and grace; a story of a woman’s impact in university research and scholarship.
It has been so refreshing to learn about a professional who understands her status as a role model, and can indeed connect the dots between ‘laptops and lipsticks’, as she aptly titled her presentation at last year’s African Women in Leadership Conference in Lagos.
Do drop us a comment or two on this write up, and tell us what you think about this motivational lady and law Professor.
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