Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal/Justice Community by Ogaga Emoghwanre, Esq.

Ogaga Emoghwanre, Esq: Sexual harassment is a major challenge in our law firms and workplaces which should not be left unaddressed

A Paper Presented at the Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference, held on the 27th Of August, 2019.

The topic for discussion is not novel, however, coming out publicly to discuss same, seems to be a herculean task. Bullying and sexual harassment has become ubiquitous in the legal profession. It is a serious problem that has bedeviled work places all over the world, with severe consequences, most especially for the victims and the law firms.

It is a societal problem that has bedeviled work places,servant and master relationships,senior and junior lawyers,judges and registrars, judges and judges,lawyers and judges and the list is endless all over the world. However, we are going to narrow our discussion to BULLYING AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE LEGAL/ JUSTICE COMMUNITY as it relates to professional working relationships to wit: senior lawyers to young lawyers in court rooms; judges to lawyers in court rooms; judge to judge and colleagues in work places.This paper seeks to examine the prevalence of sexual harassment within the Nigerian legal profession, whether there is need for the victims to be protected and provided with legal structure to confidently report issues of sexual harassment, and whether there is a need for domestic law for the society.

In a recent survey conducted, empirical and descriptive research methods were adopted, 561 Nigerian lawyers were surveyed using a structured questionnaire. Data were collected and analyzed using frequencies, chi-square, chart, regression and correlation analysis[1].

After the survey, the revelations were amazing. It revealed that there is no adequate social structure for addressing sexual harassment and prolonged exposure to sexual harassment has disguised its true effect on the victims. Thus, there is a need for professional regulation to combat sexual harassment among lawyers.

It is instructive we understand the meaning of the term bullying and sexual harassment.


Bullying as an adjective may be defined as noisily domineering; tending to browbeat others, the act of intimidating a weaker person to make them do something they ordinarily wouldn’t want to do.

On the other hand,sexual harassment can be defined as unsolicited, unwelcome and unreciprocated sexual advances from a person to elicit unwanted sexual relationship from another person.In a research carried out by the Obafemi Awolowo University, sexual harassment was defined as any act that includes any inappropriate sexual overture, subtle and unsubtle persistent behaviors, assault and actual sexual abuse.  

Sexual overture may take any form: physical, verbal or non verbal and may involve but not limited to assault, bullying, coercion, discrimination, favouritism (of a sexual nature), exploitation, intimidation, inappropriate or the unwelcome promise of rewards of any kind in exchange for sexual favours[2].

2.2.There are basically two most common forms of Sexual HarrasmentSexual harassment includes: a. Quid pro quo sexual harassment; and b. Hostile environment harassment.

a) Quid pro quo sexual Harassment: This is the more easily recognized or overt form of sexual harassment. In its legal usage, quid pro quo (literal meaning: this for that), indicates the trading of an item or service in return for something of value.  More popularly described as; money for hand,back for ground.

b) Hostile Environment Harassment: This is the more covert form of sexual harassment. It takes the form of unwanted verbal or non-verbal conduct directed at a person.

2.3 What are some examples of sexual harassment?

 a.  When the satisfaction of sexual demand(s) is made the condition for granting benefits, (e.g. appointment, continued employment, promotion, increment in appearance fees, giving out more files by a principal to a female colleague to conduct matters, extra remuneration/rewards, favours, marks, grades, prizes etc) or other decisions regarding an individual.

b.  An unwanted sexual overture is directed at a person such as touching, hugging , sexual remarks about a person’s clothing, body or sexual relations, persistent request for an outing , conversations, jokes about women and sex, stories of a sexual nature , display of sexually suggestive materials in the law firm. Examples include a female colleague fixing her principal’s bib, taking out fabrics from his hair amongst others.

c. When there is an unwelcome and deliberate physical contact of a sexual nature between a principal and his female colleague.Why will a principal hug a female colleague after doing very well in a legal proceedings in court?

d. Doors, windows and other access routes are closed, locked or blocked at official and unofficial places or hours with the intention of sexually harassing a person. That is sexual harassment, it isn’t kind gesture or appreciation for work well done.


a. Bullying and sexual harassment of young lawyers by senior lawyers in our courtrooms are distinguishable. Sexual harassment of young lawyers by senior lawyers isn’t common in our court rooms, that does not mean that it does not exist. However, sexual harassment is common in our law firms. Bullying of young lawyers by senior lawyers is rife within the legal community and the justice sector system. The lashing of senior lawyers by judges trickles down to their juniors in court.

b. Many times, senior lawyers vent their frustrations on their juniors in court, thus creating a cycle of bullying and stress that is rife within the legal profession. Senior lawyers openly insult their juniors in court by verbally bullying them; some go to the extent of physically bullying their juniors by throwing objects at them, pushing them, etc.

These attitudes are generally considered to be highly dehumanizing and destructive.For example, comments like: you can never learn, you are too dull, so you left the Evidence Act in the office, My Lord Sir, this my junior is one of the biggest problems I have, he will never learn. You must leave my office today, in short you are already fired; etc. The effects of bullying of junior lawyers by senior lawyers are devastating and long lasting. There is a popular adage that goes thus: ‘’sticks and stones may break my bones,but words will never hurt me’’, but this isn’t entirely true as words may even do more damage than sticks and stones. Verbal bullying can cause emotional instability and distress.

c. Be you a senior lawyer or a junior lawyer, we all have the same calling, called to the Nigerian Bar, we drink from the same fountain of knowledge, we are ministers, not in church, but ministers in the temple of justice. So therefore, juniors should respect senior colleagues, while seniors should equally treat juniors with respect and fairness.

Note: If our legal system in Nigeria is to remain relevant in the global community, we as lawyers must at all times portray the decorum and the standard the profession recommends.


  1. This question can be answered in either ways, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the principal, being the owner of the law firm, should always be the harasser. It may just be the well-endowed young lawyer that is causing serious havoc in the law firm with her wrong seductive dress sense and body language. Her intentions are known by her attitude and demeanour. She is all out to seduce the Principal, head of chambers or a male colleague. At this point in time, It is the responsibility of the principal to be all eyes in order for him not to fall prey and do away with such juniors.

The harasser may be any person, staff, client, principal, a lawyer or non lawyer and the harassment may take place in any place within or outside the law firm. 

The harasser may be of any gender and the victim does not have to be directly harassed as long as the conduct is sexually offensive and the victim is one of the persons affected by it.


  1. I once experienced and witness sexual harassment between a principal and a junior colleague, I won’t mention names, I witnessed when the young lawyer entered her principal’s office, some minutes later she came out fidgeting and crying,I immediately rushed to her held her, as she cried profusely,I asked what was wrong she said nothing. I pleaded with her to come into my office, she obliged me, immediately,she cried profusely.It took me almost 30 minutes before I could convince her to open up to me. The first thing she said was that: ”He is a beast”. ‘What happened?’ I asked her, she cried loudly and said “he raped me.’’At that moment, I couldn’t hold myself anymore, I shed tears.
  • “I was subjected to torture, and emotional blackmail. I was made to believe I was not good at any other thing than sex. In order to keep my job, I had to dance to the tune of my head of chambers. He could even come to my home at odd hours and I could not say no, all because I wanted to keep my job. When I started refusing his sexual advances, it got so bad that he almost assaulted me. Started picking on me, and ended up giving me an indefinite suspension.”
  • ‘’I know of a friend who resigned from her work place because she has been harassed by her boss and the office is in his house, she was so scared at the fact that if he rapes her or does something worse, that there will be no one to help her.’’
  • ‘’Yes, I was a victim of sexual harassment and my employer sleeps with almost all the employees including the interns. He also creates enmity amidst all employees in order to divide and rule us. I got tired of dancing to his tune since he places the official benefits on the employee’s ability to subject herself to his demands, I revolted by confronting him, then he first suspended me and while the suspension was going on, he directed that I was served with my termination letter at home. A year after, he terminated another colleague because she also got tired of messing with him.’’
  • ‘’I am a victim of sexual harassment, but when it is coming from a superior which is mostly the case, how should I cope with it?’’
  • ‘‘My experience took place years ago, when I was still very young and single. I really had nobody to report to, but a senior colleague and my pastor. Eventually, I was ‘sacked’ by my then boss. If there is a proper framework in place, no young lawyer should have to experience what I went through, which included near rape. Those responsible for strategizing against sexual harassment in the legal profession should see it as a serious calling. Thank you.’’[3]
  • ‘‘A past employer, who is a senior lawyer, pushed his body against mine forcefully and used his hands to rub through my body. After I pushed him and ran away, he started victimizing me at the office. Prior to my resignation, I spoke to him about it and he was gracious enough to listen and apologized. I still resigned.’’[4]
  • ‘’My biggest fear is joining the corporate world because I will or may be sexually harassed. To minimize the chances, I ensure I work with firms that are affiliated with my family. The forms of sexual harassment I have experienced were at the hands of the client(s). since I was working with my family’s firm, it was quickly nipped in the bud.’ [5]
  • ‘‘Most lawyers especially the SAN’s are very, very, guilty of this act and I have been a victim. Please something should seriously be done about this and be done quickly, ASAP! So many junior lawyers suffer from this in silence.’ [6]

10. ‘‘Though I have never been harassed sexually at my work place, mainly because of how I dress and respect myself, a lot of other colleagues- men and women have, particularly by their bosses (male and female). Some of them willingly, some unwillingly.But having a law in Nigeria which punishes offenders will put a lot of men and women in check and give courage to the victims to speak out…’ [7]

Let us not be deceived,these experiences indicate that there is a high occurrence of sexual harassment in the Nigerian legal profession. Among 1000 lawyers surveyed, 42% experienced sexual harassment at work, from suggestive comments to propositioning and unwanted physical contact. Sexual harassment is a perpetual act that demoralises the professional relations in law practice, and what is expected of this noble profession is zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

Regarding the perception of sexual harassment and gender, we found that there is a significant difference in the perception of sexual harassment by gender. The data suggest that female participants perceived sexual harassment more than the male participants.[8]


There is really no well defined or straight line of demarcation between a lawyer and a judge, but of course, the relationship between a judge and a lawyer should be mutual. I strongly believe that we will be going too far or shooting above board if we say that judges and lawyers should not interact. It is the utmost duty of a lawyer to respect the court, in the same vein, the judge should respect a lawyer while in court or outside the court, whether a senior lawyer or a junior lawyer. A judge and a lawyer are like siamese twins, they both drink and feed from the fountain and table of the law.Having said that,the work of a judge is different from that of a lawyer, a judge is not meant to harass or bully any lawyer.

Apart from other imaginable considerations, there are the fundamental and transcendental bonds of affection between a lawyer and a judge, there are friendship and common interests to protect and promote the rule of law arising from our cognate professional origin. Sir William Holdsworth aptly described the relationship of the lawyer and a judge in his book; The History Of The English Law: “As college and universities are separate entities, and yet closely united, so the judges and sergeants on the one hand, and on the other hand the apprentices of the law in their inns, were separate bodies, and yet closely WELDED together by ties of similar education, similar interest and similar pursuits, into one great profession of the law.”

I once witnessed a lawyer raising his voice at a judge and stating that: “My lord I take strong exceptions to those lines of comments against my person, I don’t deserved to be talked to in that manner”. For me, you are harassing and bullying the judge, you don’t address or talk to a judge in that manner, no matter the provocation. A judge should be respected by one and all, particularly from lawyers.

It was published lately, some weeks back, that a judge convicted a young lawyer to prison for contempt, without going into the facts of that matter, I strongly believe that a judge should not use his power to punish for contempt to suppress methods of advocacy, after all, the lawyer and the judge are co- worshipers in the temple of justice.

On this sub topic, the take home for lawyers are clear:

1.A lawyer shall always treat the court with respect, dignity and honour.

2. A lawyer as an officer of the court should not conduct himself in a manner that may obstruct, delay or adversely affect the administration of justice.

3.A truly independent judiciary depends on the intellectual calibre and quality of character of the bar from which the judges are drawn.

Most respectfully for My Lords here present, the take home for my lords are clear. I commit to you My Lords, an address delivered in 1990 at an induction for High Court Judges wherein HON. JUSTICE MOHAMMED BELLO CJN (as he then was) stated inter alia:

“To be fit for the judgment seat, a person shall be of even temper, good manners and should be courteous to persons appearing in court, be they barristers, litigants or witnesses. Patience and ability to listen without unnecessary interference is an essential quality to be sought in a person considered for appointment or promotion to the Bench.”

Like I said earlier, this goes to show that the Bar and the Bench are like siamese twins. The Bar and the Bench form a mighty fortress against the prevention of wrongs and the protection of rights.

Are There Sanctions For Sexual Offenders in Nigeria?

There is no effective policy that sanctions employer/employee of sexual harassment in the workplace or court in Nigeria. Nationally, of the thirty-six (36) States and Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, only Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Lagos State have a precise definition of sexual harassment in the workplace and this applies to only residence of those terrains (ViolenceAgainstPersonsProhibitionAct, 2015). In fact, the Nigerian labour / criminal law has no specific provision for sexual harassment in the work place till date, although there is an on-going Bill (lawPavilion, 2016), to criminalize, prevent, prohibit and redress issues of unwanted sexual misconduct within the tertiary educational institution alone.

But the Third Alteration Act, 2010 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) empowers the National Industrial Court (NICN) to adjudicate on matters of sexual harassment based on the international treaties i.e. (International LabourOrganisation ‘ILO’, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and ‘CEDAW’ conventions & Recommendations) signed, ratified and yet to be domesticated by the National Assembly (EjiekeMaduka v Microsoft Nigeria Limited and 2 Ors 2013)The pioneer case of sexual harassment in Nigeria: EjiekeMaduka v Microsoft Nigeria Limited and 2 Ors, NICN/LA/492/2012 (National Industrial Court, Lagos Division December 19th, 2013); International LabourOrganisation  Discrimination ( Employment and Occupation) Convention 1958 No 111; African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act CAP A9, LFN 2004; United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1979.

This suggests the likely reason the participants experience one form of sexual harassment to the other and the limited reported cases, (about ‘9’ sexual harassment cases have been decided in Nigeria since the NICN’s constitutional empowerment). This probably indicates that the lack of report by the victims is not due to protection of reputation or importance of personal relations and culture, but absence of organisational structure with zero-tolerance for sexual harassment and punitive measures. Past research argues that organisational tolerance of sexual harassment determines response to such issue and the victim’s perception or approach.

This aligns with the open comment of one of the participants; ‘My experience took place years ago, when I was still very young and single. I really had nobody to report to, but a senior colleague and my pastor.(Some of the pastors these days are worst than native doctors, some wont enjoy peace on earth let alone making heaven) Eventually, I was ‘sacked’ by my then boss. If there is a proper framework in place, no young lawyer should have to experience what I went through, which included near rape. Those responsible for strategizing against sexual harassment in the legal profession should see it as a serious calling.’

 Hence, a preventive and reactive measures, ensuring safe and healthy work environment with emphasis on official code of conduct, ethical behaviours, operative complaint channels, monitoring occurrences of sexual harassment, and punishment of policy violators will not only encourage victims to report issue of sexual harassment, but serve as an effective policy that sanctions sexual harassment in the workplace.[9]

This finding is in contrast to previous studies which found that the reason for not reporting was due to fear of double victimization, importance of reputation, and personal relations, lack of courage, fear of disgrace, retaliation etc.

On the second hypothesis, there is a legal platform where victims of sexual harassment violation can seek redress in Nigeria, but our data suggest that it is an inadequate social structure and cannot ensure effective enforcement. To buttress this finding, since the empowerment provisions of section 254C-(1) (f), (g), (h) and section 254C-(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Third Alteration Act, 2010 which conferred jurisdiction upon NICN to adjudicate on sexual harassment matters, and use ratified international treaties to that effect respectively (Aina-Pelemo et al., 2018), very few victims are aware of this jurisdictional power.

So how can the public seek redress when majority of the lawyers are not aware of this fact? The probable reasons for this is; the basis of such power which is on mere guidelines from international treaties: CEDAW and ILO conventions.



Without local legislation nor precise punishment for violators, discretional-based decisions, clear legislations,organizational structure that tolerates zero tolerance on sexual harassment, without all of these in place, I am afraid to say this- sexual harassment will continue in the legal profession. We all need to wake up,employers are not mandated to provide internal policy, no complaint platform other than the NICN, no trainings, workshops, seminars etc., yet the government is believed to have created an avenue to bring cases of sexual harassment before the law[10].We need strong legislations, laws that prosecute sexual harrasers/offenders. Our male and female colleagues have been quiet for too long. The stigma and victimization without enabling laws makes the victims of sexual harassment remain taciturn.

Due to the prevalence of sexual harassment in the legal profession, we need effective laws to punish offenders and harassers. The need for a law prohibiting sexual harassment in the legal profession can never be over emphasized.

The long term solution to sexual harassment in the legal profession should include; mandatory provision of internal official policy in our law firms, amendment of the Legal Practitioners’ Act/Rules to classify sexual harassment as a punishable professional misconduct and setting up a body with a confidential procedure to address issues of sexual harassment in the profession. 

Prevention For Now

 Sexual harassment can be prevented, therefore:

 i) Sexual harassment should not be ignored;

ii) The harassed should be assertive and say “NO”;

iii) Avoid unnecessary visits to your principals office and homes of the opposite sex;

iv)Cultivate appropriate dressing for appropriate occasion(s);                                                          

v)Theharassed should be sensitive to their instincts;                                              

 vi) The harassed should report to appropriate authorities;

 vii) Policies and structures to  prevent and address sexual harassment should be institutionalized; viii) Appropriate sanctions should be meted out to those found culpable;

 ix) Enlightenment campaigns/education should be conducted regularly;

 x) Principals should compliment employees on merit, not appearance. Praise someone’s work, not his or her looks.


This research truly shows that sexual harassment is rife in the Nigerian legal sector. It highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment among the advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. This study found sexual harassment to be a major challenge in our law firms and workplaces which should not be left unaddressed.

If not nationally addressed by the country, it is suggested that it should be urgently addressed professionally; by classifying such deviant act as a professional misconduct that is punishable under the Legal Practitioners Act, Chapter 207, LFN. Rules of Professional Conduct, 2007. 

These Rules should expressly prohibit lawyers from sexually harassing their colleagues just like the United Kingdom1, Canada2, and USA that prohibits and provides tackling guides on sexual harassment for all chambers to further protect and better help the lawyers defend themselves as well as others. Although, behavioural patterns or social misconduct of some lawyers might be difficult to tame, because of their manipulative act and ability to maximise the loop holes in Rules. However, categorization of sexual harassment as a professional misconduct with provision of punitive measures will be a good start and further create fear of being disbarred from the profession in the lawyers.

Individually and collectively, we can eradicate sexual harassment from this profession, victims should learn to build their evidence, speak to friends or colleagues or report to higher authority and others.

Also listening, being patient and not blaming victims of sexual harassment, not asking where have you been for over 16years? Why now? You enjoyed it then,why complaining now? These questions and remarks should stop, not asking these questions and making such remarks, will help support their confidence in speaking out. With emphasis, enacting a national law or prohibiting sexual harassment might not totally eradicate sexual harassment from the profession, but it will undoubtedly put a check and provide means of seeking redress for victims, which practically prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace.

So, the mere empowerment of the NICN to adjudicate on issues of sexual harassment is inadequate and cannot fill the lacuna of local legislations with the prevalence of sexual harassment in the legal profession. We therefore say, it does appear that there is not only a need for legal protection of the Nigerian legal professionals from sexual harassment in the profession, but there is also an urgent need for a comprehensive local legislation with clarity and explicit procedures for prevention, management, and protection of employees in employment, educational institutions and training workshops against sexual harassment in our law firms.

Conclusively, I crave the indulgence of my Lords here Present, most respectfully Sirs, learned silks and senior members of the Bar, may we please be on our feet. I plead with us most sincerely, in the finest traditions of the Bar and the judicial oath taken by every judge here present.

May we raise our right hands and undertake to curb sexual harassment personally before any local legislationis passed for the prevention and punishment of bullying and sexual harassment in our legal and Justice community. Say this after me:

‘’ I ……..your name….. do solemnly swear/affirm that I will be faithful and pledge true allegiance to my calling, as a minister in the temple of justice. That I will discharge my duties and perform my functions honestly without bullying and sexually harassing any of my colleague in our legal/justice community: that I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct, so help me God.’’

Finally, If our legal system in Nigeria is to remain relevant in the global community we as lawyers must at all times portray the decorum and the standard the profession recommends.

Thank You.

[1]Adetutu Deborah Aina Palemo, Sexual Harassment in the Work Place: Case Study of the Nigerian Legal Sector, Vol 86, 2019 ISSN 2224-324-/JLPG (online)

[2]Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy for Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Nigeria, December, 2010.







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