Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri is very proud to be a Nigerian. Despite its potential greatness and enormous wealth, my country is still hobbled by economic instability, corruption, decaying infrastructure, and poor macroeconomic management. Of specific significance is the scale and intensity at which these social vices and conditions often lead to human rights violations; further pushing a vast majority of the population into poverty and hopelessness.
Still proudly in my greenly years, I consider myself talented, beautiful, creative, fruitful, dynamic and incurably hopeful of a brighter future. These attributes and many more, are constant reminders of the Nigerian blood flowing and pumping every heartbeat in me. Each heartbeat is distinctive, exuding a mighty force that often propel me into deep reflection and unrelenting contemplation about what I could do to spearhead positive change, build both a better future and a better present for my community, my society and all around me.
Several experiences in my life have contributed to my critical understanding of the need to use my skills, resources and legal education to address human rights abuses. First, growing up in Owerri, Imo State, I saw—without understanding the cause—the effects of unfettered free trade policies advanced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that caused inflation, increased economic distress and indebtedness of African nations. Such policies fuelled unemployment and homelessness as thousands of youths and families from the countryside migrated to the city centers in search of non-existent greener pastures. I saw firsthand, the dire conditions in which the majority of urban dwellers lived when – at the age of sixteen – I visited Lagos to see relatives living in the slums of Ajegunle.
Therefore, I entered law school with a strong desire to become involved with issues of human rights; to demand accountability from local and international actors whose actions or inactions have brought untold hardship, and suffering to urban poor families. Coming to live and work in Lagos several years later, I saw how urban development policies and programs were hijacked and exploited by state and private actors and thereby exacerbating the already substandard living conditions in slum communities. I came to realize that inequality and injustice plagued the system to such an extent that a real solution would require a much larger-scale transformation—one best achieved through legal mechanisms.
Today, I fully recognize that I have a calling to take the law and make it a tool to improve the lives of real people. My purpose is stronger and my determination, unshakeable! My direct involvement in a range of actions – from litigating, organizing and building capacity at the level of communities, to contributing to the development of national, regional and international norms on human rights – has helped expose and address key human rights violations, specifically concerning housing of the urban poor in Nigeria.
I have learnt that overturning decades of human rights abuse within a society may not happen overnight. It requires a sustained effort by people of like minds who believe it is the right thing to do. Perhaps, even more importantly, it requires the attention of a larger community to provide support for those who lack the power to effect the change needed to end the abuse affecting millions of people.
It is on this platform of organizing, campaigning and litigating for social justice that I ground my optimism and hope for a “world (NIGERIA) where everyone can live in a safe home with the promise of a decent life of dignity, good health, safety, happiness and hope”.