Funke Adeoye



Can you briefly overview your legal journey and what inspired you to become a lawyer?  Can you share a pivotal moment or experience that inspired you to pursue a career in law, and what advice do you have for young women aspiring to follow a similar path?

I graduated from University of Benin at age 20 and was called to bar the following year in November 2013. So I have been practicing law for about 11 years now.

My journey to becoming a lawyer started several years ago, as I was motivated to read law after my family had a negative experience with the justice system when I was a child. 

My dad  was arrested, detained, and denied his human rights for a crime he did not commit. He was released after a couple of weeks upon the intervention of a distant relative who was a lawyer. That situation led my family  into a season of penury and made me resolve to become a human rights lawyer. In my final year, I wrote my long essay on "Restorative Justice as a Veritable Tool for Prison Reforms". This research work further opened my eyes to the injustice in Nigeria’s justice system and prepared me for the work I currently do at Hope Behind Bars Africa. 

Post NYSC, I cut my teeth at the Law Firm of Olumide Sofowora SAN Chambers spending 4 years as a associate counsel and general practice. Between 2014 and 2017, while working here, I co-defended 14 indigent men arrested and detained for various felonies. One of them had been extrajudicially killed by the police, and the others had assented to confessional statements which they were oblivious of to avoid being killed. We won the case on merit at the High Court and Court of Appeal. Winning this case was pivotal to my career. 

In 2018, I offically began providing free legal representation to indigent pre-trial detainees and about a year later, my organisation Hope Behind Bars Africa was born. My current work involves representing women and young persons on death row, supporting digital rights and media freedom, providing executive leadership to my team and engaging relevant stakeholders towards reforming Nigeria’s criminal justice system. It also involves engaging international human rights system. 

My advice to young women aspiring to follow a similar path is that there is a lot of room for women in this space. I say this first because when I first started, I was concerned that a lot of work had been done and mine would not be seen. As I get knee deep into the space, I realise that the problems here enormous and we need more women to bring their A-game to provide context-specific solutions to our justice and human rights problems. It is a very demanding space, but it is also very impactful as you are able to immediately touch, feel and hold the impact you will be making on lives and even in the system.

  • Women in the legal profession often face unique challenges. Can you share personal  experiences where you overcame gender-related obstacles in your career, and how did these experiences shape your approach to inclusivity? 


I am a mum of two boys. I started my  organisation  2 months after the birth of my first son and had my second child during the early years of Hope Behind Bars Africa. I could not afford to go on maternity leave at both times and for my second baby, I had to see a therapist months after having him. While I am totally grateful for my kids, I find that men in my space had a faster run than I did. While I was managing kids, supporting the home while building my organisation, I can say that some of my colleagues had it easier which to some extent gave their organisations a faster growth trajectory than mine. This particular experience shapened my approach to inclusivity, as I ensure Hope Behind Bars Africa goes  out of its way to have more women on the team and  insist on creating opportunities to help them thrive, including paid maternity leave, therapy and counselling support as neccesary among others. 

  • How can legal organizations, professional associations, and government bodies collaborate to  create a more inclusive environment for women in the legal profession, both in terms of representation and career advancement? 

I can begin to pen down a list of things to do but the truth is, legal organisations, professional associations and government agencies already know and have a semblance of what to do. More than before, there has been heightened awareness and conversations around gender equity , gender equality and increasing women leadership across all frontieres. Sadly this has not equated into action and our society is bearing the brunt of out inaction. My thoughts are; 

  • We need to move beyond talk and move into the realm of action. 
  • We need to look objectively at what the data says. How has legal organisations, government institutions or professional associations fared when women are at the realm  of leadership or when they are allowed to thrive? Has providing more opportunities for women in different context impacted negatively or positively on work. From my comparative analysis of different countries, when all the obstacles that affect women from moving up the ladder is removed, the society is better for it. 
  • The message of inclusion, women representation or career advancement should not be relegated to our fancy meeting rooms, social media or in professional quarters. It must be emphasised at the grassroots, our communities, where the negative cultural norms begin and exist. The message must go to our religious organisations who are in fact key stakeholders of inclusion.  

  • Reflecting on your career, what legacy do you hope to leave for future generations of women  in the legal profession in Nigeria, and what aspirations do you have for the future of inclusivity in the legal system? 


In reflecting on my career, I aspire to leave a legacy that champions and amplifies the voices of women in the legal profession in Africa particularly those in the human rights and development space. I hope to have contributed to breaking down gender barriers, fostering an environment where women not only have equal opportunities but also feel empowered to excel in all facets of legal practice. My legacy would ideally include a track record of promoting diversity and inclusion through mentorship programs, advocacy for gender-neutral policies, and continuous efforts to address unconscious biases within the legal system. I would aim to be remembered as someone who actively supported the career development of women, creating pathways for them to ascend to leadership positions and contribute significantly to legal discourse and decision-making and I am glad that I am actively on this trajectory. 

  • Balancing professional responsibilities with personal commitments can be challenging. How do  you manage this balance, and do you think flexible work policies can contribute to greater  inclusivity for women in the legal profession?

Work-life integration was the phrase that resonated with me years ago and it is how I like to approach this question as in reality, having that balance is near impossible.  I am learning to blend my professional responsibilities with my personal commitments in a way that allows me to fulfill my obligations based on the order of priority at every given time.  I also have a great support system, my husband, family and caregivers understand the nature of my work and have always come through for me. I am also big on self-care and doing what brings me joy which for me includes indulging myself in faith based activities like prayer and mediation, including my spa dates in my calendar and swimming with my kids. I am also conscious of my exhaustion and burn-out signs and I am always quick to take a break when I see a signal. Recently, I have begun at exclude work calls from the weekends so I can spend more intentional time with my kids and do other things and even though it has not been easy, just saying No to things I would ordinarily say yes to has been helpful.