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'I want to build a bridge'

Last update - Thursday, July 2, 2009, 15:52 By Metro Éireann

KATRIN SCHMIDT meets Winifred Adenike Akerele of Rehoboth Solicitors in Dublin, a woman with a dedication to her community that goes far beyond her remit

Since 2005, Winifred Adenike Akerele – who hails from Nigeria – has operated her practice Rehoboth Solicit-ors in the heart of Dublin, continuing the business she began in her homeland more than two decades ago.
The seed for her success was planted early on, she says: “One day a woman came into my school in Nigeria and said ‘That is a smart looking girl. She would be a good barrister.’ So from that day on I wanted to be a barrister and I was really proud telling everyone ‘I'm going to be a barrister.’”
Akerele made good on her promises, and established a successful business in Nigeria. But continuing her profession in Ireland wasn't easy at first.
“When I came here, I was among the first Nigerian qualified solicitors. But the government said ‘Sorry, we don't have a reciprocal relationship with Nigeria.’ I was very sad and depressed, because I enjoy doing my business – not because of the money, but because I love doing it. It's part of my life.”
Akerele says she spent her first few months busying herself with church and community work. “But then a friend from England called and said: ‘How about you coming to England and doing the exam here?’
“So I went there, did the exam and I passed. I had already done this for so many years in Nigeria, so I had no problem,” she says.
On returning to Dublin, she found great support from the whole community – native Irish included – in starting up her business.
“An Irish friend actually encouraged me so much by saying ‘Don’t worry, you can do it,’” she says. “My Irish friends pushed me beyond my limit. So I enjoy a good relationship with my Irish friends and colleagues. They treat me nice.”
In turn, she wants to give back the support which was given to her. “I came here and have enjoyed the hospitality, so I also want to support the Irish,” she explains. “I want to build a bridge between the countries and take the benefits of our country back to Ireland.
“In terms of economy, there's not much happening here at the moment,” she continues. “Many Irish are coming to me for getting legal advice if they want to start a business in Nigeria, because I'm qualified in Nigeria and because I know what to do and who to contact in Nigeria. I believe that Africa has more to offer Ireland than Ireland has to offer Africa at the moment.”
Akerele doesn't only help people with legal issues – she also provides guidance on an emotional level in her role as a pastor.
“I’ve been a pastor for over 10 years,” she says. “My church is the largest immigrant church in Ireland. So being a pastor, it helps me to reach out to people. I would do anything for them, they're like a family.”
She also gives her time to volunteer at the Free Legal Advice Centre (Flac).
“There are some immigrants who don't know their rights. Many people tell me that they never saw a solicitor. So I give free legal advice at Fingal County Council. I just do my contribution to the society because if you receive something, you should give something back. And it gives me joy.
“But the funny thing is,” she adds, “when people come to get legal advice, they often don't expect a black person. So when they knock on the door they're surprised at first!
“But then they are really friendly and many people even ask for my address,” she says with a smile.

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