Lindork’s Lists – Q&A #34: Dr. Ubaka Ogbogu
Note: this is the public version of my email newsletter Q&A that gets sent to paid subscriber inboxes first every other Sunday. You can get these Q&As in your inbox first by becoming a paid subscriber.
Originally published to newsletter subscribers on August 15, 2022
The 34th person I’m profiling in my Q&A series for paid newsletter subscribers is:
Dr. Ubaka Ogbogu, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Alberta
Getting to know Dr. Ubaka Ogbogu (he/him):
Dr. Ubaka Ogbogu is a University of Alberta law professor who I first started following during the pandemic. It was during this time, which coincided with the murder of George Floyd, the disastrous UCP government in Alberta, and the ‘so-called societal reckoning with anti-Black racism,’ that Dr. Ogbogu says were all matters that either affected him as a Black person or concerned him in both professional and personal terms and led to a “strong pull towards sharing my professional knowledge on some of these matters, and my personal views on others,” he says. I’m so glad he did. I think Alberta is better for it.
In addition to sharing knowledge around his professional areas of expertise, which includes health law and science policy, Dr. Ogbogu, 48, posts a lot on topics he says he simply cannot ignore, “such as anti-Black racism, transphobia, homophobia, or corruption.” I love following Dr. Ogbogu and am grateful he did this Q&A.
Learn more about Dr. Ogbogu below, and follow him on Twitter.
Let’s Dive Into the Q&A with Dr. Ogbogu:
Can you talk about the work you do as a law professor? What type of law do you teach? How long have you been a lawyer + how long have you been teaching law?
My work involves three main responsibilities: teaching, research, and service. I often get asked what I do when I’m not teaching. I think some in the public think that is all University professors do. Couldn’t be further from the truth.
I perform these three responsibilities throughout the year, with teaching (in the classroom) being the only aspect that I actually take a break from during the spring/summer terms. But even in the “off-season”, I have to develop and update lesson plans, so all aspects are year-round activities.
I teach tort law (which deals mainly with compensation for personal injury and property damage) and courses in health law and science policy. I became a lawyer in 1999 – I’m actually called to the bar in Nigeria (my first call) and Alberta. I have been teaching law since 2000 (my first teaching job was at the Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria). I started teaching law at the University of Alberta in 2011.
Can you talk about how you use social media to post about not only topics like law, health and science, but also politics, policing, and anti-racism. I started following you because of the latter topics—how did these end up being topics you shared publicly online—and why do you use your online platform to talk about these issues?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m very passionate about knowledge dissemination. I joined Twitter in 2011 and I’m a big fan of the app. I think it’s a great way of connecting and interacting with the general public. It is also very useful tool for sharing my research and for learning about what other people know and think. It’s really unfortunate that it is now increasingly a source of misinformation, disinformation and harassment, but in its early days, it was really revolutionary in terms of interactivity, connecting people to the culture, and being a sounding board for ideas and opinion. It still is, but the dark spectre of misinformation and bullying now hangs over it.
My Twitter use intensified with the murder of George Floyd, which coincided with the pandemic, the disastrous UCP government in Alberta, and the so-called societal reckoning with anti-Black racism. These are all matters that either affect me as a Black person or concern me in both professional and personal terms. I felt a strong pull towards sharing my professional knowledge on some of these matters, and my personal views on others.
I started using Twitter as a blog, to document my thoughts in this very challenging period for humanity. It’s been an interesting experience so far, with many positive as well as negative highlights. I have really enjoyed meeting new people through Twitter, including many I have never met in person. Makes the world feel so much smaller, which I like.
I have a humorous side (I find humour in nearly everything), and with the ongoing pandemic, Twitter has become an outlet for the jokes I would normally inflict on my friends, who I no longer hang out with as regularly as I used to.
Can you share a memorable moment or ‘successes’ in your career / life?
Nothing tops meeting my wife and my two daughters. Those are three very special moments. I met my wife in Edmonton—we were introduced by friends when I moved here in 2002. Our first daughter was born in Toronto during my doctoral studies, and the second in Edmonton four years later. Truly, nothing else I have done or achieved in life compares.
I’ll mention one other special moment. It’s actually recent and I haven’t really had a chance to celebrate it properly because of the pandemic. In July of this year (2022), I became the first Black person ever promoted to the rank of Professor in the history of the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta. Of course, what made it special—being the first—is also what makes it a somewhat depressing reality about how far we are from being an inclusive society.
I’m saving up to buy myself a really nice watch to commemorate. But there’s also an epic party to be had when I can safely convene one.
Can you share a challenging moment, obstacles or failure in your career / life? And perhaps what you learned from it or how you overcame it?
I haven’t had many negative moments or failures in my career (or life for that matter). Much of the negative moments are things that I managed to shake off (such as getting racist phone calls for speaking out against the UCP government’s policies). I feel silly labelling many of the things that have happened to me as challenging because I actually consider myself to be very fortunate compared to many others.
However, I grew up poor and had many real challenges as a result. In many ways, making it to where I’m today was never in the cards, and I have many people in my life and an educational system (in Nigeria) that was mostly free to thank for that.
If I had to commit to one moment, there was a period of time in my life when I was houseless. It was after I finished law school and I moved to the city of Port Harcourt in Nigeria to try and find a job. That period taught me a lot about precarity. I could of course have gone back to live with my parents in the village, but there was no chance of getting a job there. The experience opened my eyes to how much our lives depend on employment, and the many myths surrounding that.
We are often told a job is the key to social mobility and stability, but what if you don’t have or can’t find one? And for many who have one, they still find themselves in precarious circumstances. I learned from the experience that certain basic necessities, including housing, should be things we collectively (as a society) seek to provide for everyone.
Can you talk about perhaps a common misconception about or something that might be surprising for people to learn about lawyers, teaching law, the law in general?
I think most people imagine that most lawyers are wealthy and live glamorous lives. People always tell me about how outlandish legal fees are and how that must mean lawyers make a lot of money.
While that is perhaps true for TV/movie lawyers, and some lawyers in real life, a sizeable portion, especially in the early years, are really just middle income earners (and in some cases, dangerously close to low considering heavy workloads and heavy student debt).
This mix of workload, debt and so so income can create a ton of unhappiness for newcomers to the profession. Lawyers also run their own business and have to work really hard to keep their businesses afloat. You also have lawyers who work in legal aid and other forms of low income legal services, who don’t make a lot of money.
Can you talk about any highlights or memorable moments you’ve experienced on Twitter specifically?
Blocking Piers Morgan. He doesn’t know about it of course, but it gave me a great deal of joy. On a happier note, I really loved and appreciated the #BlackinAcademia movement that began during the recent societal reckoning with anti-Black racism. It was a way to share my experiences of, and learn about other Black academics’ experiences of anti-Black racism in academic settings. It wasn’t always a fun hashtag to read or follow because many of the accounts were upsetting and triggering, but it also felt good to be part of a community that was reacting in real-time to a cultural event, as well as bringing awareness to the many challenges that racialized peoples face in academia.
I love how candid, honest, to the point you are on social media. I know a lot of people would be worried about what they can or can’t say or should or shouldn’t say online, often for fear of repercussions from work in particular. Do you have that worry? Does that ever cross your mind? Do you have advice for others around that (not being afraid to speak out on important issues?)
Thanks. I try to be honest and candid. Of course, as an academic, it’s part of my job to speak clearly and bravely about societal issues. My job comes with special protections for that privilege in the form of tenure and the principle of academic freedom. Both allow me to share my professional work and opinion without fear of repercussions. It is not an absolute privilege—I do have to keep my opinions respectful and free of hate speech and misinformation. To be honest, I don’t know how much I’d stick my neck out without these protections. I do have a rebellious side, but I also try not to be reckless in communicating my feelings or navigating life generally.
I think there is a fine balance one can strike between bravery and reckless disregard for your job, safety, life, etc., and my advice is to do that using tools like humour, satire and facts. For me, this balance shifts towards bravery where the issue is one I simply cannot ignore, such as anti-Black racism, transphobia, homophobia, or corruption.
If I cannot live with myself to remain silent, then I will speak, consequences be damned.
Can you share advice for others who might be interested in becoming a lawyer?
Don’t. Hahaha. But seriously, the only advice I have is to go for it. It’s a terrific profession made up of people who have one head just like you. If they can do it, you can!
Can you tell me about your hobbies! What do you do for fun?
I have many! I enjoy hanging out with family and friends, music, theatre, poetry, food and drink, fashion, sports (football – soccer, not the other kind and basketball mainly) and travelling. My top hobby is probably collecting—watches and shoes mainly. When I was younger and poorer, I collected lists. I’d listen to the radio all day and make lists of all songs played on the radio. This was in the era before radio went online. I have always loved collecting things. I don’t hoard though—I collect until I can’t afford the expense or storage space, then I move on. I also give away some of what I collected, although there are some things I’m emotionally attached to.
Wrapping up our Q&A:
What show would you recommend people watch on Netflix?
Seinfeld. Because it makes you laugh no matter how many times you’ve watched it. Game of Thrones, because it’s a spectacle and quite frankly, a masterpiece. I’m really looking forward to catching up on the second season of Physical on Apple TV. I also like weird Australian comedy shows like Rake (Prime) and Frayed (Apple). There are so many great shows it feels overwhelming to recommend just a few.
Is there a book or podcast you recently read (or doesn’t have to be recent) that you would recommend to others and why?
Covered With Night: A Story Of Murder And Indigenous Justice In Early America. This is a fascinating historical account of the differences between Indigenous and settler justice in early America. It’s a book that really helps the reader understand the roots of the carceral system we see in settler societies today, and why it’s focus on punishment and retribution is not only inconsistent with Indigenous justice, but with true healing and reconciliation.
What is a fav local restaurant or store you’d recommend?
I love food so I’m going to go with a restaurant. Gaya Korean Restaurant on the U of A campus is my pick. Amazing family run restaurant that serves home cooking at decent prices.
What’s something about Alberta you love or recommend others check out?
I’m staying local for this one. Edmonton’s river valley and trail system is unmatched. Go check it out.
Thanks Dr. Ogbogu, for sharing your story!
You can connect with Dr. Ogbogu on:
Got a suggestion for an Interesting Person I should Interview?
Subscribe for More!
As a paid subscriber you’ll receive a weekly email on Wednesday with my curated recommendations on Things To Do, Eat, and Know Each Week, access to giveaways, and more content, plus an exclusive “Q&A with…” every other Sunday.
As a free subscriber you’ll receive the weekly Wednesday email!
(You’ll get the option to subscribe for free or select a paid plan)