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How Political Unrest in Nigeria Pushed Toyota’s Wande Elam Into a Legal Career

Toyota Connected North America's senior counsel describes watching a demonstration becoming violent in grade school.
Wande Elam grew up in Nigeria, where she embraced her culture’s unique celebrations, such as naming ceremonies. She moved to the United States to attend Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, where she met the woman she calls her “American Mom” at a local church. In 2006, after law school in St. Louis, she joined Akin Strauss Hauer & Feld in Dallas. Thirteen years later, she became senior counsel at Toyota Connected. Here, Elam shares how experiencing political unrest in her home country inspired her to pursue a career in law.

“They called it riots, but now that I’m grown, I realize that it was a demonstration. I think it may have started out peacefully, and then it got violent. This was in 1993. The military government said, ‘We’re going to have elections so that we can transition power to civilian democracy.’

“So, they held elections, and this guy won. His name was Moshood Kashimawo Olalekan Abiola. He won the elections, but the military didn’t announce the winner. They announced that the elections had been annulled. He went ahead and declared himself the winner of the presidential elections…There was a lot of unrest at that time. I was still in primary school at the time. I can’t remember the exact date, but I remember the demonstration in the streets getting violent. The police and the military got involved to disperse the crowds. They released tear gas.

“I remember that day, because my dad had to come pick me up from school. My teachers had us hiding under the desks, and I still remember one of my classmates tried to look out the window and got a huge slap on the back, because it wasn’t safe. They gave us cloth, soap, and water to cover our eyes, because of the tear gas. When my dad came and got me, I remember gripping his hand tightly as we walked down the street.

“I can almost still hear the glass under my feet crunching. He had parked a lot further away than he normally did, and I was terrified just walking through, seeing tires that were on fire. It was a chaotic experience, but we made it home safely. Some people did not: Some people were hurt in the streets with the gunshots and things like that that were happening. I still remember that day as kind of a turning point in my mind, because I realized we had to do something differently. Whatever we were doing wasn’t working. I think that was also the day when I started thinking about becoming a lawyer, because I had the sense of, ‘This is not right. What is happening is not right. There should be justice.’”

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