Credits –

Editor’s note: Interview by Lere Fashola as originally posted on 
Your firm is relatively small in terms of number of
employees or partners yet it leads the pack in most of the highly sophisticated
finance transactions? Is there a deliberate decision to keep it small?
we have no decision to be or not be any particular size in absolute terms. The
decision is to have enough lawyers to be able to service our clients
superlatively in the practices and sectors that we choose to be in at any given
time. We have always had enough lawyers for that. Size is perhaps also relative
to the beholder. With more than 30 lawyers today, there are observers who would
say that we are not small.

You got ISO certification about three years ago and I
suspect you are the only Nigerian law firm with such certification. How did you
come about this and what is its significance?
5 years ago, we thought that it was important to have consistency in the
quality of our service as we were increasing in number. We explored options to
address the issue. ISO 9001:2008 quality management system certification seemed
to us both then and now to be a good way to do so
means that an independent, reputable and proficient observer has rightly
confirmed that we have a quality management system in place with standardized
procedures and processes that ensure that we deliver quality service to our
clients consistently.
You played an active role in the recent Power
Privatisation exercise. How will you assess the exercise and what are some of
the challenges that may likely arise from the exercise?
exercise was a big step forward, but much work still needs to be done. Nigeria
is the first country to have privatized its state-owned electricity assets
fairly comprehensively all at one go rather than in stages spread over several
years. The challenges are well-known. Many of the privatized businesses are
still finding their feet. They do not have enough gas, there are issues with
losses (both technical and commercial), the grid is still weak and a number of
acquirers are very highly leveraged. After nearly two years, the average
consumer still does not get much electric power from the grid.
I have also seen your contributions in some of the most
celebrated M&A deals in Nigeria. What trend can you identify in this area
and how are you helping your clients to mitigate risks?
activity will continue to grow as more opportunities emerge and the stock of
competent managers available becomes deeper and broader. As the Nigerian
economy expands, M&A deal sizes will increase. We help our clients to
mitigate the risks by working with them and their counterparties creatively and
with speed to develop viable deal structures, regulatory support and bespoke
documentation, and do thorough “due diligence” investigations.
You recently joined the ALN which is a network of
lawyers in East Africa. Why the link with EA.
ALN is not “a network of lawyers in East Africa”. It started in East Africa but
has always been pan-African in outlook. It is a network of independent top-tier
African business law firms. Its core features of independence, business and
Africanness resonate very loudly with us. Business across African countries has
been growing and has a huge future. An organization of lawyers that is set to
ride on that growth should be attractive to every lawyer.
Can you give us some general information about your
practice in Nigeria?
main practices are corporate, banking, capital markets, intellectual property,
tax, employment and disputes. We engage in these practices across sectors of
the economy such as electricity, oil-and-gas, financial institutions,
logistics, consumer products, telecommunications media and technology, and real
Who are your clients, and what type of issues do you
help them with?
are an eclectic lot. We have leading global multinationals, continental giants,
state-owned enterprises, leading indigenous groups and start-ups. We do not
have a special preference for either public sector, established or foreign
clients. We are comfortable with anyone who is decent, whose economics makes
sense to us from a fee-charging standpoint and whose work involves our
practices, sectors and issues.
advise and represent our clients on business law deals, fights and questions of
all kinds and sizes, and, if we may say so, revel in the ones that are
creative, complex or critical – ideally, the ones that are at once creative,
complex and critical. We certainly cannot do every kind of work and absolutely
have no wish to.
What are some of the entry-points for businesses who
haven’t worked in Nigeria before but would like to?
that can ride on Nigeria’s demographics – most obviously food and other
“fast-moving consumer goods” — are perhaps the most promising. In the long-run
they are likely to do well regardless of what the political situation may be.
Businesses in regulated industries – for example, financial services,
telecommunications, oil and gas and electricity – are also likely to do well
because the regulators have been working hard to impose discipline on them.
What are some of the key considerations for such a
and creativity are important. In Nigerian business life, it is easy to get
discouraged by early failures and there are often no pre-set practices or
rules. One has to be resilient, and one often has to make the practices and
rules up as one goes along.
To what extent has the involvement of foreign business
investors led to the strengthening of legal institutions in Nigeria?
to a very limited extent; Legal institutions are to a significant degree also
wielders of political power. Their destiny has therefore understandably always
been far more in the hands of Africans than in the hands of non-Africans.
How does corruption affect business interests in
is deeply toxic and discouraging. Lawyers are its biggest victims. It makes
lawyers, and lawyering, irrelevant. Why hire a lawyer or care to go into the
minutiae of law when you can bribe somebody to get to the result that you seek?
How does the difficulty of exit affect investing in
am not sure that there is a difficulty of exiting. The law allows bona fide investors
freely to repatriate their income and their sales proceeds. There is no
guarantee of a favourable exchange rate at the moment of exit, but that is to
be expected and is not truly a difficulty of exit.
What are the sources of liquidity to finance an exit?
Dollars bought from either the Central Bank or the interbank market have been
the usual sources.
Can equity and earnings be easily repatriated to the
investor’s country?
Is Sub-Saharan Africa truly the next emerging market
for investors?
Africa is already emerging and should not be seen as the “next” emerging
market. I do not know enough about opportunities outside Africa to comment on
them with confidence.
What is the effect of the global economic crisis on
Sub-Saharan Africa, and what is its effect on existing portfolio companies and
future opportunities?
crisis has made portfolio investors from the Western world more cautious about
investing in Africa than they would otherwise have been. In my view, the
declines in international commodity prices have been more damaging to
Sub-Saharan Africa than the crisis because they have meant that Government revenues
and access to foreign exchange have both fallen. But neither the crisis nor the
declines has meant that there is any shortage of opportunities. The
opportunities are still there. It is an abundance of those who are willing to
take them that is lacking.
What legal or policy changes would make investing in
Africa more attractive to funding sources?
the most critical changes are more punishment for corruption, more independent
judiciaries, stricter term-limits for rulers and better social services
(especially healthcare, education and transport infrastructure).
What are the most critical organisational and incentive
measures your firm took to ensure that your firm is able to strike a balance
between delivering practice, geography and industry expertise, while
maintaining client focus, high quality work and clear internal accountability?
have stuck to our core practices and sectors and maintained our hiring
policies, diversity and ISO 9001:2008 Certification. We have continually
strengthened our back office and technology, improved the quality of the
training and exposure that we provide, increased wages regularly and promoted
staff. One key point for the future is to do better at communication. We keep
hearing messages about us that are strange, based on a misunderstanding of the
facts or misleading information for example the ones in Q1 (size) and Q5 (ALN)
I believe the strength of any organisation is in the
unity of purpose, but at the same time a diversity of personalities and
disciplines and expertise. With that as a background, in your estimation, who
makes the ideal candidate for your firm?
are drawn to young lawyers who are hardworking, bright, sober and decent.
What can law students do, while students, to ready
themselves for a slot in your firm?
hard, get good exam results, remain sober and always act with decency.
What do you do outside the firm to enrich your life?
friends, history and current affairs.