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NBA Section on Business Law will be in forefront of happenings in commercial world, says Jemide

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Jemide

Jemide

Early next month, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Section on Buiness Law (SBL) would hold its annual conference. The theme of the conference which will take place in Lagos is: “Regulators as catalysts for Economic growth”. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, the lead partner, Details Commercial Solicitors and the chairman, Conference Planning Committee, Ayuli Jemide elucidates the objective of the conference.

What is the vision and objective of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Section on Buiness Law (SBL) annual conference? This year’s conference has certain key objectives.

First, to have a conference that serves as a foundation for building a long and enduring relationship with regulators, because as SBL, we discovered that we need to get a bit more active in fashioning policies and engaging government and regulators, so that they begin to see us as a veritable institution that they can call on when they need proper advise. We are trying to use this conference to build that relationship.

If you notice from the programme, particularly section one: we have all the key regulators in the house from the CAC, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Shippers Council, CSCS, the capital market, Security and Exchange Commission and a handful of others.

And it is not only to get them in the room, but to achieve a certain objective, which is to have a discussion on the ease of doing business in Nigeria.

That is why we picked regulators I call gateway regulators, people you would always meet at the cut-across sectors. Whether you are coming to Telecommunications or Oil and Gas, there are some key people that you have to deal with. Those are the type of people we are trying to get into the room. Number two objective is that we want to have a very inclusive conference.

The inclusiveness should be slightly higher this time. We want young lawyers to feel much more included in this years conference than ever before.

When you look at the demographics for the SBL, 80 percent or 90 percent of people that are actually on the database are young lawyers.

They have not felt that they really belonged. You will notice that this year’s conference has a lot of activities for young lawyers.

The third objective is to raise the bar of the SBL in terms of its visibility. If you look at the caliber of people that are part and parcel of the SBL, we feel that the SBL should be more of a household name in the commercial world in Nigeria, just the way those in the Civil Society should know someone like late Gani Fawehinmi’s and other names that drive Civil Society.

We want the SBL as an institution to be at the forefront of things happening in the commercial world. So, we try to use this conference to drive the visibility and maintain it. In the last session, we are bringing in John Hawksworth, the Chief Economist of PwC to speak on global economy and where it is going to.

That session, we are going to invite captains of industries. So there are key sessions like that that would drive SBL’s visibility, where people would come and realise that we are not just lawyers; that we are also part of the commercial world and all its trappings and imperatives, which is why also we try to move away from conference that is really legal in content to a conference that is more inclusive in its dialectics.

You won’t come to this conference to learn the A to Z of merger and acqusition, but you may come to this conference to pick up information as to where money will be going to in the next few years, which will then inform your decision as to how to position yourself as a lawyer, knowing that these are the growth sectors over the next five, ten years. So it gives you that strategic information.

What are the assurances that the key industry players would make themselves available for this conference? One of the things we did that has helped us is that we started early.

By February, we have gotten confirmations from these people. The most important thing isn’t that you invited people to a conference and they say they would come. What actually makes them come is that they see the value creation, both for themselves and the larger group of people.

I think that all the people we invited have seen the value creation and have been interested in getting involved in this discussion and being part and parcel of these discourse. We will follow them through.

Because we are in a time where government is changing, we try to stick to people who are tenured in our invitation, so we won’t suffer from sudden shock.

By and large, we would have majority of them in the room. What actually informed your choice of panelists? One thing we tried to avoid this year was the pay-to-speak mentality. In many conferences, you go and ask for sponsorship, they would say, ‘we will give you N1million but you must give us a speaking slot’.

We avoided it this year because we believe that a conference is as good as its content. And its content can only be good if the panelists and those coming to speak acutally know their onions and have something to contribute. So that has helped us; with that freedom given to the conference planning committee, I must commend the council of SBL.

The second thing is: because we wanted to drive an inclusive conference, we also noticed apart from young lawyers, a lot of in-house counsels in the previous conferences have not really been given platforms to feel that they are part and parcel of the SBL.

You will notice that we have done a mix of young lawyers, we have done a mix of in-house counsels and we have also been gender sensitive in terms of male and female members. Having said that, it has always been based on temperament, content and the ability to bring something to the table.

The SBL within this period seems to be favourably disposed towards in-house counsels, who have not got the latitude in the past. What is the reason for this? There are several reason. There is a lot of knowledge with the in-house counsels. A lot of them are specialists.

They have been in the Telecom, manufacturing sector and others. There are things that they understand from experiential knowledge. Secondly, a lot of older in-house counsels are beginning to move from their traditional roles as lawyers to management.

And if you don’t include them at this point in time, there is a likelihood that they might even feel more excluded when they stop manning legal department and get into management functions.

Whether a lawyer is in management in quoted company or not, a lawyer is a lawyer. That is how we view it. So a lot of people you will typically call in-house counsel that are on our programme are not necessarily in-house counsel. There are those who are manning management functions in some of these companies and we thought that we must bring them on board.

Are you going to focus on any global trend this year? This year, the only global trend that would be focused on is China and how Chinese money is coming into the emerging markets.

I think that that is important because a lot of foreign direct investment would be required to plug in the budget deficit as the price of oil is dwindling. And China has a nice way of bringing money into economies and there are always little things they ask for in exchange.

We have gotten one international law firm which has done a lot of such transactions to come and put us through on how those monies come into the economy and what the details are.

You are planning an inclusive conference. What would non-members stand to benefit in particlular? We are acutally encouraging non-members of the SBL to attend the conference because a lot of the sessions are not core law sessions.

They may end up helping lawyers at the end of the day, but they are sessions that anybody doing business in Nigeria may benefit from.

There are session that deals with the ease of doing business, there is one for raising finance for projects in Nigeria, the one for Nigerian content for the service industry, which is of important to anybody in the service industry, to the power sector learning course.

You can sit in the room as a non lawyer and learn a lot. Is there any mechanism to cater for the interest of international participants? This conference has been very inclusive. And the more question you ask me, the more it exposes its inclusiveness.

There are two sessions which we call the international sessions in the programme and those sessions will be manned by international law firms but we agreed on what the topics would be based on – their expertise and knowledge.

What we will do in those sessions is to allow them showcase their knowledge, while we learn from them. The first session is the one I mentioned to you, which is on Chinese lending. It is going to be organised by a law firm known as Norton Rose Fulbright.

Immediately after that, we have a session on power sector learning curves, which would be anchored by Herbert Smith Freehills.

Herbert Smith Freehills worked with a company called CPCS during the privitisation of the distribution companies. So they were engaged by the BPE to help put the framework together.

So both CPCS and Herbert Smith Freehills would be in the room to talk us through the learning curves while they were working on that transaction. So it has an international flavour.

Beyond that, a lot of speakers that we have invited also give this conference that international flavour. At the opening session, we have the Ghanaian minister of trade as the keynote speaker.

Hawksworth would be coming in from UK. We have a lady called Pippa Blakemore who will be running the counsel-counsel roundtable. She is always at the IBA annual conference every year.

She would be coming in from the UK too. We have Prof David Wilkins who would be coming in from Harvard to talk to lawyers about value based pricing.


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