Journalism in the service of society

Akwa Ibom State: The legal profession and the emerging global economy

By Udom Inoyo

(Being a keynote delivered at the NBA Uyo Branch Week, March 16, 2021)


TWO significant events led to the postponement of this Bar-week, first scheduled for March 2020, but I am happy that we are all here today, and by God’s grace, in good health. For me, it feels surreal that you will still come back to me as your keynote speaker, having known that I retired from ExxonMobil last year and I am now an ordinary citizen. You know, in our society, as opposed to what happens in other climes, people move on once you are no longer in a position of ‘relevance’, and they care less about your expertise. So, thanks for having me here and hopefully, I will have something worthwhile to share.

You have asked that I speak to you on a very important subject, which, if we cut to the chase, is about robust opportunities for lawyers in Akwa Ibom State. I am happy that you appreciate the emerging economic trends in the state, which have already started manifesting in steady and sustainable steps, and would consolidate in the not-too-distant future. I am even happier that you desire to play in that space, and why not? But let me be blunt. No amount of pontification will offer you an opportunity in that space unless you deliberately alter the current trajectory. You must be determined to alter your disposition towards things. You must see the opportunities and embrace them, and by so doing, avoid Helen Keller’s characterization that “the most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.” I will come back to this later.

Before I proceed further, please permit me to make a disclosure, which is that though a lawyer, I did not work in the Legal Department of ExxonMobil through-out my career spanning over 30 years, in Nigeria, the United States of America and Belgium. And I was not embarrassed by that. While I had close interaction with the lawyers and some of the external counsels, it was not my responsibility to make a legal call on matters affecting the company, even if such affected a section of the business where I was the ‘Oga at the top’. However, I can happily report that just being a lawyer offered me an extraordinary view of the business and a unique approach to issues, and this became even more germane when I assumed board responsibilities. I did my best to keep abreast with the law, especially in areas of interest, since I never wanted to be ill-prepared for a discussion with my learned colleagues or to sign-off on a matter that could embarrass me or create legal exposure for the company. But as you know, the law profession is a jealous one and requires meticulous devotion. So, my remarks this morning will reflect my personal work experiences. It will not be steeped in law or wrapped in legalese. I want to be simple and truthful, and with a focus on how you can find opportunities in an emerging economy.

Emerging Global Economy:

While this is not an audience of economists, it is nevertheless important that we put things in perspective. I am sure that you can identify with the major developed economies of the world, notably Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, who, in 1975 (joined by Canada in 1976) announced an intergovernmental economic organization called G7. The economy of these countries is understandably stable, resulting in a focus for growth in other emerging jurisdictions. 

With a focus on ”…a country that is recognized as having a significant GDP growth (as well as a large global contribution to production), an increase in the size of the middle class, and a potential for rapid growth and investment” came the birth of Emerging markets more represented as BRIC- Brazil, Russia, India, and China (John Christy-Emerging Market Economies-The BRIC). These countries now account for roughly 30% of production globally. I am sure we know where China sits today, clearly on top of the ladder!  Other emerging markets include Mexico, South Korea, Colombia, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa.

In late-2005, Goldman Sachs identified the next group of countries to watch, called The Next Eleven or N-11. These were Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey, South Korea, and Vietnam (Justin Kuepper, Next 11 Economies Poised for Growth, updated 2019). As of 2015, Nigeria was assessed as one of the fastest-growing economies by real GDP of 7.3% (Vietnam: 5.6%, Indonesia: 5.5%, Bangladesh: 6.4%, Philippines: 6.3%). I am sure you know our current situation, including the rather interesting news that we have come out of another recession.

Just yesterday, the National Bureau of Statistics gave rather alarming figures on the situation of our unemployment condition. It is a situation worth taking note of. 

I will not be surprised that for many, engaging in a dialogue on an emerging global economy seems a stretch given our current economic realities. But this is not the time to be despondent. Rather, the challenges confronting us should be a reminder of the counsel of Albert Einstein that ”Imagination is more important than knowledge”.  This is an opportune time to think out-of-the-box, and I am happy that some people are already doing so, even here in Uyo. So, let us collectively agree on three things this morning: Imagination! Vision! Drive!  For those of you who enjoy taking holidays in Dubai, I am sure you have seen these operationalized in that city. If not already done, I encourage all of you to read My Vision: Challenges in the Race for Excellence by His Highness, Sheik Mohammed bin Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai which chronicles the journey of turning a regional economic centre into one of international acclaim within a few decades. 

Make no mistake, the economy of the 21st Century has already been defined, largely by technological advancement and only those who adapt quickly to this reality will have a place on the table. This is even more, given the adjustments following the COVID-19 pandemic. Many sectors are already experiencing disruptions on account of new technology. For example, the oil and gas sector is now impacted by big data and analytics, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and edge computing, cloud computing, AI and machine learning, robotics and drones, 5G networks, and collaboration tools. This, therefore, means that in a country like Nigeria, with a huge population, largely youths, but with limited technological advancement, we must buckle up. We need to adjust to the new global trends across all sectors, failing which we would be left behind. Alvin Toffler, an American businessman, was very clear on this when he opined that ”the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. The world will not wait for us.

Lawyers and the Akwa Ibom economy

Since the majority of you are from the state, let me begin by reminding you of the African proverb that ‘Birds sing not because they have answers but because they have songs’. I take pride in being an Akwa Ibom indigene and I am appreciative of the on-going transformation from a predominantly subsistent agro/artisanal state towards a semi-industrial economy with the ambition of becoming industrialized soon. That is if there is no disruption to the existing road-map. Governor Udom Emmanuel’s focus on Infrastructure (including Port development), Tourism and Entertainment (including Aviation), Agro-allied businesses, Information Technology, Education and Health Services, and the promotion of Small, Medium Enterprises (SME’S), etc. must be appreciated for the significant transformations these would bring to the state, including opportunities for human capital development, which is pivotal for any developed economy. There is also a silent revolution going on; creating a positive identity for our people, and ensuring that they take pride in their culture and language, and this should not be taken for granted. Nothing gives me greater joy flying Ibom Air, especially on the Lagos and Abuja routes, than the announcement-”Ukang Nyin, ette ye eka nyin, etok-etok ye akamba, imi di wor ndion”. It sends a powerful message about the state and its people.

We all know that Akwa Ibom State is blessed and its potentials are huge: from its position as a coastal state of the Niger Delta, the fertile rain forest, enviable aquatic splendour, preponderant and largely untapped mineral resources, fortunes of the 13 per cent derivation fund from crude oil production, and most importantly, some of the finest minds who can and are holding their own amongst peers anywhere in the world. But these huge blessings must be properly harnessed for the benefit of everyone.  We must therefore be clear as to what we want as a people, and come together to work for the general good. Always remember that “to the person who does not know where he wants to go there is no favourable wind.” – Seneca

For those of you who are keen watchers of the Cable Network News (CNN), I am sure you have come across The 100 Club, celebrating businesses that have survived a century.  I enjoy watching this program because it reinforces a commonsense approach to personal and organizational success, irrespective of geographical location or race. These are grounded on hard work, diligence, the ability to change and adapt to contemporary realities, and of course, integrity. Unfortunately in our society today, these tenets are unappreciated. It is almost as if doing that which is right is an aberration; and attracting condemnation, as most people now adopt a short-cut approach to success, including, the celebration of various slants of ‘Robbin-hood,’ ‘Pablo Escobar’, or ‘Onno owo nkpo’. It is almost as if there is a truism in the statement that corruption runs Nigeria. 

I have often wondered if anyone gives a hoot about why we have missed the boat. Take the economy for example, do we ask questions about why almost all businesses in our society fail? Has anyone been concerned about why huge amounts of public funds would be committed to a venture and go to waste? How many people recall that there was thriving marine transportation between Calabar and Oron in the 1970s, a distance of about 21 kilometres? Such services are littered all over Europe and most have been operating for decades? What happened to our Qua Steel company, including the Federal Government Aluminum smelter company of Nigeria (ALSCON), the Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company, Oku-Iboku, Qua River Hotel, Eket, Biscuit factory, and Sunshine battery in Ikot Ekpene, Quality Ceramics, Itu, Palmil industries, Abak, Ebughu Fishing terminal, Mbo, etc. Can you imagine where the state’s economy would be today if all these businesses were thriving? Is it not ironic that another company, Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN), which started its operations in this state, just a little over 50 years ago, is still doing well? Or do you think that MPN is doing well because of the expatriate workers? The last time I checked, about 94% of its workers are Nigerians, including the many young talented ones that are manning various offshore platforms worth multi-million dollars. Over a quarter of these employees are also from this state. So, why are they running these complex operations successfully? It comes back to doing things the proper way, based on common tenets of hard work, diligence and integrity. If you want a more sophisticated name, call it global best practice.

Unless we go back to these time-tested principles, we will not have a growing economy and Akwa Ibom State will not be an investor’s destination that we all desire and which the Udom Emmanuel administration has done a lot to position the State in that regard. But the good news is that as members of the Bar, and I must add, Bench, I see the commitment to move this state forward.

 So, what should you be doing?

Dear colleagues, while your wig and gown have taken you this far, you must make some adjustments to play in the emerging economic space. I do recognize that practicing law in the state can be restrictive as most of you are focused mainly on litigation and preparation of legal documents, which, given the slow speed of trials in courts and inability or sometimes, the unwillingness of clients to pay, limit your ability to expand your scope. But that must be altered. You must begin the process of retooling and re-skilling for the opportunities that are nowhere and those that lie ahead. You must expand your knowledge to embrace learnings that are looked-for by a modern economy. Let me give you an example of the inherent opportunities, starting with my familiar oil and gas sector.

As you may know, the oil sector is probably the most regulated anywhere in the world and with these labyrinths of regulations come opportunities for lawyers. For example, lawyers are needed to advise on commercial transactions as well as craft Procurement contracts to avoid disputes down the road. Lawyers are also required to interpret complex technical laws and regulations and apply them in many technical areas of the business, such as Drilling, Operations, Safety, Projects, etc.). Lawyers are also required in various aspects of Relationship Management: that is, company’s Interaction with Operational partners like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation-NNPC (which are governed by agreements), Regulators like Department of Petroleum Resources-DPR, National Content Development Management Board-NCDMB, and other government agencies governed by various statutes. Internally, lawyers must opine on corporate governance issues, application of anti-corruption laws, including those of other jurisdictions such as the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or the UK’s Anti-Bribery Act, as they affect operations in Nigeria and engagement with non-governmental actors-Human and Environmental Right groups.

Lawyers are also needed to interpret the rights of employees under Employment contracts, Collective Bargaining Agreements with the Unions and Labour laws. They also interface on consequences of workplace injury or accident, discrimination and harassment cases, disciplinary actions, and separation for cause. There are also opportunities as Arbitrators.  The list is long, but the good news is that each of these areas provides abundant opportunities for all of you.  A fortnight ago, our state Governor was in Morocco as part of a consortium that signed a $1.4b deal to produce ammonia in Nigeria. Given that this plant will be located in the state, you must vigorously prepare for the above opportunities that I have just enumerated. By extension, there are similar opportunities in almost all sectors of the state’s economy where one can carve a niche for his/herself. 

I do recognize that some work must be done to further a meaningful engagement in some of these areas, and as such will like to partner with the Bar on the following initiatives:

  1. Capacity Building

I have discussed with some colleagues who are interested in rolling out a learning opportunity (physical/virtual) in diverse areas of law and the economy, with the first phase covering the following subjects. This will be expanded as we receive feedback from you.

(I) Project Finance: Barrister Aniekan Ukpanah, Managing Partner, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie

(II) Concepts of Arbitration in Construction Contracts-QS (Barrister Ifeanyi Anago/Mr Tony Ndah, Managing Director, Cost-Link Associates

(III) The place of the judiciary in Infrastructure Development: Ms Imeh Okon, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Infrastructure

(IV) Energy Regulation-Dr. Sam Amadi, Former Chairman, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and Head of Public and International Law department, Baze University, Abuja

(V) Ethics in Legal Practice-Barrister Edo Ukpong, Founding Partner, CLP Legal.

(VI) Aviation Law: Barrister Essien Udom, SAN, Founding Partner, Udom & Udom Law Firm

(VII) Arbitration: Barrister Inam Wilson, Partner, Templars Law Firm

(VIII) Establishing and Running a Legal Practice as a Successful and Sustainable Business: Barrister Ken Etim, Managing Partner, Banwo & Ighodalo Law firm

(IX) Opportunities in the Oil/ Gas and Energy Space: Dr George Akpan, PhD and Professor Lucky Worika, Dean of Law, University of Port Harcourt

(X) Advocacy in Legal Practice-Justice Ifiok Ukanna (Rtd.)

(XI) Analogue to Digital: the making of a 21st-century lawyer in Akwa Ibom state-Basil Udotai Esq., Managing Partner, Technology Advisors LLP.

(XII)Opportunities for lawyers in Sports: Paul Bassey, renowned Sports Journalist, FIFA/CAF Match Commissioner/Instructor on club licensing & SSA TO AKS Governor on Sports.

+Mr. Joe Udofia, CEO Vandrezzer Energy and Patron, Vandrezzer Football Club FC

(XIII)Professional Ethics in Legal Practice (my personal experience): Uko Udom, SAN, Attorney General, Akwa Ibom State

(XIV)Tax Practice: Unveiling the Opportunities, the Challenges and Approach: Oluseye Arowolo, Partner, Tax & Legal, Deloitte & Touche Nigeria

  • Synergy for a sustainable legal practice

You may have noticed that we have identified an opportunity to talk about running a law firm as a successful and sustainable business. As most of you should know, it takes a lot to build a viable business, especially in our clime, so I hope you will take advantage of the knowledge sharing opportunity. However, to make this learning optimal, it may be worthwhile for you to begin to explore merging some of the law offices as opposed to the prevalent practice of everyone running his/her little law firm. Remember, there is strength in unity and prospects in diversity.

  • Structured In-Chambers experience

While personal training is generally good and is encouraged, nothing offers a better opportunity for knowledge transfer than in-chambers experience. Understandably, major legal briefs will always go to law firms with the needed expertise, but it will serve the state better if such government briefs mandate training of an agreed number of young Akwa Ibom lawyers (both from the State’s Ministry of Justice and the general bar). Call it our version of ‘local content’ but it is really about exposing our younger lawyers, practically, to some of these complex cases that they will otherwise not have had the opportunity to engage in. You never can tell, it may spark an indelible desire in them to explore opportunities in such an area. I am sure our esteemed Attorney General will consider this.

  • Opportunities in Ministries, Department, and Agencies (MDAs)

There must be a meaningful engagement of MDAs in the state to unlock opportunities and mitigate exposures. Officials must know the critical importance of engaging a lawyer in the conceptualization of programs/projects and not only when a problem emerges. An opportunity for the NBA leadership to address the state’s Executive Council with regards to the inherent capacity of the Bar to provide value across the spectrum of economic activities in the state should therefore be pursued.

  • Enrollment in the Federal Public Service

I will be remiss in my task today if I fail to mention my observation with regards to the presence of Akwa Ibom people in the Federal Civil Service, and I think the state will benefit from verification of the number and calibre of its indigenes in the respective MDA’s. I know that we have a representative in the Federal Civil Service Commission and hopefully, there is synergy with the State Government on this matter. There must be a deliberate policy to inject our people into the Federal service (and this also includes such agencies as NDDC, NCDMB, etc.), just as I appeal to our young ones to be daring to seek opportunities outside the state. You can compete and win. So go for it!

But let us be clear on the above. The world has changed and only those who can compete in the marketplace will win. So, placing our people in Federal Ministries and Agencies must be done deliberately and credibly otherwise it will not be of much value. We want those who are qualified and can compete with the very best from other states and not those merely favoured by political godfathers.

  • The Judiciary

Any discourse about the state of law practice will be incomplete without a mention of the state of the judiciary. Underscoring this imperative is the established principle requiring the silence of our judges in the face of a myriad of work-related inconveniences: continued use of manual processes, limited resources for speedy research, etc.; hence the need for the intervention of the Bar, government, and the general public. In pitching for improvement in the state of legal practice, the Bar must use its enormous reach and pedigree to support and push for the improvement of the fortunes of our Judges.  Likewise, our respected judges must also be part of this education program so that both parties can row in the same direction of knowledge.


While thanking you again for the opportunity to engage, let me plead that the above recommendations should not be considered as silver-bullet. This is a family and I welcome ideas from all members on how to progress this conversation of creating opportunities for lawyers, especially the young ones. 

Given what I know, and especially His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel’s determination to reconstruct the economy of Akwa Ibom State beyond crude oil, I can assure you that the state’s future is bright. But to benefit, you must be deliberate in reskilling yourselves, including a determination to explore beyond our shores. Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot soar and succeed. It was a dare-to-win mindset that propelled one of us, Mr Paul Usoro, SAN, to be accomplished in the profession, including, becoming the 2018-2020 President of the Nigerian Bar Association.

I am particularly grateful to the senior legal practitioners from the state who are committed to sharing their experiences with the Bar, knowing that this will be the most satisfying legacy of our generation. A lot more people have indicated interest to be part of our recommended knowledge-sharing experience and we will keep broadening the subject of discourse. But you must ensure that this remains on the top burner.

Finally, to the young ones, please remember that “the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it”– J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan. So, never give in to fear. Most of you know me and if there is a central theme to my story, it is the fact that it is possible to get to the top of a career without compromising one’s spiritual values or soiling one’s hands. That could also be your testimony. So rise and push forward.

God bless Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria.

  • Udom Inoyo is former Executive Vice Chairman Exxon Mobil and Advisor, Inoyo Toro Foundation)
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