Nnamdi Anierobi knew he wanted to be a lawyer since he watched Tom Cruise play a suave top-shot lawyer in a movie. He also felt he could use such legal finesse to improve the everyday lives of people.
Nnamdi, 28, gained his law degree from a UK university and rushed back to join one of Nigeria’s elite firms, F.O. Akinrele & Co. in Lagos.
Transitioning from one educational system to another is not without its challenges but this lawyer assures us that he didn’t break a sweat adjusting to the Nigeria system.
In our interview, we find out what it took for Nnamdi to get the hang of Nigerian law. He also shares his views on opportunities for young lawyers looking to practise in Nigeria.
Where did you grow up and attend school?
I grew up predominantly in Warri, Delta State and spent the holidays in my hometown Onitsha. I attended Twin Fountain College in Warri from kindergarten through to my last year in senior secondary school. I went on to study a GCSE course in Lewisham College, London, United Kingdom as an alternative to the A’ Levels. On completing the course, I was accepted to study my LLB Law degree at London South Bank University.
What made you decide to study law?
Despite growing up under an authoritarian regime, I was not of the opinion that people could not speak or be heard. There were several lawyers at the time who were speaking for the voiceless alongside the late Fela Kuti who said his piece against the government through his music. I felt that if only I could help make a difference in some way, then I would have achieved some purpose in life. This seems cliché but I was always intrigued by movies that were based on court proceedings displaying skills of legal knowledge and vocabulary.
Tell us about your favourite films with lawyers in them?
Right off the top of my head, I can think of ‘A Few Good Men’, which is an American drama starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore. In the film, Tom Cruise is a young slick Navy lawyer.
Hit us with three words in any language that we might not have heard?
Dilatory; it means tending to delay or being slow to act.
The second one I can think of is Garnishee. A Garnishee order is a legal procedure by which a creditor can collect what a debtor owes by reaching the debtor’s property when it is in the hands of a third party. As a lawyer you can file for a garnishee order, or represent your client in garnishee proceedings.
The third one is Adumbrate, which means to highlight or summarise.
You studied in the UK. Was it difficult or easy for you to learn the practicalities of the Nigerian legal system?
The Nigerian system is quite similar to the English one so I did not have a major difficulty adapting.
What areas of law did you find most challenging, exciting, different, or downright bizarre?
Every area of law is exciting, and you learn every day. Some of the Acts are bizarre. There is one law under the deployment of petroleum resources that says that the NNPC shall give consent over certain changes within a company’s management.
The Act says that even if these changes take place offshore they must be approved in Nigeria. Of course, there is no definition of what this consent entails. You will have to pay for the consent and you pay it to an official. You can never tell where the money has gone.
What areas of law were a piece of cake for you?
The areas that were easy to grasp were Civil law, Criminal law, Laws of Evidence, Mediation, Contract law and Tort.
How did you get your current job?
During my National Youth Corps Service year in Abuja, I had made up my mind to relocate to Lagos. I moved to Lagos and gave myself a two month deadline to get a job.
I went online to get profiles of the top law firms in Nigeria. I made out a list of those I was attracted to, printed out my curriculum vitae and handed them out to the law firms on my list. I had several tests and interviews at various firms and I now work at the firm which was at the top of my list.
Was it that smooth to get a job?
No, it wasn’t. I had to put just as much effort into every role I applied for and sending so many applications can take its toll on you.
Did you always plan to practice law in Nigeria?
Yes I did. It is only right to practice your skills in your country. For a developing country like Nigeria, skills of all sorts are required to move the country to the next level.
What is your current job title and what are your practice areas?
I am currently an Associate. My practice areas include Transportation, for example shipping; Commercial litigation, Infrastructure, Oil and Gas, Corporate Restructuring and Intellectual Property.
What are some of the highlights of your job?
I enjoy writing legal opinions and giving general case appraisals to our various clients. I also enjoy advising my clients on the pros and cons of their cases.
At the moment, I’m involved in a very exciting shipping case where two separate courts have heard the same matter but have given conflicting judgments. This means that we have to get very creative about how we present the case.
Do you see any areas of growth for new lawyers in the Lagos corporate arena?
Of course! Every day, new light is being shed on various areas of the corporate world which require legal skills – be it in Oil and Gas, Banking and Finance, Corporate Restructuring, Shipping, Arbitration, or Intellectual property.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for the Nigerian legal system?
I believe that the primary challenge with the legal system in Nigeria is the number of frivolous cases filed. As it happens, the system has no way of checking the basis and validity of a case, leaving parties and lawyers alike to institute matters that ought not to be in court in the first place. If there were fines and implications imposed on lawyers for bringing frivolous cases, the lawyers would advise their clients properly as to other means of achieving results to their claim. An alternative to fines could be debarring the lawyer from the Nigerian Bar Association.
Another challenge is the manner in which judges approach their duties. Some of them are appointed from the Ministry of Justice and not interested in making a mark in the system, which causes a delay to the speed with which matters are being disposed with. They see it as the last bus stop to earn a better income.
A further challenge to the system is that there is a lack of technological influence in the system leaving judges to take down notes during a court sitting and writing their rulings and judgments long hand prior to it being typed up.
Are there any interesting tech changes taking place in the courts?
At one time videos were not allowed to be presented as evidence but they are slowly becoming common thanks to the introduction of the Evidence Act of 2011.
You’ve experienced life in two mega cities. What do you find exhilarating about Lagos and what do you find frustrating?
Lagos is a major city full of commercial companies, individual businesses as well as openings for investment. It’s such a populated and lively society and it creates openings for individuals to meet and extend business relationships and associations for all age groups.
If there was one thing to pick as frustrating, it would be the lack of means of transportation. On most days, the traffic on the roads comes to a standstill for several hours delaying individuals from getting to meetings on time and other engagements. The government should be encouraged to focus on infrastructure such as the waterways and railway.
Do you have any advice on how to transition into working in the Nigerian legal system for fellow ‘abroad returnees’?
Everybody has a right to want to stay where they are. One thing people who are currently in Nigeria are aware of, is the fast pace with which the legal system is growing. My advice is to be willing to overlook the fact that Nigeria in general is still a developing country but there is room for growth here.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Definitely married and possibly with a first child. One of my dreams is to visit the Caribbean so I would love to have done that.
With or without the Mrs.?
Of course with the Mrs. I hear you can get cruises from Florida to the Caribbean Islands so that is something I’m looking into.