We end the “Lawyer of the Week” interview series for the year 2019 on our chat with Afam Ikeakanam, who is an Associate of Aluko & Oyebode (Business Advisory Practice). Being a double first class degree holder, both from his undergraduate studies and the law school, we talked academics, career and specific practice experiences. Read the full interview below.
Can we meet you?
I am Afam Ikeakanam. I am an associate in the business advisory practice of Aluko & Oyebode. I obtained my Bachelor of Laws degree from University of Ibadan in 2016 and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2018.
You’re a double first-class graduate, both from the University of Ibadan and the Nigerian Law School (NLS). What factors do you feel contributed to these feats?
When I began my academic programmes at the University of Ibadan and the Nigerian Law School, my goal was to have an outstanding academic performance. I knew it would have been mere wishful thinking if I did not have any strategy in place to achieve what I had set for myself.
I believe that while systems and institutions play a significant role in the success story of an individual, the ultimate determinant of an individual’s trajectory is the individual himself. With that belief, I ensured I attended almost all my lectures and I read my course work consistently. I am a stickler for reading once academic work commences so that towards examination, I am not overwhelmed. I also made judicious use of the learning resources in both institutions.
Apart from my self-will and determination, my lecturers and friends also contributed to my academic achievements; they did so by advising, encouraging and challenging me to be the best I could be. My parents contributed to my academic success by providing me with great learning opportunities. This propelled me to go the extra-mile to ensure they get high returns on their investments in me.
Above all, as a Christian, I believe that without the grace of the Almighty God, these feats would not have been possible.
How has your academic achievements impacted your legal career?
This is an interesting question. There has been a lot of argument recently on the importance and relevance of good academic grades in the labour market in the world today. I read the piece authored by Reginald Aziza with the title, “In Defence of Good Academic Grades.” I totally align with his thoughts. If you have not read the piece, I advise you do so.
In my case, my academic achievements have had significant impact on my nascent legal career. They opened doors of employment opportunities. They have given me an edge over my contemporaries and have given me exposure within the legal industry.
If there was anything you could change as a student at undergraduate level and at the NLS, what would that be?
I have no regret from my experiences at the University of Ibadan and at the Nigerian Law School. Looking back, I think there is nothing I would love to change if given another opportunity. I ensured I had a balance between my academic and social life, and extra-curricular activities.
You are a relatively young lawyer. How has the journey been? What should younger lawyers expect from the profession?
The journey so far in my legal career has been a challenging and exciting one. By challenging, I do not mean the journey has been laced with difficulties. By the nature of the practice of the law firm I work with, I have been exposed to market defining transactions. In the course of the journey, I have had to learn, unlearn and relearn, to go the extra mile in any assignment I am working on. I have learnt to be very thorough in research, my command of the English language has improved tremendously, and I’ve become more commercially savvy.
My advice to young wigs is that at this stage of our career, we should be keen to learn. We should be a sponge; soak as much knowledge from the senior lawyers we work with. To achieve these, we should be humble, teachable and be willing to go the extra-mile (which also involves putting in late nights). At the end of day, it will be worth it.
What are your areas of specialization and what factors have influenced the choice?
As I mentioned earlier, I work in the business advisory practice. The work we do is multi-sectoral and involves advising a diverse local and multinational client base. I advise on general corporate law, corporate governance, regulatory compliance, employment and labour, immigration and, oil and gas.
The global financial crisis in 2008 and the failure of certain Nigerian banks piqued my interest in corporate governance and regulatory compliance. The internships I undertook and the programme at the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria reinforced my interest in these areas.
What advise do you have for new wigs and students who are currently looking to practice in the corporate space?
The professional climate has become aggressively competitive. I advise aspiring wigs to give themselves an edge by securing internships. The internships need not be in law firm. For the aspiring wigs, ensure you have good academic grades. They pay off, always. They should also be avid readers; this will help them be ahead of the curve. They should also imbibe the virtues of diligence, humility and integrity. These virtues are invaluable assets in our profession.
Earlier on, the Central Bank of Nigeria introduced a sets of regulations, mandating fees to be paid for certain kinds of bank deposits and withdrawals. As a lawyer, what impact do you feel this would have?
The development was received with mixed feelings by Nigerians. However, it is part of the efforts of the CBN to make our economy less dependent on cash. It is a welcome development to discourage people from handling cash and reducing time spent at the banks.
In as much as this is a forward-thinking initiative, the CBN should have put certain things in place in order to cushion the effects of the policy. It should, in collaboration with the telecommunications and fintech companies, ensure the necessary infrastructure are put in place for seamless implementation of the policy. The CBN should also realise that a significant part of the Nigerian population is unbanked or underbanked, and do not have access to technological services which are the drivers of the cashless policy. The CBN should actively sensitise Nigerians on these policies and their drivers so as to achieve greater financial inclusion.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I would still be in active legal practice and should have are garnered significant experience and carved a niche for myself in corporate governance, regulatory compliance and my other areas of practice.
Any final words as we move into 2020?
I admonish everyone to set clear and smart goals for themselves – professional, family, health, finance, spiritual goals amongst others. The goals should not just be written down in our hearts or in our diaries, we should also have strategic plans to see they are realised. I also want us to be courageous and pursue whatever we desire. Remember that everything you want is on the other side of fear.