The opening of a separate London office by leading Nigerian firm Olaniwun Ajayi in late 2021 was “something quite monumental” that will likely pave the way for other African firms to follow, says corporate finance expert Juanita Derex-Briggs.
“I’m very excited for the future,” said Derex-Briggs, who worked for global firm White & Case and had been shortlisted for the “Rising Star” honour at the IFLR Women in Business Law Awards, before Olaniwun Ajayi changed the legal landscape. “It’s opened up doors to show that African firms and African-born lawyers are just as good at doing the big international deals as the other international law firms.”
Last September, Derex-Briggs joined Olaniwun Ajayi’s London office as a senior associate.
Born in Nigeria and raised there and in Kenya and Malawi, before studying law and qualifying in the UK, Derex-Briggs began her career with a passion for emerging markets, particularly Africa. With 70-80% of her practice already in that area, she leapt at the opportunity to join an African firm that was changing the landscape.
“I’d worked alongside Olaniwun Ajayi on a number of deals and was impressed. It was the first time I’d seen an African firm do what they did, and it aligned with my vision and career goals. I’ve come from one of the world’s top firms, and I’ve seen the value Olaniwun Ajayi provides to clients and the synergy between offices in Lagos, London and now Douala.”
In her practice at Olaniwun Ajayi’s London office, Derex-Briggs says she’s particularly enjoyed advising development finance institutions (DFIs) on projects that have sustainability elements in various jurisdictions on the African continent. “It’s interesting to see the shift towards more sustainable projects, even within the oil and gas space now, compared to when I started my career, which wasn’t very long ago.”
Derex-Briggs says DFIs are instrumental in providing opportunities and helping projects appeal to other investors. “I think they’ll keep playing an important role in our biggest projects,” she commented.
The accomplished lawyer recently learned that one of the deals she’s worked on since joining Olaniwun Ajayi was shortlisted for Deal of the Year at the Energy Council’s annual Awards of Excellence. The deal involved Pan-African DFI Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) acquiring Aker Energy and its 50% share in the $2 billion Pecan deepwater oilfield off Ghana.
“AFC’s aim is to address Africa’s energy deficits and sustainably develop natural resources, so I found that interesting because it ticks so many of the boxes for me as to why I do law in the first place,” explained Derex-Briggs. “Another key deal was BUA Cement’s half-billion-dollar plant expansion in northwest Nigeria, because $500-million is a lot to raise in this climate, and the transaction was regionally significant, focused on addressing local unemployment.”
Successfully closing African deals has been a thrill for Derex-Briggs since her legal career began. “With more experience, I now understand the impact of my deals and the importance of certain transactions right from the beginning. I also like knowing I played a small role in some pivotal projects that make a difference in my home country and surrounding region,” she concluded.
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