Nairobi based in-house energy and commercial legal expert Ozim Obasi honed her negotiating skills when she had to convince her father, a pharmacist, that she wanted to become a lawyer.
“Like most African fathers, he mandated his children to study the sciences. I did those subjects at school, knowing that I wanted to study law at university and all the time wondering how I was going to convince him,” she says. However, she did succeed in swaying him, with the support of her mother of course! “I was born in Nigeria….in the military era in the 80s I had childhood memories of the glaring injustices, human rights abuses and social imbalances.
“Law to me was a tool for positive change and nation building….It was my dream and I couldn’t let anything stop me.”
So, in 1998 she graduated with an LLB from the University of Nigeria. Two years later she was admitted to the Nigerian Bar and went on to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales in 2011.
After gaining some valuable practical experience, between 2007 and 2008, she armed herself with a postgraduate degree in Energy Law and Policy from the Centre for Energy, Petroleum, Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP) at the University of Dundee and an MBA in International Business Transactions.
After a couple of years with a law firm, in 2010, she joined GE Oil & Gas - an international industrial service company and one of the world's largest oil field services companies - as regional counsel in charge of its operations in 23 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. With the merger of GE Oil & Gas and Baker Hughes, she currently works as the Geomarket Counsel, East and Central Africa for Baker Hughes, a GE Company.
Her job involves supporting commercial and growth opportunities in the region, especially business development and joint venture/localization initiatives.
“While I am now more of an energy and commercial lawyer, law gives one options and allows one to bring value to the table,” she says.
“What I enjoy most is being able to support my customers to grow their footprints in the region, without compromising on standards. Ethics and compliance are critical in our delivery, as they remain the competitive edge in what we do, to protect our business reputation.”
The “oil and gas” industry is a tough and highly competitive field, however, Ozim loves her job.
“Law is fun and I literally enjoy what I do for a living. I don’t have Monday morning blues. That doesn’t mean though there have not been moments when I felt like quitting and thankfully I had mentors and cheerleaders who gave me the nudge I needed at the right time.
“For example, going in house was not part of my career plan. I was scared to step in the unknown. I wanted to stay in my comfort zone. But everyone encouraged me to take the chance, and, to be honest, that was divinely orchestrated…..I have come to enjoy the world of oil and gas so much today.”
She says some of her most memorable work memories were times when a transaction looked near impossible and time-sensitive, but ultimately worked out…..and others when “we just hit a brick wall and had to suffer the consequences of uncertainties, such as ambiguous legislation”.
Ozim says flexibility - and patience - are key to working in the region.
“One of the biggest hiccups is timely access to information and traveling within the region. Sometimes it is almost as if speed has been frozen and there is nothing you can do to jumpstart it.
“It can take many more hours trying to achieve similar objectives, which take half the time in another part of the world.
“You have to be proactive...plan for delays and be flexible to wait it out.
“Travelling is also not easy. Sometimes you have to leave the continent to go to a country right next door…..flight connectivity and border controls are another issue.
“I tell business players intending to come to Africa to do so - there are ample opportunities. But they must know the country/location. There is no one size fits all.
“You have to be resilient….and, if your comfort means a lot you and you have low tolerance, then Africa may not be for you.”
Ozim also cautions that while Africa is blessed with both human and natural resources , some countries are more investor-friendly than others.
“A critical indicator for me is access to justice and if the dispute resolution process respects international protocols. It would help if more uniform practices are shared and applied to make it easier to do business across the continent.”
Ozim doesn’t consider being a woman a set back.
“Yes, there are challenges to reaching career peaks. But we are seeing more female lawyers rising and holding key leadership positions in both the private and public sectors. Although we may not have gotten to our destination, there is hope that it will only get better.”
Home, she says, is wherever she is at any given time.
“For now it is Nairobi, but I spend a considerable amount of time travelling to and from Lagos, as the bulk of my family and friends live there.
“My adventurous spirit and love for outdoors makes East Africa a delightful place to be…..I come from a very close-knit family and I place a high premium on family and friendship.
“Although the nature of my work can be spontaneous and demanding at the same time, it does also afford me flexibility to spend quality time with family and friends.”
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