Donna Ogunnaike-Obaseki’s two-decade long career had been a whirlwind of brokering deals for different companies and clients, drafting agreements, mediating and negotiating multi-million dollar deals in the Nigerian oil and gas industry, but her path changed in 2020 due to personal circumstances.
As a former partner at the prestigious Nigerian law firm Dentons-ACAS Law, with enviable rankings and global acknowledgement in the oil and gas sector, Donna led a team of lawyers as well as the firm’s business development unit, but after leaving the firm and relocating to the United Kingdom, she took up the role as general counsel (GC) at a start-up company.
According to the lawyer, she resigned from Dentons-ACAS Law after her husband passed away, and in 2021 she moved to the UK as an Exceptional Talent and Artist Migrant based on her sub-career in arts and poetry. However, she was not ready to completely forgo her legal career.
“Before I moved here, I wrote to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Professional Ethics Advisory Board to understand what I am allowed to do as a non-UK qualified lawyer. I was given a number of options which included consultancy. To work as a solicitor, I would need to do the qualifying exams which might take up to 18 months,” she explained.
Donna took the consultancy route as she was not emotionally or physically ready to take exams. However, just when she was busy making life-changing decisions, she got a phone call about joining a Nigeria-focused oil & gas company which would allow her to work remotely. A short time as GC in that company then led to her current role as GC at Chappal Energy Mauritius Limited (CEM), an oil and gas startup headquartered in Mauritius. The decision to go in-house, she noted, was well timed because she wanted to be part of a company’s growth.
“I wanted to be focused. I wanted to be a part of one thing and grow with it through its successes. I had gotten to a point in my career where I was tired of only being a midwife, supporting the beginning of something, and never the mother, nurturing it to maturity,” she told Africa Legal.
Reflecting on her journey one year into the role, she said she knows she made the right decision. “With CEM I feel quite liberated. It was a coincidence that brought about equilibrium and joy.”
Unlike in her previous job as external counsel, the bulk of the direction now comes from within as GC. “The weight of your position (as GC) becomes very apparent quickly,” Donna commented.
On thriving in an in-house role, she advises lawyers who find themselves in her shoes to acknowledge that they are being leaned on for direction and should trust the journey that led them to that position. “You are probably more capable than you realise, if you would respectfully acknowledge the weight but also trust in your capabilities – both are key to leading a company right.”
Donna also highlighted the importance of collaborative teamwork. “I quickly learnt to embrace the support of other team members; I am blessed to work within a team of extremely hardworking and multi-skilled people within the company’s management. I am particularly grateful for the support of Nneka Wood whose expertise in corporate finance law has proved invaluable.”
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