Young lawyers often have to undergo a baptism of fire – but few are fortunate enough to land a job with one of their country’s top law professors and future political leaders.
Obidegwu was one of the lucky ones: his first boss was Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who is now the Vice President of Nigeria.
Obidegwu’s association with the future VP began nearly 30 years ago when he walked into the offices of Osinbajo, Kukoyi and Adokpaye, looking for a place to do his mandatory Law School internship. At the time, Prof Osinbajo was serving as Special Assistant to Prince Bola Ajibola, the Attorney-General of the Federation. His Partner then, Mr Dotun Kukoyi held fort while he was away on sabbatical.
Obidegwu, a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, recalls that his new boss was a tough taskmaster: hard-working and demanding – yet also a man who mentored and encouraged the young lawyers he employed.
On November 17, 1993, as the young law intern was about to leave the office after another long day, he ran into his boss in the passage and mentioned in passing that it was his birthday. Osinbajo insisted immediately that they should celebrate, and took him out for drinks and dinner at a top restaurant on Victoria Island.
He remembers this date for at least two reasons. Firstly, his boss offered him personal advice that would help to shape his future legal career. Secondly (though neither man was aware of it till the next morning) it was also the night that General Sani Abacha seized political power in a military coup.
Three decades later - now heading the legal firm of Hermon Barristers & Solicitors - Obidegwu emphasises how vital it is for African lawyers to defend the rule of law.
“Societies can only prosper when there is order – so it is critical to have a strong judiciary and to hold the executive to account. I would like to encourage young lawyers to work collectively to ensure the enforcement of the rule of law as this will make for an orderly society.”
Obidegwu, recently elected to chair the country’s Capital Markets Solicitors’ Association, is also concerned that Nigeria is not moving fast enough to reduce its economic reliance on oil.
He feels Nigeria should do much more to diversify towards modern agriculture, mining, tourism and the IT sector. But to get there, the country will need to improve roads, infrastructure and power supplies to attract more investors – a major challenge when the country’s budget is inadequate.
“An annual budget of US$30 billion for a country with 200 million people is not nearly enough to fund infrastructure backlogs, let alone meet the basic needs of health, education etc. This is why government has to expand our revenue base,” he says.
Obidegwu, a fellow of the Southwestern Institute for International and Comparative Law/Centre for American and International Law, Dallas, Texas, is also an alumnus of the Management Development Programme for Legal Practitioners of the prestigious Lagos Business School.
He is an expert in corporate compliance, regulation matters, banking and investment practices, taxation and intellectual property and has acted as legal adviser and solicitor in several complex and international legal transactions.
Last year, the firm was boosted by the arrival of a new partner: Dr Jerome Okoro, an expert in the fields of energy and taxation who has also handled several high-profile cases and advised multinational clients on intricate tax matters.
Mrs Oluwafunmilayo Iyanda, former editor of the Nigerian Law Times, trial lawyer and an expert in oil and gas industry matters, the media and other corporate issues, was also elevated recently as a partner.
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