Faith, in-house legal counsel for Guinness Nigeria, was recently named Senior Corporate Counsel of the Year at the Africa Legal Awards in Johannesburg. Twice before she had won the Guinness Nigeria “Making A Difference” award in recognition of her outstanding performance and contributions to the company.
How have you developed your legal career working for a global brand?
I joined Guinness Nigeria Plc (a Diageo Company) as the Assistant Company Secretary. I did this for nearly three years before moving to the legal department. I was also appointed Assistant Company Secretary of Diageo Brands Nigeria Limited in December 2012. Corporate governance is an important aspect of corporate culture and is at the heart of leading a successful business. In my view, to be a well-rounded in-house counsel, you need corporate governance and compliance experience. So, starting my in-house experience with company secretarial, corporate governance and regulatory compliance in a large, listed company was the foundation of my in-house career.
In my current role, as Commercial Legal Manager (a position I have held for four years), I combine corporate governance, regulatory compliance and stakeholder management with core legal work which includes providing legal guidance and support across the business among other responsibilities. It has been an exciting journey, intellectually challenging with opportunities for learning and discovery every day. My work has also taken me to different parts of Nigeria and the world.
What are the recurring challenges you face?
I would say it is the multiplicity of taxes and sometimes conflicting regulations on a particular area or issue. With the increased drive for generation of non-oil revenue by the Nigerian government, in-house counsels will find themselves increasingly dealing with multiple demand notices from the local, state and the federal government and overlapping tax assessments.
Regulatory compliance is a big area of focus for an in-house counsel, especially in a listed company. You need to constantly and pro-actively keep abreast of relevant laws and regulations per local government and state in which your organisation operates. You are then able to identify the demands that are lawful and the ones that are outside the scope of the powers vested by law or enabling statutes of the issuing regulatory agency/body.
What role can in-house lawyers play in the development of Nigeria?
For in-house lawyers providing the necessary input and advice in shaping business ethics is the heart of corporate governance. We act as gatekeepers in promoting sound corporate governance within organisations. This is important to protect stakeholders, maintain investor confidence and ultimately attract much needed foreign direct investment to Nigeria.
On a general level, lawyers play a key role in shaping the development of law in Nigeria. In particular the Nigerian Bar Association should continue to work closely with law-makers at the state and federal levels in making input in legislation. They can also pro-actively identify positive trends in the world that can be legislated in Nigeria and which will contribute to the development of the economy.
What are your ambitions for Nigeria?
I want to see Nigeria to continue to be the biggest economy in Africa. It must have consistent GDP growth, reduction in unemployment and a free and fair general election in 2019. Our leaders must understand the issues facing the country and work to transform the economy and health care system. There also needs to be less reliance on oil revenues.
A big part of your career has been as an in-house Counsel. Why did you take this route?
Initially I wanted to have a brief stint in litigation and arbitration practice as I believe a solid foundation in litigation is important for a successful in-house counsel career.
I started out at the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, which provided a superb foundation in criminal litigation, then moved on to the litigation and arbitration section of Aluko & Oyebode, a top tier law firm in Nigeria before moving in-house. So, I developed a fine balance of criminal litigation experience and corporate/commercial law practice with clients from different sectors to move in-house.
At university I had participated in debates and moot court competitions – for instance I represented the university at the 15th & 16th editions of the African Human Rights Moot Court Competition held in Ethiopia and Senegal respectively. I also represented the university at the 48th and 49th Philip Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, in Washington DC in 2007 and 2008. These experiences prepared me for legal practice, from the perspective of researching and writing legal briefs and making arguments in court.
Where did you study?
I attended the University of Ilorin in Kwara State (300kms north-east of Lagos) and graduated in 2008 with a prize from the Department of Public Law. I then attended the Abuja campus of the Nigerian Law School achieving 1st class honours.
Do you have people in your life who mentored you?
My father, Rev. Arc. Oluwatunbi ignited my passion for law at an early age. He is an architect, writer and preacher. He inspired me, coached and supported me through-out my education. He always tells me “the people who excel do not have two heads”. I owe a lot to him and my mother.
Barrister Obiorah Umeh inspired my interest in public speaking. I did a brief internship in his law firm during the holidays between my first and second year.
My internship in the law firm of Barrister Gbenga Ojo taught me soft skills around inter-personal relationship with co-workers, striking the right balance between family and career as well as finding and pursuing what you are passionate about outside work.
An internship for aspiring lawyers and law students exposes you to the tenets of the legal profession with no pressures as to billable hours (earning fees for the firm) or earning a fee for yourself; so you learn in the purest and most sincere form and you pick up skills that become very useful later in your career.
Where were you born and raised?
I grew up in Lagos in a very religious family. My parents are pastors (and founders of an evangelical church in Nigeria). So I grew up with love, knowledge of God and strict discipline. I understood the importance of giving back and showing love because, as a pastor and leader my mum always identified a family in need in our immediate community and who we loved and supported. We almost always had guests in the house that we had to care for and share our things with. This instilled the values of love and appreciation in me – and knowing that there is nothing you have that has not been given to you by God.
Outside of work, what do you enjoy?
I enjoy aerobics, I have a mini-gym at home and I always try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. I love spending time with my husband and children and I also enjoy travelling.
I am passionate about the moral, social and educational development of teenagers and I support the work of Blessing Liberty Foundation International, a non-governmental organization in Nigeria committed to this cause. I deliver motivational talks, coaching and counselling to teenagers. I also teach the teenagers Bible Sunday School class in my local church.
Faith Adesua’s tips for young women coming into law.
1) Be consistent in everything you do. Identify what you are passionate about and, once you are clear on your career path, gather the skills you require and strive for excellence.
2) Remember life is a journey and career development is equally a journey and your career growth and development is in your hands. So whatever you do, make sure you add value to yourself, build your skills and increase your knowledge. Opportunities meet preparedness.
3) Don’t do the work for the reward, do it for yourself because you have a desire to excel irrespective of whether you get recognition. Recognition will come sometimes when and where you least expect.
4) Trust and believe in God and constantly commit your ways to Him and He will direct your path. Remember, life is not a competition, everyone is on their own journey so always resist the temptation to compare yourself with your peers. We all grow and develop at a different pace, the important thing is that you are growing and developing yourself and you keep forging ahead towards your destination.
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