While the oil and gas sector has traditionally dominated in Nigeria, the mining industry may become a vital new frontier for the country in the coming years, says Williams, a corporate and commercial law expert.
“We were involved in the largest project finance mining transaction in Nigeria last year,” he said, “and we feel that it’s just the start because people are finding that Nigeria is not only blessed with oil and gas, it’s also blessed with solid minerals.”
Those blessings include gold, lead-zinc, tin, tantalum, gemstones and copper.
“There’s a whole lot of minerals undiscovered in Nigeria and people are finally recognising Nigeria could be a mining destination,” said Williams, who in recent years has been growing the commercial expertise and large transaction work at a firm long revered for litigation.
Established in 1943, the firm which was known for decades as Chief Rotimi Williams’ Chambers, has commercial work in its blood, says Williams – it was just overshadowed by the courtroom fame of its founder. “He was the first senior advocate for Nigeria and did a lot of Supreme Court cases,” Williams explained, “but the thing a lot of people didn’t realise is that he also did a lot of commercial transactions. It’s been glossed over because he was so strong in litigation.”
Nowadays FRA Law does a lot of commercial transactions, and it’s an area Williams is looking to strengthen and grow at the firm under his tenure. All counsel are actively engaged in understanding their clients’ industries and undertake numerous training exercises to further develop commercial nous. The firm also plans to host client roundtables and industry events.
Williams says the biggest challenge many businesses face when operating in the region is “understanding the terrain” – grasping the nuances of how Nigeria and West Africa work. He gives the examples of foreign businesses registering a company in Nigeria without realising they also need a business permit, that there are restrictions on foreigners owning land, and the varied local content laws relating to oil and gas which spread across West Africa.
FRA Law takes a client-focused approach, with an in-house programme fostering deep knowledge of each client, and counsel not being required to restrict their expertise to practice areas. This reflects their founder’s belief that lawyers should be able to tackle any legal matters on behalf of their clients. This principle is strengthened by foundational ethics laid down by the previous managing partner, Folarin Williams, which have been “fundamental to the success of the firm and is going to form a solid base for future growth”, said Williams.
That growth may accelerate as FRA Law becomes more vocal about its corporate expertise, along with the opportunities afforded by its membership of the global TerraLex network of over 160 top law firms in more than 100 countries. Williams is currently co-vice chair of Africa and the Middle East for TerraLex, and is on the board of directors.
“Being part of such a large network helps position FRA Law in a place where we can successfully leverage networks to achieve the firm’s objectives of surpassing its legacy as one of the top law firms in Nigeria,” he concluded.
To join Africa Legal's mailing list please click here