22 Aug 2019

Interview - Suleiman Usman Kuku

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Legal Officer at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in Abuja, Nigeria.

Suleiman Usman KukuTell us a bit about yourself and what attracted you to law?

My name is Suleiman Usman Kuku. I read law and graduated from the University of Jos in 2007 with an upper second class. I then went to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus, where I graduated with an upper second class and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2008.

I started my career at a private law firm, Messrs. Anyia & Co., where I spent four years. I subsequently joined the Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission in November 2011, and since August 2013, I have been working at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as a Legal Officer.

In terms of your career choice, who has had the biggest influence?

Two people played key roles in terms of my career choice. The first was my grandfather, Alhaji Ibrahim Kuku, who insisted that I read law even though I was initially opposed to it. The reason for this was because of the belief - though wrong - when we were kids, that “lawyers are liars”.

The second was my first boss – Bar. Lawrence Anyia – the Principal of Messrs. Anyia & Co., who was our family lawyer. Any time he visited my grandfather, we admired him and his dress sense, even though we still believed that “lawyers were liars” as kids.

What did you learn from your secondment?

During my time in the commercial litigation practice, being supervised by partner Kamal Shah, I came to understand that working in a legal environment/firm is a business. Each employee has a duty to ensure that all of their actions and work are focused towards bringing profitability and value to the organisation.

It was exciting that my secondment coincided with Stephenson Harwood winning ‘Litigation and Dispute Resolution Team of the Year’ at the British Legal Awards 2018, as a result of the team’s outstanding handling of the case of IPCO v. NNPC (a case involving the organisation where I currently work).

What is the greatest achievement, and the biggest challenge, of your career?

The greatest achievement of my career was when the litigation, arbitration and property law department of NNPC were given an automatic promotion by the Board of NNPC, as a result of the success the Corporation achieved in the case of IPCO vs. NNPC, in which Stephenson Harwood was instrumental.

The biggest challenge that I have had to overcome was communication skills, alongside a lot of lawyers in Africa, who also find this a challenge. Without good communication skills, success in the legal sector is almost impossible. I will be forever grateful to Kamal Shah, partner David Lacey and the team at Stephenson Harwood, who exposed me to legal writing skills, legal ethics and other important aspects of the international legal practice.

In the next five or ten years, what do you hope to achieve?

In the next five to ten years, I intend to achieve tremendous progress in my career, as I am sufficiently equipped to withstand the immediate and future challenges. Though the secondment was for a short period of time, Stephenson Harwood has provided me with the necessary tools and exposure to excel in my legal career.

Name one person who inspires you, and why?

The entire Stephenson Harwood team inspired me during the course of the secondment. People were willing to listen to my views, allowing me to express myself, and assisted me with any challenge. The team was hospitable and it was a true reflection of a conducive working environment.

I was particularly inspired by Kamal Shah. He is the embodiment of ‘humility’. Also, David Lacey, who spent time coaching me on the importance of communications skills and who showed me how difficult communication skills can be made easier.

What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers?

My advice to aspiring lawyers is that they should not be shy in identifying to the Stephenson Harwood team the areas they feel they need to work on; this is to ensure the team focus on this area, in addition to the normal coaching process. When I started my secondment, the team was aware that I needed to improve my communication skills, so this was a key focus.

Given Nigeria’s growth in the last 5 years, where do you see the most opportunities for the legal industry?

Nigeria’s growth in the last five years shows there is tremendous growth in the area of international arbitration, more specifically, international arbitration arising from oil and gas transactions; there has also been noticeable growth in the area of taxation law. Another area that may be of interest is project financing, due to the government’s drive towards bringing foreign direct investment into the country to finance massive projects of economic importance in Nigeria. These include revamping the refineries, pipeline projects, gas projects and agriculture, transportation, power sector and infrastracture.

How do you think the legal profession will develop in the next 10 years?

I think the legal profession can only develop in Africa if, and only if, the African continent can ensure the entrenchment of true democracy and adequate security in its countries, to encourage investors into the continent.

When security is guaranteed, businesses will thrive, thereby improving the opportunities for the legal sector to grow.

Furthermore, the world economy in general, and that of the African continent in particular, needs to be constantly developing and improving, because the legal practice can only thrive in an atmosphere of economic prosperity.

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