“Shaping the contours of human behaviour and providing parity to societal imbalances are some of the uniqueness of law.”- Abayomi Okubote
Abayomi is the Team Lead of the International Arbitration Practice of Olaniwun Ajayi LP – a top-tier law firm in Nigeria. He has garnered over 10 years of experience in dispute resolution and coordinates the Arbitration Practice of the firm. At Olaniwun Ajayi LP, he was part of the teams that represented multinational corporations in high profile commercial disputes and has advised government agencies on several cutting-edge projects in Africa. Beyond leading big-ticket mandates, the Queen’s University Doctoral Candidate and multiple award winner is the prime mover behind several important arbitration initiatives in Africa.
He is the Founder and President of the Association of Young Arbitrators (AYA), Executive Director of the Africa Arbitration Academy, and Managing Editor of the Africa Arbitration Blog. Abayomi is an alumnus of the University College London, Harvard Negotiation Institute, ICC Summer School, and the Paris Arbitration Academy. He has completed secondment programs in the London offices of Baker McKenzie LLP and 4-5 Gray’s Inn.
Abayomi has been appointed by the Nigerian courts and has sat as an arbitrator in several arbitrations in Nigeria. His PhD Project (which is at the stage of completion) has received generous funding from different institutions including the $40,000 scholarship award by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Canada. Abayomi was recently engaged by the Government of Sierra Leone to review the Sierra Leone Arbitration Bill and train Judges in Sierra Leone. He has sat as an arbitrator in several domestic and international arbitrations.
He is a Tutor and Faculty Member at the CIArb Diploma in International Commercial Arbitration Programme at Oxford University and the Lagos Court of Arbitration Training School. He recently led the Team that drafted the widely celebrated Africa Arbitration Academy Protocol on Virtual Hearings in Africa – which has now been adopted by African Arbitral Institutions and African Governments. He is a member of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce International Arbitration Centre (LACIAC) Court of Arbitration. Abayomi has been dubbed “an influencer and future leader of arbitration practice in Africa.” He was recently awarded the Inaugural SGS Award in Leadership, Innovation and Community Engagement by Queen’s University, Canada; nominated as the Young Arbitration Practitioner of the Year in Africa Arbitration Awards in 2019, awarded the 40 under 40 Nigerian Rising Star Award by the Nigerian Legal Award and named one of the 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians in 2019 & 2020 by Avance Media
1. What makes legal practice exciting for him?
He has always been intrigued by the fact that law as an instrument of social engineering has the potency of bringing about positive developments in any human society. It was this fascination that propelled him to study law. From his first day at the Bar, he knew being a lawyer is an extraordinary calling – one that requires innovative solutions to intricate issues.
Working in a top commercial law firm in Nigeria (Olaniwun Ajayi LP), he has had the opportunity of advising multinational corporations and government agencies on several high-profile commercial disputes and cutting-edge projects in Nigeria. In all the practice areas (banking & finance, power & infrastructure, government business, and dispute resolution) that he has worked in, his work’s defining features have been innovation and excellence. Navigating the disparate yet connected fields of dispute resolution and transactional work has been exciting for him. More exciting for him, is the opportunity to work on international arbitration and cross-border disputes.
For Abayomi, one of the attractions to international arbitration is the opportunity to travel and meet a pool of intellectuals from many different cultures and countries. More so, he understands that the transnational nature of the issues and conflicts of laws implicated have always been of great interest to him. He constantly has the feeling of impacting lives at a global level and having positive contributions either as counsel or arbitrator. More so, he knows that clients are continually seeking custom-made solutions to their issues – so acting as counsel, fixing the problem when faced with thorny legal issues, makes the practice of law exciting. Acting as an arbitrator, he finds the attraction in using neutral means of dispute resolution to solve the most complicated yet sensitive dispute between adverse parties. His first arbitration reference in 2015 was love at first sight. Fast forward to now, the opportunity to sit on the same panel as an arbitrator with colleagues from different countries affirms the conviction that he has found his calling in life and cannot ask for more.
2. What is his philosophy of impacting the nation through the practice of the law?
Abayomi cites the wise words of Lewis Powell, Jr., US Supreme Court Justice (ret.),
“equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the façade of the Supreme Court building; it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists… fundamentally, justice should be the same, in substance and availability without regards to economic status.”
He mentions that Justice Powell made this statement during his tenure as the president of the American Bar Association. He is equally convinced that the statement is a demonstrable pointer to the importance of equal access to justice, regardless of parties’ economic status. For him, shaping the contours of human behaviour and providing parity to societal imbalances are some of the uniqueness of law. He admonishes that a practising lawyer must make this ideal a reality by defending the nation’s democracy, upholding the rule of law, promoting the cause of justice, and protecting the citizens’ fundamental human rights.
For him, the law practice allows making someone’s life better and helps those who desperately need it. He understands that the chance to work on life-impacting cases is an exciting adventure and a worthy cause. Abayomi says, “Lawyers must also positively influence policy formulations and contribute to law reforms”. The words of Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams (first indigenous Nigerian lawyer) comes to mind for him,
“A lawyer lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country.”
3. What is the next big thing he is working on?
In 2015, he had a brief stint working with the International Arbitration team at Baker & McKenzie in London during a 3-month secondment program facilitated by the International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA). While working in London, he discovered opportunities from which young practitioners in Africa could benefit. Thereafter, he founded the Association of Young Arbitrators (AYA) – a platform for young members of the arbitration community in Africa to network, develop their knowledge and skills, stay informed about arbitration developments, and get nominated for arbitrations. The establishment of AYA received wide commendations from the international arbitration community, and the association is now the foremost young practitioners’ group in Africa. It has members in more than 20 African countries.
In 2017, under his leadership as the President of AYA, it organized the first Mentoring Program for young arbitration practitioners in Africa. The mentoring program helped provide the transfer of skills to young arbitration practitioners and offered networking opportunities with senior practitioners from around the world. The second mentoring cycle, which started last year (2020), is currently ongoing. Its mentors were drawn from across Africa, America, Europe, and the Middle East.
When he started his PhD program in September 2017, he encountered difficulty accessing data, decisions, and arbitration resources in Africa. This concern propelled him to co-found Africa Arbitration (AA), a one-stop online platform for arbitration resources in all countries across Africa. AA also features the Africa Arbitration Blog, which provides a wide-reaching platform for brilliant arbitration practitioners to project their thoughts on arbitration issues to the international arbitration community. He currently serves as the Managing Editor of the Africa Arbitration Blog.
Given the rising demand for improved expertise and training of arbitration practitioners in Africa, AYA launched the Africa Arbitration Academy in 2019. The Academy program is sponsored by 15 law firms in London and taught by international arbitration experts (academics and practitioners), heads of arbitration institutions, in-house counsel, and judges. The overall objective of the Academy is to provide the much-needed specialised training to arbitration practitioners from Africa and to equip them with the right set of skills to succeed within the international arbitration community. Another Academy diploma programme will hold in October 2021.
For Abayomi, the health and safety concerns, and the travel restrictions imposed by many African countries significantly, affected arbitration hearings in 2020. Being concerned with the African dispute resolution landscape and consistent with its objective of being in the vanguard of policy reforms in Africa, the Academy launched, in April 2020, the Africa Arbitration Academy Protocol on Virtual Hearings in Africa. The International Arbitration Community applauded the launch of the Protocol as innovative, timely, and important. The Protocol continues to draw commendations from stakeholders in the arbitration community for its innovative and custom-made provisions. The Protocol was nominated for the GAR Pandemic Response Award in June 2020 and won the “Innovation in Arbitration” Award at the Africa Arbitration Awards and AfAA Awards in 2020.
He was recently appointed by the Nigerian court to chair an arbitral tribunal over a multi-Billion Naira construction dispute with a 10 Billion Naira underlying asset. More so, he has had his experience sitting in an International Arbitration involving a contractual dispute before an international arbitration in a major arbitral institution in Africa. And recently, the FCT High Court, Abuja appointed him as a Co-arbitrator.
4. What does he consider the millennials greatest strength?
Abayomi has conceived the idea that millennials have several strengths which include, technologically shrewdness, innovation, networking skills, diversity, ambition, and productivity. For him, the greatest of these strengths are tech-savvy shrewdness and innovation.
He understands that millennials are digitally engaged, appreciate the technology that keeps business on-trend. For him, millennials are technological wizards and can train older people how to navigate today’s complex social networks. He thinks millennials have important opinions about cultural trends and can help businesses adapt in a reliable way to those trends. He also thinks millennials are willing to take a risk in finding a new path for themselves. Facing global issues like economic recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, millennials are forced to seek creativity in their decision-making, ideas, and work habits; he also remarks that millennials innovate to solve the problems they face and are not afraid of trying new solutions.
5. Who, in the profession does he look up to, and what is he currently reading?
He looks up to Professor Konyin Ajayi, SAN. Not only because he is the Managing Partner of his firm, but because of his mentorship for many years. Peers often described Prof. Ajayi, SAN as a lawyer’s lawyer and by Chambers & Partners as ‘unarguably one of the best in Nigeria’. Abayomi hopes to reach such a height in the future. In the field of arbitration, he looks up to Professor Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Founding Partner at Zulficar & Partners in Egypt. Prof. Abdel Wahab is such a fantastic mentor and a great blessing to young practitioners in Africa.
He has recently been reading some legendary leaders’ autobiographies – to equip my mind for the next phase – public and political life.
The PALM considers Mr Abayomi Okubote a legal millennial who has shown exceptional radiance in her field of the legal practice.
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