Mr Ayodele Oni is a leading lawyer advising Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on oil and gas projects and transactions and partner at Bloomfield Law Practice. He speaks to SEGUN KASALI about his life.
WHEN exactly did you get to where you are in life?
It was a process, but I worked hard using principles I had learnt to speed up the process. I think the beginning of getting here was when I started writing my popular book on the electric power sector. The period of launching my book was the first part. The second part was when I got a consulting role with an international development institution. Hence, I will say, effectively between 2010 and 2013 was the first part of getting here and the second part was around 2016/2017 when I got a consulting role that paid me handsomely. I think my earnings at that time was in two years what I would have earned working in one of the best and highest-paying law firms in Nigeria, if I worked there for 30 years! So, the principles were really impactful.
What were these principles?
I learnt the principles of cause and effect and also learnt the principles of sowing and reaping. I have learnt that if one becomes an expert and becomes amongst the best in one’s profession, it would stand one out and money would always come. This is similar to what the Bible says about standing before kings when one is diligent and an expert at what one does. I also learnt that when one adds value or solves problems, one gets value (especially money, in return). I learnt these principles mostly from my parents and my life coach, Reverend Sam Adeyemi. Like I said, that book liberated me.
What inspired the book?
Whilst doing my masters, I wanted to write my dissertation on electric power but could not find a single textbook written by a Nigerian on the electric power. I only found journals, manuals or articles and not a complete textbook on the electric power sector in Nigeria. I found an opportunity and then kept that to myself, mentioning to only my wife. I then started to write the textbook which became hugely popular amongst, especially lawyers and investment bankers advising on the electric power sector. This put me on a solid stage to taking up the consulting I mentioned earlier but there were twists and turns.
Really, it was quite straightforward. Someone who had belief in my competence introduced me to guys at the international development agency, I was interviewed and got the job. The only challenge was that whilst I loved the job (which was based in Abuja), I did not really like living in Abuja so I came to Lagos almost every other day, so I was spending a lot of money going and coming, Other than that, everything was fine. So, I would say that consulting role was a major breakthrough.
Was it expected?
Yes and no. Yes because when I was writing my book, expected it to be a bestseller, at least, amongst lawyers and I am eternally grateful to Toju Agoro for the tremendous help. It was a huge success and the earnings from there were useful in completing my first house.
Who is Toju Agoro?
She was my very good childhood friend who played an incredible role in helping me put my popular textbook on electric power sector together. She was fantastic and very kind to me. I really do appreciate her incredible help and would never forget same.
Where has this breakthrough placed you?
It has given me some recognition amongst my peers in particular and has made me feel fulfilled. Further, It has made me financially comfortable and also placed me in the first percentile of my key areas of practice. I meant to state that I am amongst the top five lawyers in my areas of practice, at least in my generation or people of my age group. Maybe use of first percentile is not appropriate.
What role has your background played?
I actually did not have a silver spoon upbringing but my parents taught me and my siblings fantastic values of hardwork, honesty, godliness, grit, amongst others. I wouldn’t say I was self-made but that with the help of God and support of great people, I have achieved a measure of success. At some point, growing up, I had dreams and believed I would achieve the height I have now achieved and even more. However, when I started to see serious disappointments, that belief changed.
Serious disappointments like?
Amongst the serious disappointments I got in life was scoring relatively high scores and having nearly all ‘A’s in my senior secondary certificate examination and not getting the course I wanted to study. I gained admission into the university. I wanted but not the course I wanted. I had always wanted to study Law, but got admission to study Creative Arts or English. Another serious disappointment was when I had to leave the school for another, if I wanted to study Law. Another was when I was at the university and seeing my seniors come back to school after leaving and looking poorer than there were in the university system.
What are your memories?
Meeting my wife, getting admission into International School Lagos in University of Lagos (ISL) and getting my first job post-NYSC, are unforgettable memories. I also cannot forget the numerous sacrifices my parents made for me and my siblings throughout our growing up. I attended the Lagos State University and met my wife there and that remains indelible. I also met gents and ladies who are still my friends till this day. It was quite a violent school at that time and every now and then we would hear gunshots and run out of the campus. That’s another image that remains indelible. The foregoing aside, we had an incredible group of lecturers and I excelled.
Can you recall some of these sacrifices?
I went to a very good Catholic private school which school fee wasn’t low at all and I recall my parents at some points selling some of their personal items like generators, television sets, etc to pay our school fees. I am eternally grateful to my parents for their sacrifices and I do my utmost best to take care of then now that I am financially comfortable. My parents gave priority to very good education for me and my siblings and we really cannot forget.
Traits from dad and mum?
I took traits from both parents. Whilst my mom who holds a PhD, was (and still is) more book-smart, my dad was street-smart and I picked traits from both of them. I also learnt value of hardwork, expertise, cause and effect, among other things, from them.
What is your love story?
I met my wife at the university. We were, actually classmates/ coursemates at that time. Asking her out was not easy because she had a group of friends and I thought many of them did not really like me. I looked out for times when her friends were not with her. I started by teaching her and later we became good friends. When I asked her out she was very upset, but I kept at it for nine months until she succumbed. Today, we are happily married with children.
What was the first love word from you to her?
I guess, I told her she was kind and beautiful.
What are her complaints about you?
I work too hard at times and she wishes I spend more time with her and also spend more time with the children too.
Do people take your gentle nature for granted?
Generally, people take me for granted and I like it because it gives me the opportunity to surprise them. That element of surprise is a really good one. Never let people see you coming is a mantra I believe. Let people think they know you or know all about you, then surprise them! I, however, cannot single out a time or event. I don’t get angry easily, actually. What could happen in the extreme is that the anger builds up. Someone would usually have been pissing me off consistently, before I get angry and it could take a small issue to get me upset. I usually won’t just get angry, no matter the circumstance. I think even the Bible says anger really dwells in the bosom of fools.
What is the thing that gives you so much joy in life?
Achieving my goals, solving people’s problems, doing something new and different, travelling and doing fulfilling tasks. I also like cars and driving cars of my choice gives me joy. Recognition too gives me joy. I love to be celebrated just like everyone else.
What do you think is the negative perception of lawyers?
That lawyers have been part of the problems of Nigeria from not being upfront or honest, to taking sides with the wrong people, to seniors not paying juniors well. Those are the negative perception I am aware of. I think lawyers should be more upfront and play less to the gallery. I also think that there may be need to review lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct amongst others and design and implementation process.
My low moments were when my father-in-law died when I almost got a job with Accenture and missed out. Also, when I had to resign from one of the biggest law firms in Nigeria.
What exactly happened with Accenture job?
I was going through a bad patch in life and was overwhelmed, I therefore, could not perform as well as I should during the process.
Why did you resign from one of the biggest law firms?
The firm is still one of the best places to work in Nigeria. I just wanted something different and also wanted to be an entrepreneur and to also travel as many times as I wanted, without having to really explain to anymore. I also wanted to teach part-time as that was something I knew would give me fulfilment in life.
How do you socialize?
I like to watch football with my son and wife and to hang out with my family and friends. I also like to chat with my friends, visit friends and travel after working hard for several weeks. I also like the Sunday evening drive in Lagos in very nice cars—my current favourites being Benz and BMW.
YOU SHOULD NOT MISS THESE HEADLINES FROM NIGERIAN TRIBUNE