Movebacktonigeria.com is the fastest growing online community of Nigerian professionals living, studying and working in diaspora. Our primary objective is to connect Nigerian professionals with various opportunities in Nigeria, ranging from recruitment drives to information & support regarding relocation processes and financial & tax advice. We also feature social interest topics such as what’s on, where to live, how-to survival tips and so on. We consistently engage with and feature young Nigerian professionals in our weekly interviews and also regularly publish social interest articles relevant to the general public.
Deji Adegoke is our feature for the week and he is a corporate finance solicitor currently based in London. Whilst he has not made the move back yet, read on for his sound gems regarding working in diaspora, the opportunities inherent in the Nigerian business landscape and the right mindset for moving back.
Let’s begin with introductions: Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Deji Adegoke and I am a corporate finance solicitor in the City of London. My practice covers the entire spectrum of finance: So I have worked on mergers and acquisitions, acquisition financings, re-financings, insolvency and restructurings as well as private equity deals, including advising an international investor on the acquisition of an interest in a large Nigerian bank.
Why did you leave Nigeria?
Although I was born in Nigeria, I left at quite a young age, but given that my family are based between Nigeria and England, I have always been a frequent traveller back and forth and as you will see, my connection with Nigeria played an integral role in my getting a graduate job in the UK.
Can you tell us about your educational background?
I studied law at Warwick University, largely at the urging of my father who noted that if Warwick was good enough for the former head of state then it should be ok for me. Notwithstanding my initial reservations, I had the best three years at Warwick, I made some really very amazing friends who I am still very close to today and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I should add that Warwick has one of the most active African Caribbean Societies (“ACS”) in the UK and a very strong Nigerian alumni. A large number of the Nigerian contingent at Warwick have since moved back to Nigeria after working for a few years in London and have gone on to set up businesses in Nigeria or work at large corporates in Nigeria and so any interested students reading this should bear this in mind when deciding which university to attend.
I was also very strategically focused on getting a graduate job offer prior to graduation when I was at Warwick and employment is something that students should always have at the forefront of their minds, especially given the increased student fees at university. So at the end of my first year at Warwick, I completed short internships at small, high street law firms in London and then travelled to Nigeria to undertake longer internships at several corporate and public institutions, all of which were unpaid and largely obtained through sending copies of my CV out and picking up the phone. In addition to undertaking internships, I was also active in the student body at Warwick. In my second year I was elected president of the ACS and in my third year I was captain of the Warwick basketball team. The purpose of all of these activities, other than being fun, was to show potential employers that I was an “all-rounder” as gone are the days when a 2:1 or even a 1st alone will guarantee you a job. Fortunately, in my second year, I received offers from 4 of the ‘magic circle’ law firms (they are among the ten largest law firms in the world) to undertake internships. At the end of my second year I received and accepted a job offer (a training contract) from one of the law firms that that I had interned with. I graduated from Warwick in 2007 and I then attended BPP law school and completed the City LPC; the professional exam required to be undertaken by solicitors.
What motivated your study of law?
I studied Economics, Law, Government & Politics and English Literature at college and because I really enjoyed economics, my initial inclination was to continue studying it at university. However, I also very much enjoyed studying law and I had always secretly harboured the view that the brightest people in a gathering are inevitably the lawyers (or perhaps that should be the loudest). A key driver for me, above and beyond everything else was that I wanted to be sure of what I would be doing post-graduation. I felt that studying law would provide clarity and focus, whereas if I studied economics I was not sure of what I would do with it because as at that time, banking was not viewed as the all-encompassing panacea that it has subsequently become. I believe I ultimately made the right call as law is a very interesting and rewarding profession and also a good launch pad from which to do other things if one is so inclined. The fact that law has always been recognised as a respectable profession also played in my decision making process.
Pretty much win-win for you then. As a law firm associate in the city, what does your role entail?
As an associate within the finance group my practice covers the full spectrum of any form of debt financing, which is basically anything from, acquisition financing; lending to acquire an asset, to project finance; arranging and negotiating the terms of financing for the construction of infrastructure like roads, bridges or oil and gas pipelines.
Over the past couple of years I have been particularly focused on leveraged finance; lending from banks or other financial institutions and this typically involves negotiating documents and structuring and managing transactions. I probably spend nearly as much time on conference calls, managing people, strategising and structuring deals as I do actually dealing with strict legal issues. Hence, the importance of the point I alluded to above about not just being technically sound but also being an all-rounder in that you are able to get along with others and operate as a team player.
What’s your position on the law practice in Nigeria and would you consider moving back?
The future is Africa and to a large extent Nigeria, and as a proud Nigerian, I would be remiss (and neglecting a competitive advantage) if I did not at least consider the opportunity to move back to Nigeria or develop a practice in London that involves work in Nigeria. I am attempting to develop an Africa practice and so I am constantly in communication with personal contacts, law firms and companies operating in Africa and Nigeria especially. In my view almost every sphere of industry in Nigeria has the potential for tremendous growth and the same applies to law. Increasingly you find UK and US law firms looking for ways that they can access the Nigerian market, either through working for international clients investing in Nigeria or through building stronger ties with Nigerian law firms and corporates. In terms of practising law in Nigeria, I see the Nigerian legal market as one which is growing steadily and becoming increasingly sophisticated but in need of some adjustments in terms of its existing regulations.
What regulations specifically?
For instance, in most countries if you are a Nigerian qualified lawyer and you have been practising law before going to another country, all you need do in order to be able to practice in that country is take a course that runs for a few months at most, whereas in Nigeria, even if one has been practicing law in England for say 20 years, you would still need to go to Nigerian law school, in the same manner as a recently graduated student before being able to practice law in Nigeria. I think that that is the biggest issue that needs to be reviewed especially in light of the governments’ push to encourage diasporans to return. There are understandable reasons for the present policies, given that law is a big employer of labour and regulators are trying to ensure that there will always be opportunities for Nigerian lawyers first and foremost, but we are living in a globalised world and change will come whether one likes it or not. The onus is on the regulators to ensure that they are the masters of their fate and that they harness this opportunity in a way that best benefits Nigeria, rather than having to react as developments overtake them.
Does the thought of NYSC play into your decision to either move back or not?
I believe that this raises issues similar to those relating to the regulations around practicing law. There is scope for greater development in the programme and it should be more nuanced to reflect the fact that not everyone is at the same point in life when they enter the Nigerian workforce, rather than take a one size fits all approach.
Having said the above, do you ultimately plan to move back to Nigeria?
Let’s put it this way, I would be very surprised if I do not at some point in the future either work in Nigeria or have a practice that is centred around Nigeria and Africa. Given the type of work that I do where physical location is almost a secondary consideration, as against, (1) your ability to service clients and, (2) your knowledge of the market; for example, I have been working on a deal for clients in Russia for the past few months and have not stepped a foot in the originating country. As with most things in life, timing and opportunity are key – if there were an opportunity in Nigeria that I believe trumps what I can achieve in the UK then I would undoubtedly consider it. I know first-hand that the quality of life of professionals in Nigeria is comparable to my peers in London, so I would have no qualms about making the leap. For every negative story or obstacle I hear or personally experience in Nigeria, I think of the opportunity that that negative presents and it is these developmental shortcomings in Nigeria that reflect the vast potential that excites ambitious Nigerians. I believe that this is an exciting time for my generation as there is a real groundswell of successful young Nigerians, choosing to return to Nigeria to set up businesses or invest in Nigerian enterprises simply because they realise that the future is now and there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to really make ones mark. I have lots of friends who have moved back or have set up businesses that touch upon Nigeria (a few examples being, the founder of Citychops.com, Meet the Adebanjos TV series, Tamar Aid Foundation, Parthian Partners, dazzlemebooths.com (all, but one, are fellow Warwick Alumni)) and they constantly tell me of their positive experiences.
On a final note, although you do not have immediate plans to move back, what can you say to fellow diasporans who may be in similar positions?
First, I would strongly advise against romanticising the concept of Nigeria. Although I am a strong believer in the future of Nigeria, it is the last place that you want to be down to your last kobo or simply coasting along, the majority of professionals in London are living a very comfortable life and are in fulfilling careers, (as opposed to jobs) and that is not something that should be dismissed casually. There are lots of very smart and hardworking people in Nigeria, so unless you are sure that you are bringing something special to the table I would think carefully about just heading back, you cannot go to Nigeria and try to out-Nigerian a Nigerian.
My second piece of advice would be to surround yourself with successful and enterprising people who are also considering making the move back or who have already done so, learn from them, provide guidance to them and touch base with them and find out how they are finding the experience.
The next piece of advice that I would proffer is not to move back until and unless one has (in an ideal situation) (i) purchased a property in the country that you are living in, after all, you need something tangible to show for your years of hard work in ‘jand’, (ii) evaluated what stage you are at in your present profession, i.e. do you have enough experience (or if not, confidence) that you could autonomously run a team if you moved back to Nigeria? Or if things did not work out, would you have difficulty returning to the international job market?, (iii) I would also urge anyone considering a move back to get a source of income, separate from work before moving; my friends and I put it aptly as before you move back to Nigeria, you must ensure that you have your MYDM, which basically is an acronym for “maintain your dignity money” and lastly for the guys, and maybe some of the young ladies as well, I would suggest that if you have plans to move back home in the next year or so, cut your monthly designer brand purchasing/champagne popping budget in half!
Most importantly, moving back to Nigeria should be for the right reasons, so if you are going there to exploit the weaknesses in the system or to compound the pre-existing negative issues then unfortunately, you are becoming part of the problem. The entire benefit of a ‘diaspora’ is that we are meant to have obtained the best parts of a foreign culture and are able to combine that with the strengths of our own culture and impart that positive experience and learning on people back home.
Our generation has a great opportunity and an even greater responsibility to be the change we seek in Nigeria and to outdo our parents’ generation but we cannot do that if we fail to jettison negative traditions and mind-sets and accept mediocrity.
Thank you for your time and best wishes moving forward.