Move Back to Nigeria is a new series on BellaNaija. The aim is to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the brilliant team at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap. The idea is to share their successes and their challenges as they made the decision.
A lot of Nigerians in the diaspora have questions about making a change at home in Nigeria. Many suggest really good ideas on how to make things better; others would like to contribute to making a difference back home but are just not sure where to begin.
We feature a UK-based lawyer this week. Banke Adeyemo gives her refreshing & candid take on the study and practice of transactional law in the UK, her plans to work in Nigeria and other emerging markets and her tips for people considering making a life or career change. We hope you enjoy it.
Let’s start with introductions: What’s your name and what do you do?
My name is Banke Adeyemo and I’m a lawyer. I practice corporate securities law and have been living and working in London for the past 3 years. I have a serious travel bug and London is the perfect city to jet off from.
When did you originally leave Nigeria and why?
I lived in and out of Nigeria growing up but finally moved away in 2000 to attend university in the US.
Right. Tell us about your educational background.
I studied Computer Science at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania for my undergrad, after which I worked for a couple of years to save up enough to study for my law degree at Georgetown University Law Centre.
Did you start working immediately afterwards?
It’s quite interesting how my career kicked off as I started university during the height of the tech bubble and then watched all the computer science jobs disappear during my degree. Shortly after, 9/11 happened, so it was a really tough time for non-US nationals and computer science graduates without Masters degrees to get jobs. However, as I had always wanted to study law, I decided to apply for a job at Georgetown University using my computer science degree and whilst I was there, I was accepted at the law centre and worked full time throughout the course. I didn’t have a perfectly well planned cookie cutter life. I didn’t go to any of the top 10 schools anywhere but I believe that every step I took was the grace of God putting me in the right place at the right time despite what the news, financial climate, intelligent and experienced associates foretold. Till this day, people ask me why anyone would move from the US to England, I am convinced that it’s all part of a grand plan.
It can be argued that computer science is a far cry from law, how did you end up from the first field of study to the next?
I studied computer science because I wanted to do a degree that I could work with, without needing to get a Masters. I planned to pay for law school myself and so I just wanted a degree I could get a job with and save up enough for law school. Computer science was the most practical degree at the time. Law however, is what I have always wanted to study. My grandfather was a lawyer and it seemed to my young mind, like the grandest job in the world. I love the work that I do and even in my job now, you can see that the lawyers always position themselves as the smartest people in the room which is a throwback to the grandeur I’ve always associated with the practice of law.
Why then, did you move to the UK after your law degree?
I moved to the UK for strategic reasons. I intend to focus my practice on emerging markets including the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa, particularly Nigeria at some point in the future but a US law degree is not the most useful one for that purpose without relevant, supporting work experience. I knew that the law I would be doing in the UK would be more international and outward facing, providing the kind of emerging market transactions that I would need. More importantly, the UK is still the financial capital of the world and also more international in terms of the deals and transactions and so I thought the UK work experience would definitely prove beneficial.
Moving to a new country particularly for work, can be daunting. How did you find the transition process?
I actually got a job in the UK before I moved over, so that pretty much smoothed the process for me somewhat. In US law schools, the schools pre-arrange a series of interviews for the students by getting interested firms to come to the school. I, for instance interviewed with about 26 firms, with any firms interested in you giving you a call back which could potentially lead to an offer. After you interview and get a call back, you receive an offer for a summer internship for 3 months after which you may or may not be asked to return for a full time position. Whilst I knew I wanted to come to England, it was not guaranteed, hence my decision to do as many diverse interviews as possible. Interestingly, my firm was forced to lay off a large number of employees at the height of the global financial crisis shortly before I started my summer internship. So in 2009, I did the 3 month internship and in 2010, I moved to the UK permanently.
So you applied for a job in the UK and subsequently moved to take up the position. What does your work involve on a day to day basis and what has the experience of living in London been like for you?
I try not to compare both countries because I think once you move to a new country, one of the easiest ways to get frustrated is by comparing your previous and present locations. I really like living in London as it’s a really fun city, very easy to move around in and there is always something fun and interesting to do. In terms of socialising, London can be a difficult place to crack into because everyone already has their group of friends and people aren’t as friendly as in America but I was lucky. As soon as I moved here, a few very old and very dear friends absorbed me into their social circles and that has made things a lot more interesting. Also, having both a US expat social group and the ever present Nigerian crowd has been a plus because they both provide a ready-made group of people with whom you already have a ton of stuff in common.
My work on the other hand is quite challenging. It is mainly focused on New York securities law and most of my deals are transactions for companies that want to list securities in Europe and sell a portion of those securities in the US. The bulk of my work involves reviewing or drafting prospectuses, reviewing or drafting transaction documents, negotiating auditor comfort letters and arrangement letters and conducting due diligence for clients about to proceed with transactions. Sometimes I’ll have trainings on different aspects of my job as well. It involves a lot of documentation basically seeing as it’s transactional law. In all, I consider the job a service job: If my client has a want and need, we do our best to meet those needs. Lawyers essentially help everybody else to meet their goals or fulfill their dreams.
In essence, if you want to start a company, or you want to get married, or you even want to end a marriage, or you want to get out of jail or defend yourself against an allegation, lawyers help you achieve whatever it is within the parameters of the law.
I certainly can’t disagree with that. You previously stated that one of your reasons for moving to the UK is the ease of accessing the Nigerian practice because of your UK experience. Does this mean you intend to move back to Nigeria at some point?
Yes, the experience of practicing law in London will stand me in a better stead for a move to Nigeria if that happens, but there’s no definite plan right now in that regard as I prefer to keep my options open. One thing I know I definitely want to do is to help Nigerian companies access the international capital markets in any way possible. I do not yet know what exactly my role will be in that but I would love to be involved in the Nigerian capital markets and help them in raising money, particularly the kind of money you cannot really raise in Nigeria alone but by accessing UK and US investors. I’m not sure if that would entail me moving to Nigeria but I’m very open to various possibilities. I think Nigeria is a huge up and coming market with lots of potential. Unfortunately, the big issues of unstable power and lack of security persist. If those issues are solved, I’ll move back in a heartbeat.
This certainly makes sense. However, despite you not having an immediate plan to move back, is there any scenario where you would be open to it even with the current infrastructural issues you’ve just mentioned?
The lack of stable power is something that can be managed but in the current state of affairs where there is no security, I do not think I can move back. I certainly recognize that people deal with situations in different ways but this is something I feel quite strongly about. What I have heard referred to as the ‘Colombia-nization of Nigeria’, which is the recent sudden rise of kidnapping of private individuals is not positive and the government needs to do more to protect its citizens of threats of that kind. It’s nice to be able to have a certain amount of confidence in one’s environment so as to thrive and not just survive.
On a final note, what would you say to other young professionals and also people considering moving across borders as you’ve done?
Be prepared, be practical and have faith.
Be Prepared: My number one tip would be that in law school or any other kind of school, grades are everything. So work as hard as you can and get the best grades you can in preparation for the job market.
Be Practical: Second tip is to preferably try to have a job or at least something lined up before moving to a new city or country. It’s really tough in the current global climate so ‘winging it’ is not the wisest move and that particularly applies for people considering moving back to Nigeria. Nigeria is obviously not the sort of place one just moves to without adequate planning and preparation.
Have Faith: Believe in God and believe in yourself. My final tip is a general one and it is that, no matter what it is you want to do in life, it is never too late. So even if it’s a big career change, going back to school, ending a bad situation, turning that idea into a start-up, taking a gap year, or a move to a new city, a new country or a new continent. Waiting around for the best time is really just wasting time, if you really want to do something, just get up now and do it.
Thanks for your time and best wishes moving forward.
Photo Credit: dreamstime.com
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