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On June 6, for the first time in its more than 30-year history, The Legal 500 hosted an exclusive summit for in-house counsel in West Africa. In partnership with Miyetti Law, more than 70 corporate counsel from across Nigeria convened at The George Hotel in Lagos, to consider contemporary issues for Nigerian counsel as well as the broader picture for business and foreign investment.

The discussions at the event and the subsequent networking made one thing clear: the unique challenges faced by in-house counsel in Nigeria will not eclipse the opportunities – opportunity for in-house teams, opportunity for business, and opportunity for Nigeria.

As the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria has spent the last decade implementing vast economic reforms that have left the country well placed to enter into a new period of prosperity. A report published by Citigroup in 2011 predicted that Nigeria will achieve the highest average GDP growth in the world between 2010 and 2050. In this environment, the steady, guiding hand of the in-house counsel will be more important than ever.

The summit drew upon the expertise and insights of some of Nigeria’s most esteemed general counsel, split across two panel discussions. The panellists were also joined by Dr. Kathleen Okafor, of Baze Unversity in Abuja, who appeared on both panels on behalf of our partner, Miyetti Law.

The first panel posed the questions: What is the role of the modern in-house counsel in Nigeria? How has this changed in the past decade, and how is it likely to change in the future?

There was a sense that, in years past, in-house counsel were not treated with the respect that private practice counterparts enjoyed. One panellist recounted a blunt response upon telling their mentor that they would be making the switch: ‘It is a dead-end.’ Fortunately, that perception is changing – not only among the legal profession, but within the wider business community. Being a trusted business adviser in Nigeria is invaluable – and rare. To paraphrase another panellist: ‘Where else can you cut through the nepotism and begin on a clear path towards board-level seniority?’

The second panel spoke more directly to the future of business in the country. Participants considered the question: What are the barriers to foreign investment in Nigeria, and how can these barriers be managed or removed by in-house counsel?

The challenges have been well-documented: loosely defined intellectual property laws, underdeveloped infrastructure and a tendency for foreign investors to commit enough to make a profit, but not so much that they can’t make themselves scarce at the first sign of turmoil.

However, it didn’t take long for the panellists to begin speaking of national pride and responsibility, and how it may fall to in-house counsel and the businesses they advise to ‘self-regulate’ – that is, to have the confidence to turn down lucrative deals that may turn a short-term profit, but prove damaging for Nigeria in the long term.

After a probing extended Q+A session, networking drinks and canapés followed, during which a lively debate of these issues continued to dominate conversation.

Photos from the event can be found below.