Okezie Tochukwu, chief legal officer, Interswitch Group

Okezie Tochukwu, chief legal officer at Interswitch Group, elaborates on his experiences regarding the Nigerian legal market

The Nigerian legal system is generally derived from the English common law. There are therefore similarities across various principles. From equity to contract law to land law, the similarities are very apparent. From a commercial point of view, the English law has however undergone some notable changes which would also be beneficial to the Nigerian commercial law. Eg the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act, a UK legislation that reformed the common law principle of privity of contract and permitted third parties who would ordinarily be caught up by the strict application of privity of contract principles to benefit from a contract between other parties.

Notwithstanding, the Nigerian jurisprudence has reacted positively to imminent technological changes. The Companies & Allied Matters Act 2020 now permits private companies to hold general meetings electronically, another example is the Evidence Act 2011 which introduced detailed provisions on the admissibility of computer-generated evidence. With contracts being digitised, rise in electronic payments, the Evidence Act 2011 was a step in the right direction.

The Fintech space is regulated by the Central Bank of Nigeria. There remains a constant debate as to whether or not very close monitoring of the fintech space is beneficial for innovation. It is easy to see the arguments for the two sides. Fintechs are typically interconnected to banking systems and banks generally are highly regulated entities. Fintechs are also susceptible to financial compliance related issues eg money laundering, terrorist financing etc. It is therefore arguable that central banks should typically monitor and regulate fintech activities. On the other hand, fintechs introduce solutions which make banking activities easier and simpler. Their products are able to reach unbanked persons and bring such persons into the banking systems. To do this, fintech desire flexibility in creating innovative products.

The central bank in Nigeria has over the last three years released a series of guidelines and regulations that touch on licensing categorisations of fintechs, holding company structures for holding specific multiple licenses etc. These regulations seem targeted at streamlining operations of fintechs. The regulations provide clarity to the GCs in the fintech space as to how the regulators group fintechs. For legal and compliance related personnel, these regulations serve as a guide in determining permissible activities for fintechs. Understanding these regulations enable the GC or compliance chief to advice fintechs on appropriate corporate structures that ensure fintechs operate within the regulatory guidelines.

The Nigerian Constitution contains some broad principles around equality but there is no specific targeted diversity and inclusion regulation yet like the UK Equalities Act. There have been attempts to pass a Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities Bill however this bill has suffered some setback at the Senate. It may be argued that the uniqueness of the country’s socio-cultural composition can be a factor fueling concerns about passing this bill.

Notwithstanding, some existing regulations touch on diversity and inclusion, for example, various applicable corporate governance regulations require Boards to consider diversity in its membership including gender diversity. In practice, companies typically would have their internal diversity practices however, corporate governance regulations do not apply to every type of company, for much smaller companies, it may be challenging to track if they abide by any diversity and inclusion principle.

Work life balance on the other hand seemed to take on a life of its own following the global pandemic. Employees generally resumed from the pandemic realising that they could achieve a decent work/life balance while getting their work done. Currently, the organisation implements flexible structure that allows employees work remotely some days of the week. A number of law firms we interact with also allow for remote work hours. It can therefore be said that there has been improvement in work life balance following the global pandemic.

I’d like to see some improvement in our justice administration system with regards to shortening the timeline from filing court processes to obtaining judgement. It is common to have cases in courts spanning years. A system in which cases can be decided within months would be preferable.

‘The justice system can be improved through increased tech adoption. Electronic filing, service and search of court processes, increased adoption of video conferencing, digital transcribing of court proceedings, and so on.

Okezie Tochukwu

Tochukwu is the chief legal officer, Interswitch Group – a technology-driven company focused on payments with offices in the UK, Germany, Nigeria and Kenya.

As the chief legal officer, he is responsible for managing and providing strategic direction for the group’s legal department, overseeing contracts, litigation portfolio, conflict resolution including arbitration and mediation, intellectual property, law enforcement engagement and M&A initiatives. He also ensures that the right legal tech solutions are deployed as well as relevant automations to enable the legal team continuously improve its efficiency.

He has graduate and post graduate degrees from the Lagos State University and the University of South Wales respectively and is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, and Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS).