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‘I look forward to serving Nigeria, supporting Adesina at AfDB’ – Oyetunde

OYEBODE OYETUNDE, is an investment banker, fiscal policy expert, chartered accountant, legal practitioner, and multidisciplinary professional. He was recently appointed an executive director (Nigeria) on the Board at the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire. In this interview with KEMI AJUMOBI, Associate Editor, BusinessDay, Oyetunde speaks on how he got to this position and distills career lessons for younger professionals, from his experience. Excerpts:

Prior to your appointment at AfDB, what were you doing?

I served as a Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari (November 2015- May 2021), as a Presidential aide with primary responsibility for finance, fiscal policy, and legal matters. My duties included finance and fiscal policy, which meant processing correspondence on finance and fiscal policy matters, tax reforms, appointments, and other matters as directed by the Chief of Staff to the President, attending Presidential audiences, and other meetings relating to finance and fiscal policy.

I also worked closely with the Ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning, the Director-General of the Budget Office, the (then) Economic Management Team, the Presidency, and other senior officials to draft, review, finalise and analyse the medium-term fiscal framework, medium-term expenditure framework / fiscal strategy paper, executive budget proposals and Appropriation Acts for the 2016 – 2020 fiscal years. Also working to secure ancillary approvals connected to budget implementation (e.g. issuance of Legislative Resolutions to authorise Eurobonds and so on)

What did your work at the Federal Ministry of Finance entail?

I have worked with the last 10 successive Ministers and Ministers of State responsible for Finance, Budget, and National Planning in Nigeria, commencing with Shamsuddeen Usman in 2008 to Zainab Ahmed from 2008 – 2021. As Special Adviser to the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning on Fiscal and Macroeconomic Policy, in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning between September 2018 – May 2021.

I was responsible for providing the Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning with fiscal, macroeconomic, and monetary advice regarding her responsibilities for supervising fiscal agencies; enhancing oil and non-oil revenues, optimising critical capital and recurrent revenues, managing domestic and global fiscal risks, coordinating fiscal, macroeconomic, monetary and trade policies in conjunction with the FMFBNP; industry, trade and investment, as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria, reporting on fiscal initiatives to the Presidency, Economic Management Team and Economic Advisory Council, National Economic Council among others.

What was needed to be effective in the roles you were assigned?

These roles required extensive leadership skills in managing complex projects and reforms, involving multiple stakeholders, which includes Presidency, Ministers, Director-Generals & Heads / CEOs of Federal agencies and departments, as well as World Bank and other private sector stakeholders.

Some of the key reforms we worked on include, US$4bn Power Sector Reform Plan and financing from the World Bank and Central Bank of Nigeria, US$3.4bn IMF’s Rapid Finance Instrument to finance the 2020 amendment budget, N75billion road infrastructure tax credit scheme, and incentivising construction of 1,565km of roads nationwide.

What key outcomes did you help to deliver as SSA to the President on Finance, Fiscal Policy & Legal Matters between November 2015 – March 2021?

From the finance and fiscal policy perspective, some of the most critical outcomes has been the conception and passage of the Finance Act every year to support the Federal Budget, as well as restoring the budget to a predictable January-December fiscal cycle.

I have been privileged to work closely on these reforms in teams spanning the Presidency, the Finance Ministry, the Budget Office as well as other actors in the Fiscal Policy Reforms Committee.

On legal matters, I have worked closely with the Attorney-General / Minister of Justice, SSAPs on National Assembly Affairs, other relevant officials in various Joint Executive/National Assembly Committees on Law Reforms to analyse, review, amend and accelerate the passage of Executive and legislative bills into law, worked closely with the State House Counsel to supervise and coordinating work on analysing, processing, reviewing and making recommendations to the on civil litigation, arbitral awards and other claims against Ministries. Also, processing correspondence on legal issues, law reforms, judicial appointments among others.

What is your counsel for young lawyers struggling to cope with Nigeria’s challenging legal system?

Nothing good in life comes easy. If it was easy to achieve, it may be hard to maintain, and vice-versa. So, my advice, especially to younger lawyers would be clear in your mind what you were hoping to achieve in terms of areas of specialisation, degree of competence, and establishing a solid reputation for excellence. If one is prepared for success in this way, God has a way of ensuring that once opportunities arise, you are well placed to benefit from them.

I can illustrate this from my early experiences working as a lawyer. For my National Youth Service Corps, I had to choose between pursuing a legal career and moving into finance, management and business consulting, having been short-listed to join Foluso Phillips’ pioneering firm, Phillips Consulting.

After much contemplation, I chose to join the legal firm headed by his brother-in-law, Konyinsola Ajayi, S.A.N., coincidentally, also on the 4th Floor of UBA House at Marina, Lagos. In hindsight, this was one of the best career decisions I ever made.

Konyinsola is undoubtedly one of the finest lawyers of our time. His practice achieves the uncommon feat of excelling at both sides of the legal profession.

Olaniwun Ajayi LP has produced countless experienced Solicitors, adept at structuring and documenting landmark, innovative, and complicated commercial transactions. The firm’s philosophy was to deepen associates’ capabilities in areas of natural competence, whilst simultaneously overcoming areas of potential weaknesses.

As such, while I worked closely with the firm’s Specialised Transactions and Commercial Law Teams, given my accounting and finance background, I regularly appeared alone and with counsel in the Court of Appeal as well as others in superior courts of record pursuing civil litigation suits.

Olaniwun Ajayi LP also enabled me to overcome any residual inhibitions I may have had to working exceptionally hard, overnight if need be, and 7 days a week – as the day’s brief required. In litigation, one had to prepare at least 3 briefs, your case, the opponent’s response, and your counter-case thereto.

During weekly Friday night firm-wide sessions, these 3 briefs would be debated, discussed and often demolished by the full complement of the firm’s legal talent, leading to one working overnight and through the weekend to prepare two further briefs before appearing in court on Monday morning, with 5 possible lines of argument and counterargument.

Unsurprisingly, one would excel in court on the day, as most possible scenarios would have been covered in the previous weeks of diligent preparation.

Our portfolio of work was eclectic, our approach innovative and our remit was limitless, all in pursuit of providing exceptional service to our clients. My ‘tenancy’ at Olaniwun Ajayi LP was punctuated by my post-graduate studies, as I continued to serve in the firm during and after my sojourns at the University of London.

Some young people complain about a dearth of opportunities, how can they navigate through this hurdle?

My advice to young people is to be prepared to serve humbly but also lead boldly when the opportunity presents itself.

I would like to illustrate this from my experiences at the Finance Ministry. I have been privileged to have worked with the 10 of the previous Ministers and Ministers of State responsible for Finance, Budget & National Planning in Nigeria (commencing with Shamsuddeen Usman in 2008 to Zainab Ahmed from 2008 – 2021).

I learnt important lessons from all the leaders I worked with. I was given assignments, tasks, and projects, I delivered and I was also ready to learn.

There will be people who will doubt you, it is their opinion, but there will be you believing in yourself and showing that you are capable. Be prepared for that opportunity so that when it comes, it will meet you ready.

So what are we to expect in your new role?

On 16th March 2021, the President approved my appointment as the Executive Director representing Nigeria at the African Development Bank. I resumed my current position on 15th May 2021, upon the retirement of my predecessor, Bright Okogu.

Looking back, I cannot but continue to thank God for the incredible journey He has taken me through, from Law through Accounting, Taxation, and Economics, to Banking and Finance. I remain eternally indebted to my parents, family as well as the many mentors and peers that have supported my career over the decades.

I look forward to serving Nigeria further in my new role by supporting Akinwumi Adesina as the first Nigerian President in the Bank’s history and contributing to the good governance of the Bank’s activities, complexes, and operations as these contribute to the significant and sustainable development of our continent, its countries.

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