Outstanding Nigerian Alumni Of Harvard University

“Harvard University Grooms Leaders” Dr. Adesegun A. Akin-Olugbade, OON,Founder/Principal Partner, Luwaji Nominees

Dr Adesegun A. Akin-Olugbade is the Founder and Principal Partner of Luwaji Nominees. He is a graduate of King’s College London and Harvard University Law School, in addition to being the Overall Best Student at the Nigerian Law School in 1984. He has served for over 30 years in the legal profession and financial services sector, having worked at both the technical and executive management level, in the public and private sector, for leading commercial law firms and multilateral financial institutions. He was previously General Counsel and Senior Director at the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the first Chief Legal Officer and Head of the Legal Services Department of the African Export-import Bank (Afreximbank). He retired in December 2018, as Executive Director (Chief Operating Officer), General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Africa Finance Corporation (AFC). Dr Adesegun Akin-Olugbade was a non-Executive Director and former Chairman of the Governance Committee of Ecobank Transnational Inc (ETI). He is a founding shareholder and former non-Executive Director of Asset & Resources Management Company Limited (ARM), Nigeria and former Director and Managing Partner of AFC Equity Investments Limited, Mauritius. He is the Chairman of Southern Marine Petroleum Limited, Axion Realty & Development Company Limited and the Dr Adesegun Akin-Olugbade Foundation. He is an Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON). In this interview, he recalls his time in the prestigious institution. Excerpts…

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What prompted your desire to choose to study at Harvard University over other prestigious universities?

The following reasons led to my decision to study at Harvard University. I served as a National Youth Service Corper in the Contract Vetting division of the Federal Ministry of Justice in 1986; a division that was set up by Prince Bola Ajibola SAN, who was the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice of Nigeria at the time. The division was set up to review contracts that had been entered into under the civilian administration in the second republic. That was also a time of widespread concern about Third World debt crises. From an academic perspective, I considered that there was an uneven playing field between African and foreign experts in financial law. This triggered my interest in studying International Financial Law and I could not think of a better institution to study or do a doctoral thesis in banking and finance law than Harvard, especially considering that Harvard is in the United States, which is the biggest economy in the world and New York, as we know, is the world’s financial capital. That was one aspect of it. My older brother had studied and obtained his Doctorate in Corporate Law at Cambridge University and I did not want to be viewed as simply following in his footsteps. I wanted to follow a different academic path, which was another reason why I chose to study at Harvard.

How was your experience at Harvard?

The experience was very different from the experience of studying either in Nigeria or in the United Kingdom. At Harvard University, you are required to be a lot more creative in your thinking and to be more innovative. There was greater recognition of the role policy plays in scholarship. It was not just conventional or orthodox study of laws (legal doctrines, principles) and legislations; you are required to understand that there is a public policy aspect to law. One becomes more of a rounded legal scholar than one would have been if one had studied back home or in the United Kingdom. You are considered an excellent student not because you are able to regurgitate what you learnt, but because you are a problem-solver with the ability to think out of the box.

Who are those who impacted you as a student at Harvard University?

There was the late Professor Abram Chayes, who was my supervisor at that time. He was highly and globally respected, as a professor of International Law. He had also represented Nicaragua at the time, during the conflict with the United States at the International Court of Justice. He was a well-renowned international expert. I was particularly motivated and inspired by him.

There were a few other people who were especially influential, including the Dean of Law School at the time, Dean Robert Clark; a professor of Corporate Law. The Dean of the Graduate Studies, Fredrick Snyder (now late). During my time at Harvard, there was tension between what we called the critical legal studies movement and the classical legal scholars. That was the peak of the tension in the faculty between those schools, as far as legal scholarship is concerned. Other influential people were Mr Adebayo Ogunlesi, who was a visiting lecturer and Mr Philip Wellons, who co-supervised my SJD thesis.

What is the one thing you consider most exciting about learning at Harvard University?

Some of the people that were at Harvard, when I was a student there including some of my colleagues in Nigeria have become very successful and distinguished in their respective career paths. For example, I overlapped with Michelle Obama when I came in for my LL.M in 1987 – 1988, she was finishing her JD programme. Also, when I was graduating as an SJD student in 1991, President Barack Obama was graduating as a JD student. Mr Odein Ajumogobia (SAN), who has served as the Attorney General of Rivers state, as well as, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, was my LL.M classmate. I think a unique quality Harvard imparted is the responsibility to make a positive contribution to society. It was ingrained in us that one is not supposed to be a lawyer for the mere sake of being a lawyer but should strive to impact the society positively. One is trained for public service, and by “public service” I do not necessarily mean engaging in politics. You have to contribute constructively to your society and be impactful. Harvard grooms leaders and the university continues to groom leaders in different societies.

How has your career been after leaving Harvard?

God has been faithful. I have had the privilege of being relatively at the top in every institution, where I have worked since I left Harvard. I was the Chief Legal Officer of African Export-Import Bank, a member of the management team at the time. I was the General Counsel and Senior Director at the African Development Bank (AfDB). I was also a Member of the Presidential Council at AfDB and I was only 38 years old at the time. I was Chief Operating Officer, Executive Director and General Counsel at the African Finance Corporation. I have been privileged to be involved in setting up successful African financial institutions. I am doing what I love and consider my career stimulating from a professional standpoint. I also enjoy giving back to society, as I consider that a way of contributing constructively to the development of, not only Nigeria but Africa in general.

What advice do you have for young Nigerians, who aspire to also be distinguished in their respective career paths?

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I think it goes without saying that one needs to work hard and be flexible in terms of career aspirations and choice of career path. When I started my career in the ’80s, I honestly wanted to be an advocate or a barrister. Ideally, if I had followed that path, I could have become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria like my contemporaries who have towed that line. However, I would have been a national champion. My career trajectory has enabled me to pursue an international career, in which I believe I have by God’s grace, been quite successful. The Nigerian government recognised this, as I was honoured with a National award of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 2012. It is a national honour that is given to those who have excelled and distinguished themselves in professional service; a recognition for technocrats. The country has recognised me in that regard and I feel fulfilled. There is always a reward for working hard, being creative and innovative and for being flexible, which entails heeding divine guidance.

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