Young business lawyer spotlight – Ngo-Martins Okonmah

The Young Business Lawyer Section strives to promote our own young lawyers in Nigeria. This feature spotlighting Ngo-Martins Okonmah of Aluko & Oyebode in Lagos, Nigeria, is part of a series featuring the voices of the next generation…

Full name – Ngo-Martins Okonmah, MCIArb
Firm – Aluko & Oyebode
Areas of Practice – General Commercial Arbitration and Dispute Resolution with specific focus on the Construction and Engineering, Oil & Gas and Intellectual Property Disputes.
Years of Experience – 14 years

Professional Summary – Ngo-Martins is a senior associate at Nigeria’s leading firm Aluko & Oyebode where he oversees the construction practice. He holds an MSc Construction Law and Dispute Resolution from the prestigious King’s College London and has built specific expertise in construction law and arbitration. He has expertise in major standard forms of construction and engineering contract including the JCT, FIDIC, and bespoke forms involving funder led EPC and EPCM. He advises clients (project owners and contractors) on a range of issues on project development and the resolution of disputes arising during projects, including arbitration, dispute boards, adjudication and expert determination. He has acted as arbitrator and arbitration counsel in both domestic and international arbitration pursuant to the ICC Rules, with seats in Zurich, London, Miami Florida, and Nigeria. Ngo-Martins’ practice has a strong international focus. In 2020, he was recognized as Africa Rising Star by Africa Arbitration. In 2021, Ngo-Martins founded the Africa Construction Law initiative, a pan-African initiative set up to promote thought leadership in the field of construction law in Africa. He is also a founding director of the Africa Arbitration Academy, an initiative established to improve expertise and training of arbitration practitioners across Africa.

Ngo currently acts as co-counsel providing representation for an IOC in a London seated ICC arbitration in respect of a dispute valued at roughly US$6.8million arising under an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract between an IOC and a Nigerian contractor for the construction of a debottlenecking facility in connection with the IDU gas delivery project in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria. The arbitration claim is for the recovery of the unearned portion of the advance payment made to the contractor in connection with the works undertaken under the contract. He is also part of the team providing representation to a Client, a Serbian subcontractor, in two separate ICC Arbitration, seated in Zurich, Switzerland but governed by Nigerian law. The arbitrations relate to disputes that arose under three separate sub-contracts for a General Electric Project (i.e. the Construction and Completion of a Multi-Modal Manufacturing Facility and the development of a sporting complex), in relation to unpaid retention payments in the cumulative sum of EUR 4,103,637.19.

Read also: “Diversity is a key strength of the ICC Court and essential to the legitimacy of international arbitration” – Claudia Salomon

Four Questions with Ngo

What do you appreciate most about your work as a young lawyer?

What I appreciate most about my work as a young practitioner is the role I play in bridging the gap between legislation and market reality and assisting clients navigate the legal challenges. I think that the technical knowledge of lawyers, and our ability to practically apply legal knowledge is a vital contribution to the skills that are needed for the economic development of a nation. A developing economy with an evolving legal system and regulations like ours would be a struggle to navigate without quality legal counsel.

What have you learned from your experience so far?

There is no substitute for technical skills and industry expertise, as this is what makes you relevant to clients. The legal profession is dynamic, to remain relevant you must keep abreast with the trends and developments in the market. You must be intentional about your personal growth, career development and building a professional profile. Do not simply flow with the tide. While there is a tendency to fraternize with senior colleagues in the profession, recognize also that there is a lot to gain from your professional peers and colleagues. As such, be cordial and respectful as you never know where your next referral may come from.

In your opinion, what are the two major challenges faced by young lawyers in the legal profession in Nigeria?

There is a cultural and educational problem. The society ascribes knowledge to age, thereby making it extremely difficult for young practitioners to find opportunities to showcase their talents. Also, the educational system does not fully equip you to compete globally in your chosen field. In arbitration, there are not many Nigerian firms where young practitioners can acquire meaningful experience in international arbitration. Some of these challenges are being addressed with increased access to technology where young practitioners can access better information regarding opportunities both locally and internationally and increase their visibility through different social media platforms. There are different start-ups being run by young practitioners, many of which are enabled by technology. Also, there are increased secondment opportunities to international law firms.

What one leader do you most look up to and why?

I am privileged to have been mentored and supported at different points in my career by mentors who have guided me all through these years. At this stage in my career, I am inspired by practitioners such as Babatunde Fagbohunlu SAN, Funke Adekoya SAN and Prof Abdel Wahab. Their career journey fortifies my resolve that it is possible to live and work within the African continent and yet build an international arbitration career.

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