Spotlight on young business lawyers – Ngo-Martins Okonmah
The Young Business Lawyers Section strives to promote our own young lawyers in Nigeria. This feature film featuring 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
Cabinet – Aluko & Oyebode
Practice Areas – General commercial arbitration and dispute resolution with a particular focus on construction and engineering, oil and gas, and intellectual property disputes.
Years of experience – 14 years
Professional Summary – Ngo-Martins is a Senior Partner at leading Nigerian firm Aluko & Oyebode where he oversees the construction practice. He holds a master’s degree in construction law and dispute resolution from the prestigious King’s College London and has acquired specific expertise in construction law and arbitration. He has expertise in major standard construction and engineering contract forms including JCT, FIDIC and bespoke forms involving donor led EPCs and EPCMs. He advises clients (owners and contractors) on a range of issues relating to project development and the resolution of disputes arising during projects, including arbitration, dispute resolution advice, adjudication and expertise. He has acted as an arbitrator and arbitration counsel in domestic and international arbitrations under ICC rules, with seats in Zurich, London, Miami Florida and Nigeria. Ngo-Martins’ practice is strongly internationally oriented. In 2020, he was recognized as an 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 the founding director of the Africa Arbitration Academy, an initiative created to enhance the expertise and training of arbitration practitioners across Africa.
Ngo is currently acting as co-counsel representing a CIO in an ICC arbitration in London regarding a dispute valued at approximately US$6.8 million arising from an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract between a CIO and a Nigerian contractor for the construction of a debottlenecking facility under the IDU Gas Delivery Project in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria. The request for arbitration concerns the recovery of the unearned part of the deposit paid to the contractor in connection with the work undertaken under the contract. He is also part of the team representing a client, a Serbian contractor, in two separate ICC arbitrations, sitting in Zurich, Switzerland, but governed by Nigerian law. The arbitrations relate to disputes arising under three separate subcontracts for a General Electric project (i.e. the construction and completion of a multimodal manufacturing plant and the development of a sportsman), in relation to unpaid retention payments in the cumulative sum of 4,103,637.19 euros.
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 the most in your work as a young lawyer?
What I enjoy most about my work as a young practitioner is the role I play in bridging the gap between legislation and market reality and helping clients overcome legal challenges. I believe that the technical knowledge of lawyers and our ability to practically apply legal knowledge is a vital contribution to the skills necessary for the economic development of a nation. A developing economy with an evolving legal system and regulations like ours would be difficult to navigate without quality legal advice.
What have you learned from your experience so far?
Nothing replaces technical skills and industry expertise, because that’s what makes you relevant to customers. The legal profession is dynamic, to stay relevant you need to keep up to date with market trends and developments. You must be intentional about your personal growth, career development, and building a professional profile. Don’t just follow the tide. While there is a tendency to fraternize with experienced colleagues in the profession, also recognize that there is much to be gained from your professional peers and colleagues. As such, be cordial and respectful as you never know where your next recommendation may come from.
What do you think are the two main challenges facing young lawyers in the legal profession in Nigeria?
There is a cultural and educational problem. Society attributes knowledge to age, making it extremely difficult for young practitioners to find opportunities to showcase their talents. Also, the education 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 gain significant experience in international arbitration. Some of these challenges are being addressed through increased access to technology where young practitioners can access better information on both local and international opportunities and increase their visibility through different social media platforms. There are various start-ups led by young practitioners, many of which are made possible by technology. In addition, opportunities for secondment to international law firms are increasing.
Which leader do you most admire and why?
I have the privilege of having been supervised and supported at different times in my career by mentors who have guided me throughout these years. At this point in my career, I am inspired by practitioners such as Babatunde Fagbohunlu SAN, Funke Adekoya SAN and Professor Abdel Wahab. Their professional background reinforces my conviction that it is possible to live and work on the African continent while building a career as an international referee.