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Businesses Can Only Thrive In Peaceful Places – Abuja Chamber Of Commerce And Industry President, Emeka Obegolu

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The President of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Emeka Obegolu, speaks to OGHENOVO EGODO-MICHAEL about his career and lifestyle

What stirred your interest in the legal profession?

I was born into a family of lawyers.

My late father practised law all his life, and during holidays, I used to accompany him to courts in different jurisdictions, from Lagos to Port Harcourt. You can then imagine the fascination and eventual love I had for the legal profession.

Years down the line, my pursuit of justice and commitment to societal betterment ignited my path towards a full-time legal career in private practice. Viewing the legal arena as a vehicle for advocating fairness, upholding the rule of law, and providing vital counsel to the vulnerable, I saw an opportunity to carve pathways toward equitable solutions to commercial dilemmas.

Whether championing effective and alternative dispute resolution processes or standing as a bulwark against oppression, my passion for justice has remained steadfast.

What led to your membership of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry?

My journey with the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry was catalysed by my meeting and eventual tutelage in the law firm of Prince Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN) in 1999.

While working under him, I developed a personal relationship with him that transcended our official relationship, and I became more of his personal assistant. It was in my role as his PA that I accompanied him to other engagements outside his law practice; hence my introduction to the Abuja Chamber of Commerce, where he was serving as a Vice President at the time.

I later joined the Chamber, and by providence, sometime in 2009, the then Vice President (Legal), J. K. Gadzama (SAN) resigned his position due to a higher calling, and invited me to replace him as the VP Legal of ACCI. That was how my journey into the leadership ranks of the ACCI started. Prince Kayode later served as President of the Chamber, and I am proud to walk in his footsteps today.

Over the years, my interactions with diverse businesses have fueled my passion for creating an environment conducive to their growth.

Leveraging my legal acumen, I strive to contribute to the collective prosperity of Abuja’s business community.

How do you effectively manage your dual roles as a lawyer and the President of ACCI?

Balancing my professional responsibilities necessitates adept time management, strategic delegation, and meticulous prioritisation.

By fostering transparent communication, harnessing technological advancements, and assembling a proficient team, I ensure both domains receive the attention they merit.

But, in reality, I sacrifice a lot of my social time to be effective in both roles.

What strategies do you intend to implement to enhance the value of the ACCI?

To augment ACCI’s value proposition, my focus lies on fortifying member services, cultivating strategic alliances, and spearheading innovative initiatives tailored to address the dynamic needs of Abuja-based businesses.

Additionally, through robust governance frameworks, we aim to increase members’ representation and expand committees and trade groups, thereby fostering a member-centric ethos. Our approach is further informed by comprehensive member surveys and proactive adaptation to their evolving requirements.

How will you actively promote inclusive membership engagement within the ACCI?

Fostering membership participation is integral to ACCI’s vitality. By establishing sector-specific committees and trade groups, and harnessing online platforms for engagement, we facilitate diverse avenues for involvement.

Moreover, through the implementation of tailored initiatives, networking events, and targeted business interactions, such as business to business, business to government, and business to customers meetings, we actively cultivate member engagement.

Soliciting continuous feedback through surveys and prioritising member input ensures their voices are not only heard, but actively shape the chamber’s trajectory.

How do you plan to broaden market opportunities for members and Stakeholders of the Chamber?

Our strategy involves forging partnerships with government agencies, international bodies, and other chambers of commerce to pinpoint and cultivate market openings for our members.

This encompasses orchestrating trade missions, convening business forums, and furnishing access to invaluable market insights.

Furthermore, we extend our support by advocating for business-friendly policies and fostering ethical business practices through initiatives, such as our Centre for Human Rights.

Recognising the allure of ethical business to foreign investors, we aim to elevate the ethical standards of our members, thereby amplifying market prospects.

What do you make of the trend of many national and multinational companies relocating from Abuja?

While statistical data might be unreliable, we acknowledge the shifting landscape.

The exodus underscores significant challenges, notably inadequate infrastructure in industrial districts, and escalating security concerns. However, proactive measures are underway, including infrastructure development initiatives by the FCT Administration and security enhancements led by law enforcement agencies.

Addressing these challenges head-on is imperative to not only retain, but also attract, businesses to Abuja.

I must put it on record though the Organised Private Sector’s appreciation of the the improvement in security within the FCT since the appointment of the FCT Police Commissioner, Ben Igweh, and his team.

We encourage them to do more, as businesses can only thrive in a secure environment.

What are the major hurdles facing the business ecosystem in Abuja, and how do you propose to surmount them?

The recurring ones include inadequate infrastructure, bureaucratic red tape, and security apprehensions, which pose substantial challenges to businesses in Abuja.

To surmount these obstacles, we advocate vigorously for infrastructure enhancements, streamlining regulatory processes, and collaborating closely with security agencies to fortify the safety and conduciveness of the business environment.

We are witnessing deliberate and concerted efforts by the FCT administration to address the infrastructure deficit in the city, and we call on the honourable minister (Nyesom Wike) to pay more attention to the industrial layouts and support the industrialisation of the FCT with specific attention to the gross infrastructure and power deficit.

How do you intend to champion and protect the interests of Nigerian businesses, particularly those in the FCT?

Our advocacy efforts revolve around championing policies that foster entrepreneurship, innovation and competitiveness, thereby nurturing a conducive environment for Nigerian businesses to thrive.

Additionally, we provide tailored advocacy, training, and support services to empower local businesses to navigate challenges and seize opportunities, both domestically and internationally.

Our focus in the FCT extends to understanding sectoral dynamics, such as the burgeoning mining sector, and addressing pertinent issues, including title disputes and concerns in mining sites.

We also advocate for private sector involvement in critical areas, such as transportation, while applauding the initiatives of some companies that are advocating for green energy solutions.

Also, we advocate for bureaucratic reforms to alleviate burdens on businesses, such as offering alternative solutions for residential buildings to convert to commercial buildings in inevitable commercial districts, thereby fostering a more vibrant business landscape.

What leadership qualities have been instrumental to your success in your legal career, and your current role at the ACCI?

Vision, integrity, effective communication, strategic acumen, and collaborative prowess are fundamental leadership traits that have underpinned my success in both realms.

Additionally, adept delegation, mentorship, active listening, and fostering an environment where diverse perspectives are valued and encouraged have been crucial to inspiring and galvanising collective action towards shared objectives.

Reflecting on your tenure as President of the Pan African Lawyers Union, what stands out as the zenith of your experience?

The Pan African Lawyers Union, established in 2002 by visionary African legal leaders and luminaries, serves as a bastion for the aspirations and concerns of Africans. With a membership spanning over five regional lawyers’ associations, 54 national lawyers’ associations, and over 5,000 individual lawyers across Africa and the Diaspora, PALU is a unifying force dedicated to advancing the rule of law, good governance, human rights, and socio-economic development on the continent.

My tenure as President afforded me the privilege to champion legal reforms, advocate for human rights, and foster collaboration among legal practitioners continent-wide. Witnessing the tangible impact of our initiatives on the legal landscape and the lives of individuals across Africa stands as the crowning achievement of my presidency.

Notably, our endeavour to draft and ratify the Code of Ethics for lawyers on the continent stands as a testament to our commitment to ethical legal practice, with the majority of bar associations already endorsing this pivotal document, paving the way for its widespread adoption.

While my tenure as Chairman has been concluded, during my tenure, I bore the responsibility of providing strategic direction, overseeing operations, and championing the efficacy of the dispute resolution centre in resolving commercial disputes, and advocating for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

However, our endeavours were not limited to administrative duties; we were also actively engaged in leveraging personal networks to bolster the centre’s activities, forging strategic partnerships through multiple Memoranda of Understanding, and facilitating training sessions in collaboration with reputable organisations such as the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators, and Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

Before the DRC came into being, most commercial disputes involving small and medium enterprises were criminalised and resolved by security agencies, thereby leaving disputants, who were hitherto business partners involved in mutually beneficial businesses, as enemies. A notable milestone during my tenure was our successful awareness creation and consequential transition of commercial dispute resolution from security agencies to the DRC, aligning with international best practices and fostering confidence in our dispute resolution mechanisms.

In what ways did your participation in the Harvard Law School Programme on Negotiation enhance your skills?

My participation in the Harvard Law School Programme on Negotiation endowed me with indispensable negotiation skills, encompassing effective communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution techniques.

These skills have not only enriched my legal practice, but have also enhanced my leadership roles, facilitating constructive dialogue and fostering mutually beneficial outcomes.

One pivotal lesson learnt was the ethos of expanding the pie before sharing it, striving to maximise value and engendering win-win scenarios for all stakeholders involved.

How do you effectively prioritise your commitments and manage your work schedule?

Effectively managing my workload entails a judicious blend of task prioritisation, setting actionable deadlines, delegating responsibilities, and harnessing time management tools.

Moreover, I place a premium on personal and professional development, allocating dedicated time for continuous learning and introspection to ensure a harmonious work-life balance.

What valuable insights have you gained from your career journey so far?

I have learnt to appreciate the perspectives of both superiors and subordinates, recognising that fostering an environment of appreciation and empowerment engenders optimal performance and collective achievement.

My career journey has been a testament to the enduring value of perseverance, continuous learning, integrity, and empathy. Building meaningful relationships, both within and beyond professional spheres, has been instrumental to my growth and success.

When faced with difficult situations or conflicts in the workplace, what approach do you take to address them?

Navigating challenging workplace dynamics requires a multifaceted approach rooted in empathy, active listening, and a commitment to finding equitable resolutions. I foster an environment conducive to self-mediation, encouraging affected parties to directly address concerns with those involved.

Employing open communication channels, conflict resolution methodologies, and mediation techniques facilitate the amicable resolution of disputes, nurturing a harmonious and productive work environment.

How do you stay innovative and adapt to changes in the legal and business landscapes?

Remaining abreast of industry trends, embracing technological advancements, nurturing a culture of innovation, and actively pursuing opportunities for continuous learning are paramount to staying at the vanguard of the evolving legal and business spheres.

By leveraging these strategies, I ensure that my approach remains agile and responsive to emerging challenges and opportunities.

What core values underpin your leadership philosophy and guide your decision-making process?

At the core of my leadership ethos lies a commitment to shared posterity, anchoring my actions in the enduring legacy I aim to leave behind. Integrity, accountability, transparency, inclusivity, and a steadfast dedication to serving the best interests of stakeholders form the bedrock of my leadership principles, shape every decision and action I undertake.

How do you effectively manage stress and pressure in high-stakes legal cases or business negotiations?

Effectively navigating stress and pressure in high-stakes scenarios necessitates a holistic approach centered on maintaining a work-life equilibrium.

I prioritise activities that promote physical and mental well-being, such as engaging in social activities, pursuing recreational interests, practising mindfulness, and seeking peer and mentor support.

By shifting the focus from the intensity of the situation to problem-solving strategies, I mitigate stress and optimise performance, fostering resilience and composure even in the most demanding circumstances.

How do you approach mentorship and supporting the growth of younger professionals in your field?

I believe in the importance of mentorship and supporting the growth of younger professionals.

I provide guidance, share experiences, offer opportunities for skill development, and serve as a role model to inspire and empower the next generation of leaders in the legal and business communities.

What legacies do you hope to leave behind through your work as a lawyer and a leader in the business community?

I aspire to leave a legacy of positive impact, ethical leadership, and empowerment. I hope to be remembered for my contributions to the delivery of justice, economic development, and the growth and prosperity of the business community in Abuja and beyond.

How did you feel when you were named the Anambra Man of the Year Award in 2023?

I was deeply honoured and humbled to receive the Anambra Man of the Year Award in 2023.

It was a recognition of my contributions to society, and it served as a reminder of the importance of using one’s talents and resources for the betterment of others.

How do you unwind?

I unwind by spending time with family and friends, engaging in hobbies such as reading, travelling, practising mindfulness and relaxation techniques, as well as engaging in outdoor activities.

How do you bond with your family?

I prioritise spending quality time with members of my family by engaging in activities that promote bonding, such as shared meals, family outings, and meaningful conversations. I also make an effort to support and be present for my family members in their individual pursuits and endeavours.

Many people believe lawyers always love to read books. Does that apply to you as well?

Being a lifelong learner, I recognise the profound impact of reading on intellectual growth and personal development.

Consequently, I prioritise regular reading sessions, dedicating time to peruse books that span a spectrum of subjects—from professional literature to works of fiction and non-fiction that nurture both the mind and soul. Whether delving into legal texts for professional insights, immersing myself in literature for personal enrichment, or indulging in leisurely reading to unwind, books serve as invaluable companions that enrich my understanding, creativity, and critical thinking skills.

Moreover, I emphasise the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing, recognising that effective expression leaves a lasting impression. By actively engaging with written material, I not only absorb knowledge but also refine my ability to articulate thoughts and ideas cohesively, fostering a holistic approach to intellectual engagement.


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