May 11, 2018

Paul Usoro: The Eminent Lawyer Striding Across Boardrooms

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Paul Usoro(SAN), President of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA.

In the present day society, corporate governance which involves balancing the interest of stakeholders has become a very key aspect of institution building. It encompasses every sphere of management, from action plans and internal controls to performance measurement and corporate disclosure. It also ensures transparency, efficient structure, integrity and financial accountability, which further enhance the confidence of members.

Paul Usoro (SAN)

Paul Usoro

For many admirers of Paul Usoro, he stands out among his contemporaries in corporate governance. He’s a legal luminary, an epitome of success in the Nigerian legal space, a gentleman who has practiced the noble profession to enviable heights; attaining the coveted status of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) at the first half of his forties. But there’s more to the soft-spoken erudite Lawyer. He may have earned his stripes, making giant strides in the legal profession, but with equal measure, Usoro has his footprints across the boardrooms of blue chip companies in Nigeria, leaving behind positive legacies.

Between 2001 and 2006, Usoro served the interest of his state, Akwa-Ibom, as a Director on the board of Airtel (formerly Vee Networks Limited), when the telecommunications company opened shop in Nigeria. His time on the board of the company witnessed many successes. For Akwa-Ibom, he negotiated an investment valued, as at the date of entry, at the sum of US$75,000,000.00.

Usoro continued his good work in the Airtel set-up and in 2006; he brought his transactional skills to bear again when he negotiated the sale of Akwa-Ibom’s stake in the Celtel BV take-over of the company. Akwa-Ibom State Government cashed out most of its investments in this enterprise in 2006 and indeed made multiple returns on its investment amount. After the state sold its stake in Airtel, Paul Usoro was retained as an independent director on the board and served in that capacity through successive owners until recently when he exited from the board in February 2018 in compliance with the Nigerian Communications Commission’s new policy on corporate governance for telecommunications companies.

As the Committee Chairman, Usoro led the Airtel Shareholders Committee in negotiating the Celtel Transaction, which, at the time, ranked as one of the biggest private sector equity transaction in Nigeria’s history. He represented the interest of all the shareholders that included three Nigerian State Governments and blue-chip corporate citizens like First Assets Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of First Bank of Nigeria Limited. It is a testimony to his leadership quality that Celtel BV insisted after the Transaction that he remained on the Board even though Akwa-Ibom State Government whom he initially represented had sold out completely from the Company.

In 2010, Celtel BV sold out its equity entirely to the Bharti-Airtel Group of India resulting again in the reorganization of the Airtel Board. Again, Bharti-Airtel, the new 65% owners of Airtel retained Usoro as an independent director on the board and he served in that capacity until his exit in February 2018. It should be noted that for most of his time in the Airtel Board, Usoro was the Chairman of the Board Audit Committee.

Usoro has many feathers to his cap. While he was making waves in the Airtel boardroom, his renowned leadership dexterity was equally felt in Access Bank boardroom. From 2014, Usoro has chaired the Board’s Remuneration Committee and Governance & Nomination Committee. He also serves as a member of the Board’s Audit Committee, Risk Management Committee and Credit & Finance Committee. And in 2011, he was appointed as a director of PZ Cussons; he chairs the People & Governance Committee of the Board.

Between 2008 and 2014, Usoro served as a director on the Board of Premium Pensions Limited, a leading Nigerian pension funds administrator and was, throughout the entire period, the Chairman of the Board’s Audit Committee. He also served on the Board of CR Services (Credit Bureau) Plc, Nigeria’s credit-rating organization; representing Zenith Bank Plc. Usoro has served on the Board of Marina Securities Limited since 2011 and is currently the Chairman of the Company.

Envisioning corporate governance as a prerequisite for institution building that makes an organisation noteworthy, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, A.B. Mahmoud, SAN last year appointed KPMG to undertake a review of the financial processes, management and reporting of the body. The KPMG report presented at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in Ilorin on March 01, 2018, revealed the total absence of governance structure and inefficiencies.

For a man who’s widely considered an epitome of professionalism and doggedness, his wealth of experience is also backed by the need to acquire requisite knowledge. Paul has raised the bar of excellence in this regards many times over. The latest of this being the award of Corporate Governance Rating System (CGHRS) “Rating Certificate” by the board of the Nigerian Stock Exchange and the Convention on Business Integrity. In the context of leadership, this recognition among other things is a testament to his leadership prowess. Interestingly, Paul’s experience from the boardroom and corporate governance positions him as a man with the cognate knowledge, experience and willpower to carry out the needed reforms in any organization.

One may be tempted to ask how the learned silk has managed to hold these positions alongside his professional practice, which has equally been very successful. Usoro says it is due to the determination to make a difference.

“For me, making a lasting difference has been a major factor in my craft and endeavours. Every day presents an opportunity to impact positively, to lead and show directions when the opportunity is presented and of course to play vital roles in achieving set objectives.”

Laying emphasis on the corporate leadership of the titan, the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of Borno State, Kaka Shehu Lawan described Paul Usoro, SAN at the State’s Law Week celebration held in February 2018, as a household name in the Nigerian legal profession. “We are privileged to have the Learned Silk share his experience and exemplary leadership qualities,” he said.
Kehinde Buraimoh Esq is one out of many to have worked with the consummate and thoroughbred boardroom guru. He attests to his high standards, which he considers the bedrock of Usoro’s endeavours.

“In whatever Paul does, you can be rest assured that he strives for excellent results. For the legal practice, he’s very passionate, diligent and committed to high standards. He carries the same drive with him to his business meetings and dealings. For him, mediocrity doesn’t cut it; only excellent results, nothing else,” he enthused.

This position is buttressed by Usoro while addressing journalists at a recent gathering. He noted that a young professional seeking to excel must commit to his work totally, paying quality attention to his assignments.

“I advise young lawyers and professionals in general to pay attention to the quality of their work. That man who pays attention to the fine details of his assignment and turns out top quality work will never run short of briefs and new assignments. There’s no short-cut to success. When you’re diligent and attentive, it’s normal that success follows suit.”

Usoro’s leadership skill reverberates beyond the private sector. In 2011, former President, Goodluck Jonathan required the best hands to lead the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc which was a new government agency. He found one in Usoro who also became the pioneer Chairman of the agency’s Board’s Audit Committee.

In 2012, Usoro was appointed by the Minister of Communications Technology into a select Ministerial Committee for the review of Nigeria’s ICT Policy and he played a key role in that Committee’s work, which final work product was approved by the Federal Executive Council.

For many young lawyers who look up to their seniors, there are several lessons to learn from Usoro. Usoro epitomizes leadership best served; a man who though is soft tempered yet reputed for his hard-hitting excellence.

Oyinlola Adeleke Esq summed up a lot of young lawyers’ perception of Usoro. “You can’t miss the Paul Usoro name as far as the legal profession is concerned in Nigeria today. A lot of us are inspired by his success. What he also does to everyone’s amazement is his strides across boardrooms alongside a very successful practice. Only a man totally committed to excellence can do that. Paul Usoro is an icon of excellence,” she declared.