A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Paul Usoro, has today clocked a year older. Sir, as you add one more year to your life, The management and entire staff of TheNigerialawyer (TNL) wish you nothing other than the best of heaven’s keep.
Actually, it is not easy commenting on the persona called Paul Usoro, SAN because of the dilemma of deciding which aspect of this extraordinary Nigerian to focus on. To say a few about him, Paul Usoro, SAN is the current President of the Nigerian Bar Association, and a member of the NBA Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee set up in 2016. He was the founding chairman of the Communication Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association`s Section on Business Law. Paul is a consummate board room player and sits on the Boards of several top companies. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and a member of the International Bar Association and the Federal Communications Bar Association, United States of America.
He is the Senior Partner and founder of Paul Usoro & Co (PUC), a top commercial law firm. He heads the Advocacy and Dispute Resolution Practice Group and the Communications Section of the Firm. Paul Usoro is variously described as the go-to-counsel for complex matters, be it litigation or commercial transactions and the foremost communications lawyer in Nigeria with over 30 years’ experience in legal practice.
Paul was born in Ukana Ikot Ntuen town in Essien Udim LGA of Akwa Ibom State on 07 September 1958. He studied Law at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife), Osun State, Nigeria where he obtained his Bachelor of Laws degree (with Honours) in 1981. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1982. He was elevated to the Inner Bar as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2003.
Paul is a nationally acclaimed litigator and transaction expert whose expertise covers the entire gamut of commercial practice including finance, banking, oil and gas, power, election petition and communications practice areas. He represents domestic and multinational companies, public agencies, governments and inter-governmental institutions in various sectors.
Paul was pivotal to the recovery of N16 Billion for Access Bank Plc in a highly controversial multijurisdictional dispute against a Nigerian company. The dispute involved multiple complex cases: 8 (eight) within Nigeria and a few others spanning over a number of jurisdictions including, the United Kingdom, Greece, Netherland and South Africa. He played the leading role in the negotiation of a global settlement agreement between the parties.
Paul represented the immediate past Group Managing Director of Access Bank, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and the current Group Managing Director of Access Bank, Mr Herbert Wigwe in a Suit against the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN). The Suit challenged the statutory powers of FRCN to investigate issues of mergers and acquisitions and other business combinations and in particular the acquisition of Intercontinental Bank Plc (IBPLC) by Access Bank Plc. The Court in an erudite judgment delivered on 24 October 2014, granted all the reliefs claimed and perpetually restrained FRCN from investigating the acquisition of IBPLC by Access Bank Plc which was declared a closed transaction.
Paul represented the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel and his political party in about 35 pre-election lawsuits from 2015, particularly at the Governorship and National Assembly levels. All the cases were successfully defended by Paul and his Team. Not a single one of those matters was lost at any of the Courts.
Paul championed the amicable resolution of the dispute between Stanbic IBTC Bank, Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria FRCN and the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP). Paul’s stellar dispute resolution skills ensured that the parties resolved the most contentious issues out of court, following which FRCN issued its written approval of Stanbic IBTC’s restated 2013 and 2014 Financial Statements.
Paul successfully defended the Power Holding Company of Nigeria in an arbitration instituted by the Lagos State Government in respect of a dispute pertaining to the terms of a Barge Power Purchase Agreement and a Contribution Agreement. The Lagos State Government’s claim in the sum of over N12 Billion Naira was rejected by the arbitral panel on the basis of PUC’s compelling submissions.
Paul played a crucial and leading role in the team that represented a France-based multinational oil servicing company in a landmark litigation against a Nigerian company for the recovery of judgment sums of US$11,628,962.11; US$5,214,939.98; DM212,252,751.11; N26,349,753.61 and US$7,157,865.87. The judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal in the second quarter of 2015 has become a locus classicus in Nigerian jurisprudence on the principles of subrogation of one party for another for purposes of realizing a judgment debt. It is significant to note that Paul was not involved in the proceedings at the High Court of Lagos State which gave rise to this appeal. Indeed, he was engaged for a rescue mission after the appeal had been lodged against the subrogation orders and had to re-engineer the entire strategy of the case for a successful outcome. It is a tribute to his skill that the subrogation orders earlier made against the French Company were completely overturned and it was found not to be liable howsoever for the judgment debts.
As part of the legal team representing the Senate President, Dr. Olubukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Paul’s winning litigation strategy totally reversed the narrative surrounding the much-publicized trial of the Senate President from hopeless to not guilty. Paul’s strategic cross examination succeeded in discrediting both the oral and documentary evidence adduced at trial by the Prosecution. The legal team’s success resulted in dismissal of the case by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on the ground that no prima facie case was established against the Senate President. The success indeed represents a landmark victory and one of the few instances where a “No Case Submission” has been upheld in a controversial matter of such nature.
Apart from earning his stripes as a seasoned and exceptionally skilled advocate, Paul is an experienced transaction lawyer whose records and accomplishments include the world-acclaimed, first-ever and all-round successful Nigerian Digital Mobile Spectrum Auction conducted in 2000. The transaction earned the Federal Government of Nigeria US$855,000,000.00 for 3 Digital Mobile Licences. Paul is indeed generally acknowledged as Nigeria’s leading communications lawyer.
As an ICT law expert, Paul has been involved in virtually all major transactions and regulatory reforms in the Nigerian communications sector. In 2003, Paul Usoro drafted the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, a robust and enduring piece of legislation that regulates the communications industry till date. He has been the primary adviser to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in most of its reform initiatives till date. He served as Legal Consultant to NCC, and was the only African and the sole Legal practitioner in the six-member Auction Control Team for the Global Systems of Mobile Communications (GSM) Spectrum Licence Auction that introduced Econet Wireless Networks Limited (now Airtel), MTN Communications Limited and NITEL GSM to the Nigerian market. Additional core ICT regulatory and transaction experiences are highlighted hereunder:
- Drafted the Nigerian Communications (Enforcement Processes etc.) Regulations, 2005;
- Drafted the Annual Operating Levy Regulations, 2014;
- Acted as sole legal consultant to the NCC in respect of the Mobile Number Portability and drafted the Mobile Number Portability Regulations, 2014 as part of that assignment;
- Preparation, on behalf of NCC, of a National Carrier Licence and an International Gateway Licences for NITEL, a hitherto unlicensed monopoly;
- Acted as lead legal consultants to NCC for the Second National Operator licensing processes, including the auction and preparation of the 3 SNO licences; the process produced Globacom Limited as Nigeria’s Second National Carrier;
- Preparation of the Interconnectivity Agreement between NITEL and licensed private network operators;
- Represented NITEL in the negotiation of the Construction and Management Agreement for the laying of the SAT-3/SAFE/WASC trans-continental fibre-optic cable project which spans the sub-Saharan African Continent and extends to Far East Asia through Southern Africa, with European landing points. This was the first trans-continental cable project in sub-Saharan Africa.
- On account of Paul’s acknowledged eminence as Nigeria’s leading Communications Lawyer, Akwa Ibom State Government appointed and relied on him to manage its portfolio investment in Airtel in 2001. Paul negotiated this investment, valued as at the date of entry at the sum of US$75,000,000.00. Up to May 2006, Paul sat on the Board of Airtel as a Director representing Akwa Ibom State. Akwa Ibom State Government cashed out most of its investments in this enterprise in 2006, in the transaction by which Celtel BV successfully invested over US$1,000,000,000, by way of share purchase from existing shareholders and injected fresh capital into Airtel (“Celtel Transaction”), which transaction was chiefly negotiated by Paul. The State indeed made multiple returns on its investment amount.
- Paul led the Airtel Shareholders Committee in negotiating the Celtel Transaction as the Committee Chairman, which, at the time, ranked as one of the biggest private sector equity transactions in Nigeria’s history. Paul represented the interest of all the shareholders which 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 Paul’s leadership quality that Celtel BV insisted after the Transaction that he remains on the Board even though Akwa Ibom State Government whom he initially represented had about sold out completely from the Company.
- Celtel BV in 2010 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 insisted that Paul remains on the Board of the Company where he chaired the Audit Committee until 2018.
- A founding Secretary General, Telecommunications Law Association, Mr Usoro was named ‘Best Pan African Telecoms Lawyer of All Times’ by the IT and Telecom Digest, Nigeria’s leading and one of Africa’s foremost ICT magazines.
Paul is a consummate boardroom person whose deep analytical mind and illustrious leadership skills are well appreciated in all the Boards he sits. He has, at various times, served on the Boards of several companies such as Premium Pensions Ltd, CR Services (Credit Bureau) Plc (representing Zenith Bank Plc), Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc, Airtel Nigeria Limited, Marina Securities Ltd (currently known as Marina Mars Principal Investments Limited). He currently sits on the Boards of PZ Cussons Nigeria Plc and Access Bank Plc.
Paul was a pioneer director of Airtel Nigeria Limited, Nigeria’s leading mobile telephone company, having been appointed to the Company’s Board in 2001, then known as Econet Wireless Networks Limited. The company has over the years undergone major ownership and structural changes prior to being acquired by Bharti Airtel of India in 2010. Paul also headed the Board’s Audit Committee since the entry of Bharti Airtel till 2018.
Between 2008 and 2014, Paul 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 thereat. Paul has served on the Board of Marina Securities Limited since 2011 and also served as the Chairman of the Company.
As a director of Access Bank Plc, one of Nigeria’s leading banks, from 2014, Paul chairs 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. Paul was appointed as a director of PZ Cussons in 2011; he chairs the People & Governance Committee of the Board.
Once again, happy birthday sir.