A Day in the Work Life of: Adaku Ufere - International Oil & Gas Lawyer
Not everyone would apply for a job that requires a language skill set you clearly do not possess. Adaku did. Saw the job ad on LinkedIn, and boom, went in for it! In a few weeks, packed her bags and headed to Equatorial Guinea - a country that wouldn't even grant tourist visas. Her life and career was about to take a brand new turn - a turn that she's absolutely loving. She's often quick to say, that she's 'living her best life'.
This piece resonates with me for so many reasons. In the same way one woman made Adaku re-think her career aspirations, in my subconscious, I think Adaku was one of those people that made me believe I could absolutely combine being a lawyer and blogging - doing both excellently well and without being shy of the latter. Although she went to the same high school in Nigeria (Queens College Lagos) as I did, and was a couple of years ahead of me, I have from a distance kept abreast of both her exciting career and blogging adventures!
Adaku Ufere heads the Energy practice at a pan-African law firm; managing legal teams across; Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon, South Sudan and South Africa and directly developing and managing multiple strategic partnerships across the globe for the firm. She was recently named one of the 40 Under 40 Leading Lawyers in Nigeria at the Nigerian Legal Awards 2016. She enjoys public speaking, writing and contributing a lot of her time in mentoring younger ladies.
In her words "I am obsessed with plantains, Novenas, trap music, Beyoncé, mango sorbets, airplane flatbeds, Jo Malone ‘lime basil & mandarin’ shower oil, and ratchet reality shows".
How's that for a balanced life? You'll enjoy this one - take my word to the bank!
1. On waking up and morning Rituals
I don't use an alarm, my body clock is amazing, pretty much every day of my life I'm up at 6.30am/7am. I'd love to say I get up, drink water, run a 5k, stretch, pray, eat a healthy, nourishing breakfast.... but, it’s more like I wake up at 7-ish, laze around in bed for 30 minutes checking my work emails (that's the first thing I do in the morning, horrible habit I know), check twitter to see if the world is on fire yet, and mentally plan my day. I say a prayer (sometimes I do it when I get to the office instead), but more recently I've been tuning into the Young and Catholic Instagram Live Rosary prayer at 8am. Then I finally heave myself out of bed, get ready and go to work.
I don't wear makeup to work so it takes me max 15 minutes to get ready, and my office is 10 minutes away so I can leave home at 8.45am and still make it in before 9am. I don't eat breakfast, water is usually the sum of it, till lunchtime.
2. Getting to Work...
I drive to work, and spend the 7-10 minutes it takes to get there formulating creative ways to avoid the authorities. The Trafico Policia (Traffic Police) in Equatorial Guinea are very zealous and even though everything is in order, the fact that my Spanish is very rudimentary makes me a target for being hustled. So, it’s usually dark glasses on so the Policia can’t see my eyes darting around in fear, blasting Cardi B or whatever trap music makes me feel like fighting, doors locked and giving the Trafico my best Fast & Furious moves to get to work. It’s a very scenic drive though, with great views of the Pico Basile (the volcanic mountain that surrounds Malabo, the city I live in Equatorial Guinea) on the way there.
3. I am responsible for...
I head the Energy Practice department of my law firm, and our primary practice is oil and gas, so that's not entirely an exaggeration. My base is our Malabo office, but I manage a legal team spread out across Africa; Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon, South Sudan, Mauritius and South Africa, and I also directly develop and manage multiple strategic partnerships across the globe for the firm.
In a nutshell, I'm a cross-border, transactional oil and gas lawyer. My job involves sovereign representation; advising governments, international and state-owned companies on a wide variety of issues, in the oil, gas, and mining sector such as; Hydrocarbons, Mining, National Content, State Assets, Oil and Gas Infrastructure and Power. I work with ministries, agencies, authorities, International Oil Companies (IOCs) and National Oil Companies (NOCs) across Africa and globally, with my expertise being: Petroleum Service Contract (PSC) negotiations and re-negotiations; negotiating farm-ins with major IOCs; legal framework and contract assessments; creating and assisting in the implementation of contract management systems for government regulators and cross-border negotiations.
4. How I Got the Job...
I have an LL.B from the University of Nigeria, a B.L from the Nigerian Law School, and an LLM in Oil and Gas from the University of Aberdeen. As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a lawyer. When I was 9 years old I won an essay competition, in which we had to write our autobiography. Imagine a group of 9 and 10yr olds trying to envision university, careers, marriage, children, retirement, death... we didn’t know anything past what Sega console was coming out next or who would play Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in the Sweet Valley movie.
Anyway, I won with a stirring tale of my triumphs and pitfalls and finally succumbing to death at 107 as the Matriarch of a large family (I had just read A Woman of Substance and I’m sure Emma Harte influenced my story a great deal. Yes, I read A Woman of Substance at 9, lol. I read pretty much anything and everything I could lay my hands on). My prize was a box set of John Grisham books, I’m not sure who thought this would be a great gift for a 9year old, but it was definitely fated because the first book from the set I read was ‘A Time to Kill’ and that was it, I was hooked.
Initially I wanted to be a trial lawyer, because that’s always the first legal dream. Defending a client, and winning over the jury at the last minute (at the time I didn’t know we didn’t operate the jury system in Nigeria and also that the Nigerian dispute resolution sector was a nightmare, that dream destroyer came much later in life). So, I had this dream of winning cases in my majestic wig and gown, becoming a judge and ending my career in a blaze of glory as the Minister of Justice for Nigeria.
However, when I was in 5th year in university, I narrowly missed out on registering for Energy Law and had to opt for Jurisprudence instead, and you know how it is when you’re denied something, you start to want it even more. I couldn’t get into the class but I started to cultivate an interest in energy law.
I still pushed forward with my trial law dreams and for my NYSC year I worked as a maritime litigation lawyer and experienced first-hand how soul crushing the Nigerian judicial system was; cases languishing in court for years, lawyers blowing off court dates with flimsy excuses, no stenographers so judges have to write down statements by hand and it takes forever, the heat of the courtrooms etc… As a baby girl I knew this wasn’t the life for me.
This was 2010 and it was the year Diezani Alison-Madueke became Nigeria’s first female Minister of Petroleum Resources. However that ended up for her, that moment was life-changing for me, because at the time it had never even been a possibility. Here was this attractive woman, who liked to look good, was whip smart and was suddenly in charge of the literal life-blood of the country, it was heady stuff, I thought… "wow, I could totally do this”.
At the same time, I was working on an oil spill case and representing the international oil company accused of causing the spill. Helping that company extricate itself from the crimes against humanity it had committed made me all the more determined to somehow craft Nigeria’s oil policy. To ensure companies like that would never be able to do what they did.
So, a combination of hating trial law, seeing Diezani become Minister of Petroleum, and wanting to save the environment, led me to apply for an LLM in Oil & Gas Law at the University of Aberdeen. The way I saw it, if I wanted to change the world, I had to learn from scratch, so I did.
After Aberdeen, I worked for a General Electric, as Legal Counsel for GE Oil & Gas, and left after three years to start my own Legal Advisory & Consultancy Firm; DAX Consult.
While I was doing that I saw the job posting for my current job on LinkedIn, but the job experience was way beyond my experience, you were required to speak either French or Spanish and you had to move to Equatorial Guinea. I was hesitant at first but after thinking about it, and a massive push from a friend, I took the plunge and applied. I was interviewed via Skype and on the phone, and via email, and after two weeks I got the offer, and it was nothing short of miraculous.
I say miraculous, because despite having worked towards this sort of opportunity my whole life, I also started praying a Novena (a Roman Catholic form of worship consisting of special prayers or services for nine successive days) for this job, I did the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes and on the 7th day of the Novena, literally the minute I finished the prayer for that day, I got the Offer.
I was hired as a Senior Associate in the Energy Practice Group, and after 5 months, was promoted to head the department.
5. My typical day at work
My typical day involves getting to work in the morning and having a call with my boss first thing. We both travel a lot and are hardly ever in the same location, so we make it a habit to touch base frequently. I work in the office and sometimes on location at client sites.
I go to lunch at about 1pm and usually, because my house is so close to the office, I go home for lunch and a short nap. Other times I meet up with friends and we go hunt down good paella or empanadas.
Then it’s back to work and I’m at it till 5pm then I go home. I don’t believe in staying at the office past 5pm, unless it’s an emergency. When I go home, it is customary for me to work well into the night; 1, 2am. So, I prefer to leave the office at 5, go home, go to the gym, go to the Paseo (it’s a boardwalk by the ocean), go to dinner with friends etc. Then get back home and resume work.
6. My most memorable moment on the job so far has been...
It was probably the day I was chosen to head my department. I’d only been at the job for 5 months and it was completely unexpected. I mean, I knew I was good at my job, but I didn’t think I was that good! It was definitely a huge confidence booster for me and it was totally memorable.
7. The worst part of my job.
I guess it’s the language barrier. Spanish, French and Portuguese are the official languages of Equatorial Guinea, and I don’t speak either of them. Most times my job involves interacting with multinational companies for which English is the primary language, so I get by. But once in a while I have to deal with issues or documents in Spanish and a lot gets lost in translation. I have an awesome team that can translate laws and contracts from Spanish to English pretty fast, but it’s always frustrating to have to wait for that or attend meetings where I can’t follow the proceedings. I know someone will say go and learn Spanish then, I’ve tried…honestly. Not just working.
8. The perks and best part of my job...
is the experience and exposure it gives me. I have handled transactions and clients I’d never even have seen working as a lawyer in Lagos. Things that most lawyers in my field who have been working for 20+ years have never even done, so that’s always a plus. Like recently I successfully negotiated the first Exploration & Production Sharing Agreement (EPSA) in South Sudan. If you’re in the oil and gas industry you’ll know how big a deal that is. If I were working anywhere else, I’d probably be assigned two pages out of an EPSA to review and do the work with 10 other lawyers while the partners get to go on site, do the negotiations and take the credit. But here I did it on my own. The day we signed the contract I actually cried, I couldn’t believe the works of my hands. It was like my Oscar moment.
I’d also say the travel, I’ve been to some amazing places since joining this firm, and met amazing people. Being a part of this multicultural, expatriate world has given me the confidence to be able to navigate any environment or any situation. Dump me somewhere in Asia and I’m fine, I can do what needs to be done and communicate with whoever needs to be communicated with and get the job done. I can walk into any room, on any continent and hold conversations with people with far more experience than I have and even teach them something. Plus, I’m honing my people and shop talk skills. I work with 20+ people from different countries, some who don’t speak my language and I have learned so much patience, tolerance and gained so much enlightenment, that will only serve me in any future endeavour.
9. One misconception people have about my job is that...
I’m always traveling, therefore “I’m enjoying”. Yes, the travel is nice, yes, it’s taken me to places I’ve never been before. But it’s exhausting. I am rarely in one country for more than two weeks. In one month, I was in a different country every week. In one week, I was in a different country every day (no jokes). My sleep pattern is all over the place, my diet is a mess and my skin breathes cabin air only. On the flipside, I have learned to sleep in very creative positions, and had some interesting travel adventures.
10. If someone wanted a career like this, I'll advise them to...
Get a combination of certification and experience. The oil and gas industry is one in which you can learn on the job, but in my experience, I’ve seen people with degrees in some aspect of oil and gas go much further. Even if you can’t get a Masters or an undergraduate degree, taking courses helps. The oil and gas value chain is pretty extensive; you can work in upstream with an exploration & production company, drilling with a service company, midstream with a transportation company or offtaker, downstream with refined products…. the possibilities are endless. You can work with national oil companies, international oil companies, governments, service providers, EPC companies... Wherever you choose to situate yourself, you can always achieve the full breadth of experience.
For me, because my primary interest lies in creating policy, oil and gas law was the obvious choice. I am making sure to work across the value chain; upstream, midstream and downstream, it’s the only way I can know the industry well enough to create laws that will benefit it and the environment ultimately.
11. After work I...
spend time either watching ratchet reality tv, reading a book, hiking in the mountains, going to the beach, swimming under waterfalls, eating my way across the island, organizing potluck dinners, karaoke etc...
12. What I love the most about a 9 - 5
I don’t really have a traditional 9-5. I may get to the office at 9 and leave at 5, but I start working the minute I open my eyes till when I shut them. I work weekends, I work public holidays, I work personal holidays. Lol, for instance on Christmas Day 2016, I was in my village; Arondizuogu in Nigeria but it had very poor internet service, and I was in the middle of a contract negotiation. Throughout the Christmas holiday and even on Christmas Day, I drove to the next village; Akokwa, every single day, parked my car near the nearest MTN mast, fired up my internet mifi and got to work.
Every. Single. Day of my holiday.
So, to answer the question, I don’t know what a 9-5 is like, so I really can’t say what there is to love.
From the perspective though, of being an employee who can clock out, as opposed to being an employer who is always on the clock, I'd say, and this is because I do prefer (at this current time) being an employee as opposed to being a business owner. When there's an emergency at work, its my responsibility to fix it, but at the end of the day I do my best and go home and sleep, but for my boss who owns the firm, emergencies literally mean his, and people's livelihoods.
I went the entrepreneurial route once when I owned my consulting firm, and I had a staff of two; an accountant and a paralegal, but still the headache was immense. Constantly strategizing and hustling and doing any and everything to keep the business afloat and still have to pay someone's salary and still be able to pay my bills. It was exhausting.
Some people might say things like you can never get rich being an employee etc, but I know to have a modicum of sanity in my life, I'd rather be one, at this time in my life. There's no way I'd want to go through the stress and responsibility employers go through. I might change my mind later in life, I probably will because multiple streams of income are where its at. But right now, I love my 9-5 ish because ultimately, the survival of the company is not dependent on me.
12. If I ever quit my job or if I never had to work, I'd go on to...
Sleep, because I’m tired.
13. One career I'm genuinely curious about, and might try in my second life...
Magazine Editor. I guess I got a feel of that when I was running my blog www.thirdworldprofashional.com. But I’d really like to know what it’s like to be Anna Wintour.
Barring that, professional sleeper, or someone who gets paid to watch TV shows. I can watch TV for Nigeria! Or a mango sorbet taster, I’d enjoy that immensely.
I don't know about you guys, but this interview gave me all the feels! From asking myself if I'd genuinely apply for a job that had such language requirements to wondering if I'm actively pursuing and praying about my career goals!
On a lighter note, I had to google 'Cardi B', had serious thoughts about upgrading my wardrobe and genuinely wondered what a career as a mango sorbet taster will be like.
I hope you enjoyed this one. I know I did, immensely! Please leave your thoughts in the comments, and do not forget to share!
pS: Adaku had previously written a very good piece on maximising your job search via LinkedIn. I've shared it on the blog before but you can check it out again here. And find more helpful career tips on the Career Section of the blog
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- How to Succeed at the Nigerian Law School - 6 Great & Helpful Tips!