West Africa: West win

Dominated by the energy and natural resources sector, West African firms are being courted by the world’s top players. But the locals are keeping their options open with loose networks of referral firms

Led by the booming Nigeria, West Africa is doing well and its lawyers are benefiting. The region is split along cultural and linguistic lines, with Anglophone Ghana and Nigeria surrounded by Francophone nations, often making referrals tricky.

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Lawyers in Anglophone Africa say it is hard to find appropriate partners in the Francophone jurisdictions. For The Lawyer, getting hold of some of the leading Cameroon firms proved impossible.

What characterises West Africa is that it is ahead of the curve in the fast-moving consumer goods sector, thanks to the expanding middle class. However, energy and natural resources remain key.

 

 

 

List of firms

Gabon

Ghana

Nigeria

Gabon

Cabinet Jules Obiang

Managing partner: Jules Obiang

Total number of partners: 1

Total number of lawyers: 3

Founded: 2010

Networks/associations: Miranda Alliance

Cabinet Jules Obiang is a relatively new player in Gabon’s legal market, having been founded by former Deloitte & Touche Juridique et Fiscal lawyer Jules Obiang in 2010.

Advising mainly international clients, the firm promotes itself as full-service, although its main expertise is in oil, gas and mining.

Having studied public law and international business in France, Obiang, speaks French, English and Spanish and is well-versed in Europe’s legal systems. 

Cabinet Jules Obiang is the local member of Portuguese firm Miranda’s legal alliance. This gives the African firm, which is small by international standards, access to lawyers in 15 jurisdictions across the world.

Project Lawyers

Managing partner: Jean-Pierre Bozec

Total number of partners: 1

Total number of lawyers: 4

Founded: 2011

Networks/associations: N/A

Top deals of 2013:

  • Advised Tata Group on aspects of the financing of a fertiliser plant in Gabonese special economic zone  Port-Gentil, working with Linklaters .
  • Worked with Allen & Overy to advise BNP Paribas, Calyon and Societe Generale on the Gabonese aspects of a $2.8bn (£1.68bn) loan to Perenco. The loan was secured against more than 100 assets in countries including Colombia, Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Guatemala, Tunisia, Turkey and the UK.

The firm may be young but Project Lawyers managing partner Jean-Pierre Bozec has bags of experience. Having started his career at Price Waterhouse Juridique et Fiscal, Bozec joined legacy Herbert Smith in Paris in 1998 before moving to Deloitte Legal five years later. The projects he was working on led to conflicts with Deloitte’s auditing business, so he set up an independent practice in 2011.

The firm’s focus is projects and project finance, especially in the mining, infrastructure and oil and gas sectors. Bozec has received a number of approaches from international firms seeking a co-operation agreement, but for now he is happy to remain independent. 

This allows him to work with firms such as Allen & Overy, Eversheds , Herbert Smith Freehills , Linklaters and Webber Wentzel, which collectively provide a third of the firm’s instructions. 

It also allows him to instruct other small independent firms as the need arises. This approach, Bozec says, is an efficient and cheap option he is keen to develop further.

Although Project Lawyers works mainly in Gabon, it receives instructions from across Africa. Bozen has worked in Burkina Faso, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal and South Africa. He has no plans to join forces with firms in any of these jurisdictions but he could launch a new firm affiliated with Project Lawyers, although nothing is planned for the immediate future.

As the firm is still young and small it does not have much need for integrated technology, but it does have access to data and training via Slaughter and May ’s systems as well as e-conferencing technology from Herbert Smith Freehills.

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Ghana

Bentsi-Enchill Letsa & Ankomah

Senior partner: Kojo Bentsi-Enchill

Total number of partners: 7

Total number of lawyers: 42

Founded: 1988

Networks/associations: Dentons; Lex Africa; Lex Mundi

Top deals of 2013:

  • Advised China Development Bank on a $3bn loan to the Government of Ghana, working with Herbert Smith Freehills.
  • Worked with Slaughter and May to advise Kosmos Energy on an $880m refinancing of existing costs.
  • Advised Crédit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank on a $1.5bn loan to the Ghana Cocoa Board.

After working for Shearman & Sterling in New York, energy lawyer Kojo Bentsi-Enchill returned to Ghana in 1988 to set up Bentsi-Enchill Letsa & Ankomah.

Although the firm is best known for finance, litigation and energy and natural resources, it also covers: construction, infrastructure and transport; business and industry; technology, media and telecoms; and employment, pensions and immigration.

With about 80 per cent of its work originating from outside Ghana, the firm is international in  outlook and is a member of Lex Mundi and Lex Africa. It also has a relationship with Dentons that dates back to 2002, when legacy firm Denton Wilde Sapte signed it up as an associated firm. It also works with a number of international players including Clifford Chance , Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells , Linklaters and Slaughter and May.

Conceding that many international firms are seeking to deepen their links with Africa, Bentsi-Enchill says a number have approached him about a more formal tie-up but none of the proposals have been developed enough to tempt him.

According to Bentsi-Enchill, both turnover and headcount have doubled in the past five years and, with the firm about to move into larger premises, he expects this trend to continue.

Fugar & Co

Managing partner: William Fugar

Total number of partners: 4

Total number of lawyers: 19

Founded: 1977

Networks/associations: N/A

Top deals of 2013:

Advised China Development Bank on the restructuring of a $3bn loan to the Government of Ghana, working with Jones Day .

Advised Ghana National Gas Company on its $500m gas commercialisation, in particular its tie-in agreement and gas sales agreement with Tullow Ghana Limited, the operator of the Jubilee Field. Was co-counsel with White & Case .

Advised lead managers to the Government of Ghana on the raising of a $1bn eurobond and dual listing on the Irish Stock Exchange and the Ghana Stock Exchange. Acted alongside White & Case.

Set up by managing partner William Fugar in 1977, corporate and commercial firm Fugar & Co is based in Ghana’s capital Accra.

Formerly the Ghana member firm for Lex Africa and Lex Mundi, Fugar & Co is no longer part of any alliance. Nor does it have any formal or exclusive referral relationships, although it receives a large proportion of its work from international firms including Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills, Jones Day, Norton Rose Fulbright and White & Case.

It also has strong links to South African firms such as Adams & Adams and Bowman Gilfillan. 

Oxford & Beaumont

Managing partner: Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia

Total number of partners: 4

Total number of lawyers: 20

Founded: 2006

Networks/associations: None

Top deals of 2013:

  • Was local counsel for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer when it advised Abraaj Capital on its 100 per cent stake in Fan Milk Ghana.
  • Advised China Export-Import Bank on a $340m loan to the Government of Ghana for completion of the construction of the Bui Dam, working with China’s Global Law Office .
  • Acted with Clifford Chance for a group of banks led by Barclays Capital on the provision of two loans totalling $190m to NMS UK for the redevelopment of seven district hospitals.

Oxford & Beaumont made a little bit of history in 2010 when it became the first Ghanaian firm to open an office in the UK. According to managing partner Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia, the base forms the centre of the firm’s international strategy, with Kuenyehia dividing his time equally between Accra and London as he builds relationships with clients, law firms and other professional services providers. 

Having worked with the likes of Clifford Chance and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Oxford & Beaumont’s strategy appears to be working and it is keen to remain independent.

The firm has benefited from Ghana’s growing economy in the past five years, with Kuenyehia stating its business has grown by 75 per cent in that time. His projection for the next five years is that the business will triple.

In response to this rapid expansion, and after a firmwide review of processes, Oxford & Beaumont is investing in a bespoke technology platform designed to better manage client matters and identify risks. 

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Nigeria

Aelex

Managing partner: Soji Awogbade

Total number of partners: 8

Total number of lawyers: 53

Founded: 2004

Networks/associations: World Services Group; Meritas

Top deals of 2013:

Advised Etisalat Nigeria on the refinancing of a medium-term loan worth about $1.2bn from a group of banks including Zenith Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank and First Bank of Nigeria. Norton Rose Fulbright and Nigeria’s Banwo & Ighodalo also acted on the deal.

Advised the mandated lead arranger on raising a $101.38n loan facility to CMEC/Eurafric for the acquisition of the 1,020MW gas-fired Sapele Power Station after the government sale of assets of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria under the power sector privatisation programme.

Advised Sentinel Exploration & Production Company on a $32m loan to provide working capital for the development of an oilfield.

Aelex was founded in July 2004 when four legacy practices –
O Adekoya & Co, Victor & Charles, Anga & Emuwa and Adegbite Adeniji & Co – merged to give more depth to their individual specialisms.

Unusually for an African firm, Aelex operates in multiple jurisdictions, with bases in Nigerian cities Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja, and Ghanaian capital Accra. 

Although this gives the firm a West African focus, it regularly receives instructions from across the continent, something managing partner Soji Awogbade says has “grown phenomenally in the past five years”.

“When we get instructions in jurisdictions where we don’t have a presence we definitely select firms we know to be leaders in each country,” he adds.

As a member of professional services network World Services Group and legal association Meritas, Aelex has built relationships with a number of international firms, joining with them for training and knowledge sharing and exchanging personnel on an ad-hoc basis.

According to Awogbade, Aelex has worked with nearly everyone in the City, with the firm receiving more instructions from London than it sends in the opposite direction. This has resulted in a number of merger approaches but, Awogbade says, “our position in the market means it’s not been easy to select any of those and go solo with them”.

The firm is targeting turnover growth of 5 per cent year-on-year, although Awogbade is conscious that, with a finite supply of skills in the market, it cannot grow as quickly as he would like.

Aluko & Oyebode

Senior partner: Gbenga Oyebode

Total number of partners: 12

Total number of other lawyers: 74

Founded: 1993

Networks/associations: N/A

Top deals of 2013:

  • Advised joint lead managers JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley on a $400m eurobond issued by Guaranty Trust Bank under its $2bn global medium-term notes programme. Linklaters also advised the lead managers while White & Case acted for the issuer.
  • Acted for MTN Nigeria Communications (MTNN) on a $3.3bn medium-term loan facility from a syndicate of Nigerian banks, offshore banks and export credit agencies to refinance its existing loan facility and to finance MTNN’s capital expenditure and working capital requirements. Baker & McKenzie was co-counsel.
  • Provided legal support and advisory services to a syndicate of Nigerian banks in connection with a $670m financing extended to consortium ND Western, which was advised by Herbert Smith Freehills.

Lagos-headquartered Aluko & Oyebode has come a long way since launching as an oil and gas practice 21 years ago, although it remains true to its energy-sector roots.

Although it previously had an association with legacy Denton Wilde Sapte, the firm has had no such ties for the past five years, preferring to work with a number of firms on a referral basis. 

It receives a large number of instructions from firms including Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, Stephenson Harwood and White & Case. Aluko & Oyebode itself refers a greater proportion of work now than it has historically.

The firm has no formal agreements with other African firms, but hands work to firms in Anglophone Africa on a case-by-case basis. If a client requires advice in Francophone Africa, Aluko & Oyebode turns to partner Michel Brizoua-Bi of Ivory Coast outfit Bilé-Aka Brizoua Bi & Associes. The fact there is one system of law across Francophone Africa, and Brizoua-Bi speaks English while many of his counterparts do not, makes him the perfect choice, says partner Olubunmi Fayokun. An added benefit is that if there is any work Brizoua-Bi cannot handle, he deals with the onward referral.

Banwo & Ighodalo

Managing partner: Ken Etim

Total number of partners: 6

Total number of lawyers: 49

Founded: 1991

Networks/associations: N/A

Top deals of 2013:

  • Advised the Lagos State Government on its collaboration with the Nigerian Federal Government through the Nigerian Ports Authority and private investor Lekki Port Lekki Free Trade Zone Enterprise on the development of the Lekki Deep Seaport. Norton Rose Fulbright was international counsel.
  • Advised Custodian and Allied Insurance on its merger with Crusader Nigeria.
  • Advised First City Monument Bank on its acquisition of FinBank, which was advised by Abuja firm Wali-Uwais & Co.

Banwo & Ighodalo has bases in Nigeria’s commercial and political capitals Lagos and Abuja, making it well placed to advise both corporate and government entities.

Well known for its work in energy, IP and banking and finance, the firm is organised around five core practice areas, with disputes and shipping, aviation and international trade comprising the other two.

Clients include Nigeria’s Sterling Bank, First City Monument Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank, as well as Oando and Lekoil. 

When it launched in 1991 Banwo & Ighodalo’s mission was to create a world-class firm. Although it still operates only in the Nigerian market, the firm works regularly with big names on the international scene, counting the likes of White & Case among its referral partners.

The six-partner firm is led by managing partner and energy lawyer Ken Etim, although name partner Asue Ighodalo still practises at the firm. 

Perchstone & Graeys

Managing partner: Osaro Eghobamien

Total number of partners: 6

Total number of lawyers: 31

Founded: 1997

Networks/associations: Perchstone & Graeys’ Africa Desk 

Top deals of 2013:

  • Worked with Sidley Austin partner Graham Penn on various initiatives for regulatory bodies including the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Securities & Exchange Commission Nigeria to deepen knowledge of various structured financing techniques for the development of the Nigerian capital markets.
  • Represented the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in a multibillion-dollar arbitration concerning a product-sharing contract with a number of major international oil companies operating in Nigeria.
  • Advised General Electric on a $500m investment in Nigerian special purpose vehicle Geometric Power to build a 450MW independent power plant in Aba, Nigeria. 

Nigeria’s Perchstone & Graeys has blazed something of a trail in the African legal market by setting up its own association rather than joining an established one. 

The firm’s Africa desk, which has links with firms in Ghana, Kenya, Angola and South Africa, was set up after Perchstone & Graeys started receiving enquiries from businesses in India and China looking to invest in the whole of Africa. 

Although having the desk means the firm can refer work easily, for now it is not interested in creating more formal links with its referral partners.

That also goes for international links. Perchstone & Graeys works with a number of different firms, such as Sidley Austin for banking, Herbert Smith Freehills for energy, Eversheds for commercial and Clyde & Co on dispute resolution and general policy. It is keen to maintain such non-exclusive links.

While a large chunk of the instructions come from international referrals, much of the firm’s business still originates in the local market. For example, the firm is helping to develop policy in relation to exotic finance. Managing partner Osaro Eghobamien says that as bank lending in Nigeria is limited, it is essential that companies can borrow against future earnings, which the firm has been instrumental in helping to develop over the past three to four years.

The firm, which is well known for its oil and gas focus, is expanding its energy practice to include electricity. This has been made possible by the $25bn privatisation of the Nigerian power sector.

All this is paying off for the firm’s lawyers and staff who, according to Eghobamien, could barely afford their monthly travel bills when the firm was first set up but now nearly all own cars and property.

Templars

Managing partner: Oghogho Akpata

Total number of partners: 9

Total number of lawyers: 60

Founded: 1995 (original firm founded in 1960s)

Networks/associations: N/A

Top deals of 2013:

  • Advised Sinopec on its $7.2bn acquisition of Addax Petroleum. Vinson & Elkins was co-counsel.
  • Advised China’s CNOOC on its $15.1bn acquisition of Nexen. Davis Polk & Wardwell was co-counsel.
  • In conjunction with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, obtained a $2bn-plus arbitral award for ExxonMobil in a crude entitlement dispute with the Nigerian government.

Originally set up as Akpata Chambers in the 1960s, Templars launched in 1995 and has since made a name for itself in energy and natural resources, corporate finance, and litigation and alternative dispute resolution. It recently created an internal investigations and anti-corruption compliance practice to serve mushrooming demand from existing clients. 

Although the firm does not handle a huge amount of pan-African matters, working with only a small number of firms in South Africa and Ghana, it maintains referral relationships with a range of international firms. These include Allen & Overy (A&O ), Ashurst , Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Latham & Watkins and Shearman & Sterling.

According to managing partner Oghogho Akpata, Nigerian firms have not reached the stage of signing exclusive deals, although Templars has been approached on a number of occasions and is one of only two firms that A&O uses in Nigeria. He says 80 per cent of Templars’ foreign work comes from inbound referrals.

Templars, which is updating its IT systems to Mokafive Virtual and issuing all lawyers with MacBooks, aims to significantly grow its 2012 turnover figure of $23m. If headcount growth is anything to go by, it is making strides in the right direction: five years ago the firm occupied 800 square metres of office space but, having added 20 lawyers, it now commands 1,860 square metres.

For Akpata, it is essential that such growth finds its way to the bottom line so it can feed back into further growth. “We want to emphasise profits as well as the quality of the offering,” he says. “We want to attract the best people and we need to have comparable or better pay than our competitors to do that, so we’re highly focused on profits.”

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Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie

Managing partner: Daniel Agbor

Total number of partners: 9

Total number of lawyers: 53

Founded: 1983

Networks/associations: Lex Mundi

Top deals of 2013:

  • Advised Citibank and Deutsche Bank on a $1bn sovereign bond issuance by the Federal Government of Nigeria, working alongside White & Case. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton advised the joint lead managers.
  • Acted for Tiger Brands on its acquisition of a 63.35 per cent shareholding in Dangote Flour Mills valued at NGN 30bn (£110m) and advised on a post-transaction tender offer.
  • Advised Accugas, a wholly owned subsidiary of Seven Energy International, on a $225m loan from Stanbic IBTC, First Bank of Nigeria, First City Monument Bank and United Bank for Africa. SNR Denton (now Dentons) also advised while Clifford Chance acted for the lenders.

Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie started life as oil and gas practice Udo Udoma & Co in 1983. With offices in Nigeria’s main commercial centres Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Uyo, the firm has built a name for itself in capital markets, M&A and private equity.

The firm’s banking emphasis is shown by its choice of managing partner, Daniel Agbor, who joined from Nigeria International Bank (now Citibank) in 1990 and leads the firm’s banking and finance, power, private equity and taxation teams. 

About 70-80 per cent of the firm’s revenue comes from work completed for international clients or local subsidiaries of those clients. Udo Udoma works regularly with UK firms including Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, as well as South Africa’s Webber Wentzel and Bowman Gilfillan and Ghana’s Bentsi-Enchill Letsa & Ankomah. Like the latter two firms, Udo Udoma is a member of Lex Mundi, but Agbor says the three firms’ relationships predate membership of the alliance.

The bulk of the firm’s work is based in Nigeria, although occasionally clients ask it to co-ordinate work in several jurisdictions. This, says Agbor, can be complicated because Nigeria is surrounded by Francophone countries and “the chances of finding a Nigerian that speaks French are slim”.

The firm’s turnover has increased by about 20 per cent year-on-year in recent times, with some of that being reinvested in the firm. The firm is now migrating its IT systems onto a cloud, which has been made possible after new subsea cables laid by MainOne made the appropriate bandwidth available at what Agbor terms “a sensible price”.

Key facts

Ghana

GDP: $40.71bn

Annual inflation: 13.8%

Population: 25.37m

Life expectancy at birth: 61

Unemployment rate: 3%

Source: World Bank, African Development Bank Group, Ghana Statistical Service

Key facts

Gabon

GDP: $18.38bn

Annual inflation: 2.7%

Population: 1.63m

Life expectancy at birth: 63

Unemployment rate: 16%

Source: World Bank, African Development Bank Group

Key facts

Nigeria

GDP: $262.6bn

Annual inflation: 8%

Population: 168.8m

Life expectancy at birth: 52

Unemployment rate: 24%

Source: World Bank, African Development Bank Group, National Bureau of Statistics