Paul Usoro, SAN is the Senior Partner and founder of Paul Usoro & Co (PUC), a top commercial law firm headquartered in Lagos with offices in Abuja and Uyo. 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. He is an active member of the National Executive Council of the NBA, 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 boardroom 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.
Background, Training, and Qualifications
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. During his compulsory National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) he had a stint with the Benue State House of Assembly and thereafter served at George Uloko & Co in Makurdi where he cut his teeth in advocacy practice. In 1983, he joined Sani Mohammed Kuso & Co in Kaduna. His hard work and intellect resulted in a rapid elevation to Head of Litigation, leading the Firm in complex litigation matters including about 12 (twelve) House of Assembly election petitions in Niger State sequel to the 1983 elections and also the representation of 3 (three) key persons before the Awoniyi Commission of Inquiry in Niger State in 1984.
In 1985, Paul founded PUC in Kaduna. In 1992, the headquarters of PUC was established in Lagos with the Kaduna office still operational until 2003 when the northern operations were consolidated into a new branch office in Abuja.
Today, PUC is a full-service Nigerian commercial law firm, with its principal office in Lagos, and 2 branches in F.C.T., Abuja and Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.
Paul Usoro, SAN was elevated to the Inner Bar as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2003. Mr Usoro has continued to develop himself through relevant post graduate executive courses, including Leadership Best Practices training at Harvard Business School in Boston, USA and Finance for Executives Program at the Fontainebleau Campus of INSEAD in France. In 2001, Paul earned his preferment as Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He is a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group.
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’s skills and prowess as a litigator and strategist are nationally and internationally acknowledged. The rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is in recognition of his advocacy skills. Paul’s litigation practice (election petitions, real property, criminal matters, oil and gas, commercial litigation) cuts across all the superior courts in Nigeria with a vibrant appellate experience. A passionate and intellectual advocate – multinational companies, Nigerian blue-chip companies, political parties/election candidates and high net worth individuals routinely seek Paul’s litigation support and experience. A brief highlight of a few matters handled by him is presented hereunder:
· Paul was pivotal to the recovery of N16billion 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 was the strategist and coordinating anchor for the defence of Akwa Ibom State in the Supreme Court oil well matters between Akwa Ibom State on the one hand and Rivers and Cross River States respectively on the other hand. These cases were determined in 2011 and the outcome thereof was Akwa Ibom State’s retention of most of its oil wells that were the bone of contention in the suits.
· 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 was the anchor, strategist and coordinator for the defense of Governor Udom Emmanuel in the 2015 Election Petition right from the Tribunal and up to the Supreme Court. The victory at the Supreme Court indeed vindicated the strategy designed by Paul and his Team.
· Paul successfully defended the 2015 elections of 11 National Assembly Members from Akwa Ibom State including those of the current Senators, at the Tribunals and the Court of Appeal. It is indeed a testimony to Paul’s legal sagacity and skills that not one of the election-related matters handled by him was lost in 2011 and 2015.
· 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 12billion 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.
· Paul represented the immediate past Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio, CON in three (3) 2011 pre-election matters. All 3 matters traversed the rungs of Nigeria’s superior Courts, starting from the Federal High Court and terminating at the Supreme Court and the judgments at each point were in favour of the former Governor.
· 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.
The advocacy experience of Paul Usoro is very robust and diverse. Paul leads the Litigation Group of the firm and is personally involved in representation and drafting of processes for virtually over 286 matters pending before various superior courts as at September 2017. The various matters span all the areas of law including real property, criminal, tort, industrial relations, election petition, taxation, and commercial litigation.
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-around 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 fiber-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, as at date, he chairs the only Committee of the Board i.e. the Audit Committee.
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 by 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 and currently sits on the Boards of PZ Cussons Plc, Airtel Networks Limited, Marina Securities Ltd and Access Bank Plc. Paul is 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 is the only surviving pioneer director of the company and has headed the Board’s Audit Committee since the entry of Bharti Airtel till date.
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.
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 is currently the Chairman of the Company.
The erstwhile President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR, in 2011, appointed Paul a pioneer director on the board of Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) – Nigeria’s sole power trading organization, fully-owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The NBET Board was, at that time chaired by the then Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, with the Minister of Power as a member. Paul was also the pioneer Chairman of the NBET Board’s Audit Committee.
In 2012, Paul 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.
Paul is on the Faculty of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies as an astute trainer on telecommunications law and practice. Accordingly, he has delivered several papers at NIALS’ workshops, seminars and training sessions. To mention but a few, the following papers were personally presented by Paul while about 5 (five) papers, due to the conflict in schedule, were presented on his behalf by his colleagues in the office:
· “Telecommunications Law and Regulations ”. Paper presented at the Legal Advisers/Law Officers Course organized by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Government.
· “ Drafting Commercial Agreements and Banking Documents: Telecommunications Contracts”. Paper presented to Course participants at Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Lagos Campus.
Paul is a committed and active member of the NBA and the International Bar Association. He attends most NBA Annual General Meetings and National Executive Committee (NEC) Meetings. Paul is an active member of the NBA Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee set up in 2016. PUC fully sponsored the Elders’ Night of NBA Lagos Branch 2017 Law week and routinely sponsors Lagos Bar events. Paul hosted NBA NEC members and senior lawyers in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State in November 2014 and responds positively whenever requested to sponsor and/or participate in Akwa Ibom and Cross River States’ Bar activities. Paul’s Firm was the sole sponsor of one of the most attended Break-out sessions at the 2017 NBA Conference: “Emerging Trends in Global Legal Practice”. PUC paid for travel costs of the four (4) foreign speakers who made presentations at the session.
Paul was the pioneer Chairman of the Communications Committee of the NBA Section of Business Law (“SBL”). Supported by Paul, PUC is actively involved in the sponsorship of SBL activities. The Firm produced the Chairman of the SBL between 2010 and 2011, with the total support of Paul Usoro, SAN.
PUC regularly pays annual practicing fees and branch dues for its over thirty-five lawyers. Paul has presented several papers at NBA programs, using the platform to share knowledge with old and young lawyers. Some of these papers include:
· “ Frontloading under Akwa Ibom State High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009 ”. Lead Presentation at Joint Workshop by the 3 Nigerian Bar Association Branches (Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, and Eket) in Akwa Ibom State.
· “ E-Legal Practice and the Prospects of Litigation in Nigeria ”. Lead Paper presented at a Session of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Section of Legal Practice Maiden Conference in Abuja.
· “ Licensing Procedures under Communications Act 2003”. Paper presented at the Nigerian Bar Association, Port Harcourt Branch Bar Seminar/Law Week in Port Harcourt.
· “Emerging Nigerian Communications Industry and the Role of Lawyers ”. Paper presented at the 2004 Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association held in Abuja.
PUC’s Support for Lawyers’ Wellness
For nine (9) years and counting, PUC sponsors the Lawyers’ Table Tennis Open (Mfon Usoro Cup), nicknamed the largest sporting event among lawyers. LTTO is a Table Tennis tournament open to lawyers from within and outside Lagos. Travel and accommodation cost for out-of-town lawyers are underwritten by PUC. The 9th edition of this tournament will hold in October 2017. Prizes include fully paid return flight ticket to the International Bar Association (“IBA”) Conferences and other attractive prizes for 2 nd and 3 rd positions.
Papers and Scholarly Works
· “Telecommunications Law and Regulations ”. Paper presented at the Legal Advisers/Law Officers Course organized by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.
· “ Drafting Commercial Agreements and Banking Documents: Telecommunications Contracts”. Paper presented annually from 2003 to Course participants at Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Lagos Campus.
· “ Frontloading under Akwa Ibom State High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009 ”. Lead Presentation at Joint Workshop by the 3 Nigerian Bar Association Branches (Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, and Eket) in Akwa Ibom State.
· “E-Legal Practice and the Prospects of Litigation in Nigeria”. Lead Paper presented at a Session of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Section of Legal Practice Maiden Conference in Abuja.
· “Licensing Procedures under Communications Act 2003”. Paper presented at the Nigerian Bar Association, Port Harcourt Branch Bar Seminar/Law Week in Port Harcourt.
· “ Emerging Nigerian Communications Industry and the Role of Lawyers”. Paper presented at the 2004 Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association held in Abuja.
· Creating an Enabling Legal Environment for Information Technology. Presented at NITDA organized “E-Nigeria” Workshop in Abuja.
· Nigerian Issues on Interconnectivity Arrangements. Presented at the International Conference on Electronic Commerce and Telecommunications in Lagos.
· Commentary on Paper presented by Chief E A O Idowu titled “Bills of Lading: Practical Implications – Today and Tomorrow”. Commentary made at 6th Annual Maritime Seminar for Judges in Abuja.
· Legal Significance of and Issues on Electronic Bill of Lading. Presented at the Annual Maritime Seminar for Judges in Abuja.
· Legal Framework for Introduction of E-Commerce. Presented at US Embassy organized CTO Week in Lagos.
· Digital Mobile Licence Auction: The Success Story and the Challenges therefrom. Presented at the Lagos Business School in Lagos.
· Drafting Commercial Agreements Banking Documents: Telecommunications Contracts. Presented at Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Lagos.
Apart from the leadership roles he has undertaken in NBA/SBL activities, it is a testimony to Mr. Usoro’s leadership skills, integrity, accountability, independent, analytical mind that he has consistently been given the responsibility of chairing the Audit Committees of the Boards of Companies he sits on -– a key and strategic committee of any Board (chairs Airtel’s Board Audit Committee, chaired Premium Pensions Limited Board Audit Committee and chaired NBET Board Audit Committee). He is a member of Access Bank’s Board Audit Committee. His leadership qualities and illustrious nature are evidenced by the Chairmanship of the Board of Directors of Marina Securities Ltd.
Paul is a natural leader. Even at a young age, he contested for and won the Presidency of the Law Society of Ife, becoming the first student from Nigeria’s ethnic minorities as at that time to occupy such office. He breaks down barriers and glass ceilings.
Paul is a peoples’ person, a consensus builder, and a master strategist. He knows no stranger, welcomes and accommodates all. Even where Paul is invited by clients on a salvage mission, he always encourages the client not to disengage the counsel previously engaged on the matter prior to his instructions, promising to work with the counsel for and in the interest of the client. Paul is known for his ability to effortlessly function as a team player and a team leader. His keen attention to details and talent for logical analysis, even under the riotous waves of pressure, have produced, and will keep producing towering achievements. As a matter of practice and personal conviction, Paul believes in and is committed to youth empowerment, diversity, and inclusion. New hires in PUC being post-NYSC enjoy six figures start salaries and are encouraged to tap into the sustainable growth scheme of the firm. One such counsel grew from entry-level post youth service to the position of a partner. The firm has 2 female partners. Paul’s hard work, tenacity, and industriousness have catapulted PUC, founded by him in 1985 to one of the top tier law firms in the country. Paul is a role model for and source of inspiration to colleagues. He is a man who is unafraid of challenges; a brother, selfless in his doings; a self-motivated motivator, a dogged and tenacious fighter who never relents until he gets a positive result; and these, among other things, have made him the primus inter pares .
Paul is an extraordinarily intelligent but unassuming master strategist with the innate ability to associate and connect with people from all walks of life. His calm mien naturally endears him to people. His life story does not admit of “impossibilities”, from a first-generation graduate to a founder of a top-tier law firm, to a boardroom guru, to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, to a trailblazer and mentor for several. Paul’s Midas touch makes him a much sought-after professional, in Nigeria and internationally. Paul has a kind heart and a large capacity to empathize. He offers financial assistance to people in need and those who are not in want. Paul has withheld consent for the mention of his several charitable donations and assistance to persons from every ethnic nationality in Nigeria.
Paul’s tranquil, self-effacing and humble disposition belies his extensive national and international network of contacts and friends. He has appeared in court and represented clients in Kaduna, Kano, Abuja, Malumfashi, Katsina, Jos, Kafanchan, Makurdi, Minna, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Uyo, Benin, Asaba, Ondo, Ogun, Ikere-Ekiti, Ibadan etc, and of course, Lagos, and remains loyal to friends he has made along the way throughout his life and career. Paul does not hesitate to invite his network of high net-worth friends to support a course he champions and believes in.
Paul’s practice has opened up opportunities and relationships for him with Federal and State institutions, blue-chip private sector companies, international firms and organizations and high net-worth individuals.
It is notable that all the activities highlighted in this write-up
predates Paul’s decision to contest for the presidency of the Nigerian Bar Association. His life and actions demonstrate consistency, propelled by genuine altruism.
Family Life & Hobbies
Paul Usoro, SAN, a devoted and loving husband and father, is married to Mfon Ekong Usoro and they are blessed with two children, one of whom is a legal practitioner, a member of the NBA and of the New York Bar. He likes swimming, jogging, and reading.