Success makes more meaning when it is taken beyond material acquisition and social status to things as valuable as integrity, value proposition, and trust. In this interview, Mr. Ojenike Abimbola of Slingstone LP spoke on the general concept of success, his career growth and development, “The Destiny Trust”, a foundation he co founded to cater for the vulnerable in the society and many more.
His personal and career growth and general disposition to life is inspirational.
DNL L&S: May we meet you
Ojenike: My name is Abimbola Ojenike. As a lawyer, my work focuses on litigation and transactions with special interest in assisting emerging businesses in the technology space regarding corporate finance, industry regulation and intellectual property transactions. I am fascinated by the opportunity to see new businesses grow and it means a lot to me to provide the full legal resource they often require in their growth process. I studied law at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; and the Nigerian Law School. I’m a Partner at Slingstone LP, a growing law practice providing specialized services in litigation, technology and venture capital. I was recently recognized as one of the 40 ‘Under 40’ rising stars of the legal profession at the Nigerian Legal Awards. I love the fine interplay between law and social change. I’m passionate about initiatives that have transformative impact in the lives of people within vulnerable groups.
DNL L&S: How long have you been practicing law?
Ojenike: I was called in 2008 and have since been in active law practice.
DNL L&S: What informed your decision to pursue a career in the Legal Profession?
Ojenike: My first attraction was how law can be a force for common good. As an 80s’ child, I was politically socialized through the years of military rule and admired great public interest lawyers and activists like Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi. I also wanted to be able to defend the weak and correct injustice. Beyond civil rights, I also love that law is a driver of growth and development.
DNL L&S: Can you still recall your first Court appearance?
Ojenike: My first appearance was before Justice Abutu at the Federal High Court, Lagos. I was assigned to appear with a senior colleague. We had two matters before two Courts at the same Federal High Court. When we got to Court, he told me to be prepared to appear alone in the matter before Abutu J. if the matter was called. I had read the case file before, just as new lawyers read case files to be familiar with the facts. I didn’t read it in preparation for a court appearance but I knew the background. The matter had suffered serious delay. The Plaintiff’s motive was to keep the matter in Court to defer a huge debt repayment obligation. While preparing for hearing, Plaintiff’s lawyers (a top law firm) informed us that hearing would not go on because a certain Counsel was bereaved and would be attending his father’s funeral. Without being insensitive, we knew it was just an excuse to further delay trial. The named Counsel had not been involved in the matter in more than 2 years that the matter had been before the Court. He was not the Counsel on record and the funeral rites had taken place already by the invitation card they brought to Court. For such a big law firm, it was also unlikely that no other person was competent to handle trial that day. I was seriously upset and asked the Court to strike out the Plaintiff’s case and schedule our counter-claim for hearing. It wasn’t the proceedings for serious legal fireworks but I was glad that the Court was persuaded by my rehash of the procedural history of the case and suggestion that the Plaintiff’s excuse wasn’t genuine. I spoke too fast and with a trembling voice too because I was both vexed and nervous. I got the balance in a moment when the lawyer that sat next to me pulled me by the gown and said “slow down, my Lord is putting you on record”.
DNL L&S: Tell us about your journey so far in your career?
Ojenike: I started my career as an intern at SimmonsCooper Partners in 2007. I was reabsorbed into the firm after Call. The work experience at SimmonsCooper was invaluable. I joined the firm few months after the merger. I worked across both dispute resolution and transactional teams. This gave me a healthy balance of exposure to diverse practice areas. I worked at various times as Team Lead for a Litigation Team and a Sub-Team Lead for a Transactional Team.
Currently, I am a Partner at Slingstone LP. We started SLP in January, 2015 to provide personalized legal services that fit the bill to businesses and individuals. Legal services can be effective and cost-efficient. With many lawyers in Nigeria, many businesses are still under lawyered. We still have a huge population of the lawyered. We recognize that emerging businesses require the resources of a full-service service law firm previously offered only by big law. Major businesses and high-net-worth individuals who invest in startups and collaborate with them have this robust legal support. We want to provide the superior legal solution that individuals and businesses at different levels of growth can trust and afford.
Beyond law, I’m Co-founder and Director at The Destiny Trust (destinytrust.org), a social intervention providing education, empowerment and care to homeless children. I started the initiative in August 2012 with 4 of my colleagues at SimmonsCooper. We were hoping we could also use the initiative as a platform for engaging young lawyers from leading law firms in making social impact without abandoning the dream of a successful law career. The Destiny Trust now draws passionate young professionals from diverse backgrounds and is growing into a strong voice in addressing child poverty, illiteracy and homelessness. The Trust rehabilitates, feeds and shelters street children and orphans, reintegrates out-of-school children in schools, runs a technology and innovation development Centre called the Kids Innovation Hub to empower underrepresented children with programming skills. We also support under-resourced public schools-renovating classrooms, providing classroom furniture, teaching aids, potable water and so on.
DNL L&S: You have spoken quite a lot about the things you do at The Destiny Trust, these obviously cost money and time. How do you get to fund these activities?
Ojenike: The Destiny Trust is mainly funded by the members, volunteers, friends and family. We ask people within our small social network to support the project. About four companies have made financial contribution to our work at different times since 2012. Sometimes the going gets really tough. We take personal bank loans to pay major expenses of the project. Our employers then, SimmonsCooper, supported us by contributing part of the cost of setting up our Residential Learning Centre and Orphanage in Lagos. Every year, we also run a social media crowdfunding campaign called #1000HelpingHands. The proceeds of the campaign is for enrolling up to 200 children in school annually. We are looking for the opportunity to collaborate with more organizations to expand the impact of our work to more children.
DNL L&S: Do you have employees who work for salary?
Ojenike: The Destiny Trust has a full-time workforce that is paid salary. We have Home Administrators, Care Givers, Programmes Officers, Instructors for Coding, Music and other vocational skills training. The full-time staff supports our Executive Board members who are professionals who have their day jobs. Our Trustees, Founders and Executive Board members are not paid. We also don’t reimburse them for personal expenses incurred in the course of serving here.
DNL L&S: You spoke about other professionals identifying with Destiny Trust. What is your membership strength at the moment and how can people of like minds and desire join you?
Ojenike: We currently have 68 Volunteers. More than 50% of them are lawyers. We are looking for more people who share our passion to make a difference in aspects of education, care and empowerment of disadvantaged children. You can sign up on our website (www.destinytrust.org) or send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Volunteering Team will respond promptly to assist with onboarding.
DNL L&S: How do you think more established government and private institutions can really come in to partner with you on The Destiny Trust objectives?
Usually, we look for areas of mutual interest to collaborate with potential partners. Partners can sponsor or contribute to specific projects like our school enrollment and back-to-school drive, scholarship for children under our care and support for our tech skills project at the Kids Innovation Hub. We organize community outreaches that give our partners the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and make an impact. For the public sector, we look forward to sharing some of the lessons we have learnt in the course of this work. We want to collaborate on research and contribute to important policy debate on education and planning for the poor. We acknowledge the limitation of charities in fixing Nigeria but we believe that we can, through this effort, generate relevant evidence of what can change when we deliberately make a plan for the common man.
DNL L&S: What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career as a lawyer and how did you overcome them?
Ojenike: The first challenge was how to integrate into a fast-paced law firm environment and be a valuable team member. There was so much to do and not everything I saw was closely related to what was taught in the university and Law School. It was like being taught to swim from the deep end. I took responsibility for my self-development and rode on the support of senior colleagues who had become brothers and sisters to me. They celebrated my little achievements and rewarded me with bigger challenges. I wasn’t afraid to show how little I knew and to unlearn. I chose the best team members as friends and showed real commitment in helping them manage their work. I learnt from them by playing supporting role, studied every final work product to see better approaches and challenge myself to generate original work product that are comparable to the best I have seen and worked on with other lawyers.
DNL L&S: As a Lawyer, what does success mean to you?
Ojenike: Each one of us must first define what success means to us. We would be in serious trouble if we see a successful lawyer through the prism of social expectation- material trappings, fame and all that. If we ever thought that it was all about that, we now know better. As a lawyer on the journey, I believe that building trust is so important; trust in terms of how we conduct our relationship with the people we serve and our professional competence. Basic honesty in our dealings with Clients, business environment and society will create a lasting and rewarding relationship. Our knowledge base must also continue to grow and reflect the pattern of what our economy and the society need. We have to create real values.
DNL L&S: What are some of the values you live by?
Ojenike: I believe we are all created for something that is beyond us. We are an answer to something. We must find that need and fulfill it. Our lives really won’t count for much if we make it all about ourselves. There is a depth of joy and fulfillment we can only find from spreading joy and lifting others up.
DNL L&S: What inspires you?
Ojenike: I’m inspired by the Word of God and the lives of good people. Seeing things that are dysfunctional also inspires; triggers thoughts of what can change.
DNL L&S: Who are your role models in the legal profession?
Ojenike: I have many role models and for different reasons. I have worked with some closely and observed others distantly. Just to mention a few, I greatly admire Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, Babatunde Irukera, Yemi Candide-Johnson, SAN and Bode Olanipekun, SAN. Professor Osinbajo and Babatunde Irukera are some of the finest lawyers that I know. It was so fulfilling working closely with them and seeing a bigger picture of how law can work for common good beyond the realm of civil rights advocacy. They challenged us to be better and were patient with our growth process. I heard it’s common for senior lawyers to verbally assault their employees. In all the years of working together, I have no recollection of any occasion Prof spoke to anyone in anger. We had the freedom to make errors and seek correction. We learnt personal discipline and responsibility by their own ways and unspoken expectations. Ikem Isiekwena and Ehigie Agboga did the work of baby-sitting me as a baby lawyer. They are lawyers I look up to.
DNL L&S: If you were not a lawyer what other profession would you have loved to venture into?
Ojenike: I love farming. Seeing things grow gives me so much joy. I also love teaching and journalism.
DNL L&S: Tell us a little about your family
Ojenike: I am happily married to Oluwakemi Oluboba, my craziest fan, conscience and trigger when I’m doing what is right. We are blessed with an amazing parents, brothers and sisters. I’m a last born but marriage gave me a wonderful kid sister, Oluseyi. We also keep an unusually large family of many children God brought into our lives. The children have redefined everything we thought family or life was. It’s humbling to have them in our lives and to be loved back.
DNL L&S: How do you relax?
Ojenike: I enjoy still moments, long walk, tennis and window shopping. I also get to play football with kids and that is the only time my football skills show.