Oba Nsugbe QC

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This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in January 2010. Read more about Oba Nsugbe QC in the Directory

Our Lawyer of the Month is Professor Oba Nsugbe QC SAN, Joint Head of Pump Court Chambers, a “top ranked” common law set in the Temple with over 70 barristers. Oba also sits as a Crown Court Recorder and has been awarded the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the Nigerian equivalent of a Queen’s Counsel.

Oba was educated at Hull University and was called to the Bar (Gray’s Inn) in 1985.  He became a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1986 and a Crown Court Recorder in England and Wales in 1999.  He took silk in 2002, and since 2004 has acted as Grade A Advocacy Trainer at Gray’s Inn, where he became a Bencher in 2005. The following year, in 2006, he was appointed Joint Head of Chambers, elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and became the Legal Advisor to the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK, a post he still holds to date. He also acts as a Legal Assessor for the General Medical Council and is the immediate former Chair of the British Nigeria Law Forum (BNLF). 
He continues to be active in the BNLF and has been appointed to a number of important Bar Council committees over the years. Oba’s practice in the UK revolves mainly around arbitration, commercial litigation and business crime. He works abroad regularly and has worked in jurisdictions as disparate as Germany, Nigeria, Tanzania and the Cayman Islands. In 1997, Oba spent four months in Malawi, working for the British and Malawian governments on a joint legal project. His work included advising the Director of Public Prosecution on a backlog of over 1,000 homicide cases, as well as conducting briefings and seminars on many aspects of the Criminal Justice system in Malawi. He has also been involved in the training of judges and the reform of civil procedure law in Nigeria.
In November 2008 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award to the profession from the Black Solicitors’ Network and the year before that, the Minority Lawyers' Conference Award for his work for, and with, BME practitioners. In 2009, he was appointed an Honorary Professor of Law by City University. He has appeared in ChambersUK's Leading Lawyers for the past seven years. In addition to becoming a SAN in Nigeria, his overseas appointments have included being a member of the Body of Benchers in Nigeria, Chair of the G50 business group (“investing in Nigeria”) and a Fellow of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative.
Oba is married with children.
Below is our interview with Oba.
BLD: Why did you choose a legal career?
ON: I chose a legal career on the advice of my father. When the time finally came to discuss the future in an open-minded, sympathetic way, my father asked me what I wanted to do. I said: “Daddy, I would like to be a professional footballer.” After barely a pause for breath, back came the answer: “No. You will do law!” I got the impression that he had made me one of those once-in-a-lifetime offers that you can’t refuse. So, the discussion was over, I did law!
BLD: If you were to choose another role/profession other than law, what would it be and why?
ON: Acting, because it’s a bit like being at the Bar but with less responsibility.
BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
ON: "My friend, you need to buck up!” (My father in one of his more expansive conversations).
BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?
ON: I can’t remember because I probably wasn’t listening.
BLD: What career advice would you give to others?
ON: Work hard. Be the best you can be but try not to be too myopic and one dimensional. Always try to think imaginatively and in 3D. It is important to be passionate about something outside law, it will help you to grow as a person. Law is a very rewarding career but it requires patience and a lot of stamina. You actually need to learn each stage before trying to move onto the next. It’s a bit like building blocks. If the one underneath is loose, it will all come tumbling down sooner or later. Don’t try to be someone that you are not, and get a sense of humour if you don’t already have one!
BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?
ON: After my father, I most admire Nelson Mandela because he is an African who exudes an unshakeable conviction and pride in so being. When you look at someone like him, it just demonstrates the lie that apartheid was built on, because he is so clearly not the inferior of anyone, white or black. He did not only “talk the talk” he actually “walked the walk” as well. People actually love him.
BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
ON: Family, Nigeria, Africa, football and jazz.
BLD: What are your dislikes?
ON: Folk music.
BLD: What was your worst moment as a lawyer?
ON: When I was told by the first set in which I did my pupillage that they couldn’t offer me a second six.
BLD: Tell us about your professional high point(s).
ON: Probably becoming a Recorder and then taking Silk the following year because it all seemed to come so suddenly. It all seems such a long time ago now. 
BLD: What was the most famous/interesting case(s) you have handled to date?
ON: I have handled a number of high profile cases but I really don’t like to dwell upon them because in law you constantly have to prove yourself, and you really are only as good as your last case. I invariably feel that the most interesting case is the one I am working on at any given moment. Amongst quite a varied workload, I am presently acting for Lagos State in an interesting arbitration which is being heard in London, as well appearing in a case in the Crown Court, which has a particularly high profile in Nigeria.
BLD: Any professional regrets?
ON: Nah!
BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
ON: Fix Nigeria’s electricity power problems.
BLD: Could you tell us more about your family life?
ON: Challenging because it feels like I am always haring around juggling balls.