Failure is the Fuel You Need to Succeed – Prolific Finance Lawyer, Onyinye Okafor
Onyinye Okafor’s dream was to become an Accountant like her father, but she changed her mind after reading about Jennifer Parker, a successful fictional lawyer in Sidney Sheldon’s 1980 bestseller, Rage of Angels. However, her first exposure to legal practice was in litigation, which she detested. She knew she had to find another path.
She tried other practice areas and settled with Finance Law, which turned her into a rockstar in Nigeria’s legal circle. Today, she’s a Partner at Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie, and advices international banks including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan, Standard Chartered Bank among others.
Onyinye Okafor shares her story with Business Elites Africa in this interview, and at the centre of it is God and hard work. She believes that the pathway to success in life is anchored on a phrase; ‘pray hard and work hard.’
BEA: You’re an accomplished lawyer in a male-dominated space. Tell us your backstory.
Onyinye Okafor: First and foremost, I owe all my achievements to God. One of my favourite mottos is a quote by one of the greatest saints of all time, St. Augustine, and says, “pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you.” This quote has always been my guiding principle in life.
I went to a special science school, and at that time, I didn’t even want to be a lawyer. However, after I graduated from secondary school, I decided to read Law due to one or two factors. Once I made up my mind, I had to stay back an extra year to enable me to take the subject that I will require to study Law at the University. I sat for the University entrance examination conducted by the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB). I passed and studied Law at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra state, Nigeria.
Coming from a science background and with siblings that had studied Law, I thought having good grades in Law was only for brilliant people, but my brother (now deceased) encouraged me to work hard. I studied hard and went on to make very good grades at University and the Nigerian Law school.
I proceeded to do my compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corp (N.Y.S.C.) at the Law firm of O.C.J. Okocha in Portharcourt. Getting to work at the firm did not just fall on my lap. I worked hard to secure that placement. When I decided I wanted to work in O.C.J. Okocha’s firm, I visited him and discussed that possibility with him. He agreed and said, provided I could get the officials of the N.Y.S.C. to post me to his chambers. I prayed hard for things to go as I desired. Then, I was posted to the ministry of justice, Portharcourt, for my primary assignment, but luckily, they rejected me. That was how it was easy for me to request the N.Y.S.C. officials to post me to O.C.J. Okocha’s Chambers.
After my N.Y.S.C., I heard that Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie (UUBO), my current Law firm, was recruiting, so I applied. After applying for the opening, I studied and prayed hard. Fortunately, I was one of the successful candidates.
Becoming an Associate at UUBO exposed me to many transactions and helped me to hone and refine my skills as a lawyer. As a hard worker, rising through the ranks was just a matter of time, and I progressed steadily until I became a Partner at the firm.
BEA: You mentioned you didn’t want to study Law; what changed your mind?
Onyinye Okafor: It’s funny. There was this novel I read when I left secondary school, Rage of Angels by Sidney Sheldon, and it was the story of a successful lawyer in the storyline that I was endeared to. After reading the novel, I just realised that becoming a lawyer is what I’m called to do. Even before I read it, my dad wanted me to be a lawyer, but I didn’t like it. As a daddy’s girl, I wanted to become a chartered accountant like him. I just wanted to follow in his footstep. Being an Accountant was my dream job at the beginning until I read this book, which refocused me, and I knew I had to be a lawyer and someone that would help people through their challenges and difficulties.
BEA: Did your dream of becoming an Accountant influence your decision to settle for Finance Law?
Onyinye Okafor: No, not really. Finance Law actually choose me. What happened was that when I started working at UUBO, we were exposed to different transactions. We have various practice areas we get to work in, including Energy, Finance, and so on. I believe that my skills and strength pushed me toward Finance. I think my supervisors at the time felt Finance was my strength. And while it chose me, I went on a dance with Finance, and I fell in love with it, which also prompted me to do my Master’s in Finance Law.
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