1. Which part of the country are you from and how were things growing up?
I am a Lagosian through and through from Ita Akanni area, and we are neighbours to the popular “Oluwole” in Lagos Island. I am somewhat teary-eyed when I go back to that aspect of my life. I tag it as my age of “no responsibility”. I was born during the Biafran war. Although in Lagos, I was blissfully unaware of the war or situation of post-independence strife in Nigeria. My memories of Lagos up until when I became more aware was delightful. I lived all over Surulere, but my most memorable aspect of Surulere life was when we lived on Adeniran Ogunsanya Street. We were five minutes away from UTC. It had everything a child could ask for. There were also shops in the complex that sold comics; Famous Five etc,. I was an avid reader and I read a novel a week. I was not all studious though; I also had a Raleigh bicycle that my father taught me to ride and we played “ten ten”, “hide and seek”, “mummy and daddy”. After our evening shower we would be caked all over with Saturday Night Powder as we listened to stories about Ijapa and Yanribo before going to bed.
2. Tell us a little about your schooling days. Which schools did you attend?
My schooling days were lovely. I went to Yewande Memorial School, on James Robertson Street, Surulere. The school was on the same street as A.G Leventis, which of course we would make a detour to as often as we could.
I remember my pink and blue school uniform and our blissful walks back home with either my mother, aunt, or the house help. These walks were memorable because of the treats we got on our way, such as: goody goody, Ekana Gowon (literally translated to mean Gowon’s fingernail) and Balewa. Back then we had a Fan Milk van that would come round every day and you had the option of a glass of milk or chocolate, which I enjoyed with malted milk biscuits. I recall being very adept with the way I ate my malted milk biscuits; I ate the edges slowly and saved the cows in the middle for last.
3. Are there any particular attitudes, disciplines or life skills that you derived from the process of education?
Gratitude, and values, imbibed from the early part of life such as;
Honesty. I recall as a young person, perhaps before I turned 10, hearing whispers of a notorious kingpin called Oyenusi and what happened to him at the Bar beach. If I recall clearly, some of the public executions were zoomed into our lounge on our television, which came on at 4 p.m. I had no business seeing that at such an early age but the message was clear.
Diligence/ Thoroughness. A song that underscores this clearly for me was the Yoruba song that goes like this, “bi o ba mo iwe re, bata re a dun ko ko ka.” Of course, I wanted my “bata to dun ko ko ka”. It is apparent that whoever put this song together associated success with the type of shoes you wore.
Camaraderie. Garnered especially from sporting activities. I participated in a few track events whilst in school.
4. What would you say is a memorable low point you experienced during your time at school?
Not achieving good grades in my A-Levels year to gain admission to university. I felt such disappointment. My father was trusting enough to let me have a second go at it and I did well scoring A in some subjects.
5. Was it always your ambition to become a lawyer? What prompted that interest in you?
No, I did not set out to be a lawyer or nurse any such ambition in my more ‘aware’ age. I was not good at Sciences so definitely my career path was situated in Humanities. I toyed with the idea of Archeology with Egyptology being something I am passionate about to date. I also toyed with Politics, wanting at some point to become a career diplomat. My father, as well as other parents at that time had other plans so they gently and in some cases violently nudged their children towards professional courses, such as Lawy, Medicine, and Engineering. So, I studied Law & Politics and got BSc Econ from the University of Cardiff.
6. On the way to becoming a partner at the largest and what is widely considered to be the most prominent legal practice in Nigeria, Oyebode and Aluko, you must have encountered some hurdles or major challenges. Which one most stands out?
Aluko & Oyebode is first and foremost the foundation of learning, a legal school like no other. Yes, a few challenges, such as the ‘Mega Imposter Syndrome’ which operated daily in my head, when I first joined the firm. How do you not feel that way, when you are situated in the same room as very clever people? Some of the notable challenges I encountered when I first joined the firm were – unlearning what I thought were vital skills, refining the new skills, developing the humility to learn – and after I jettisoned the imposter syndrome, I had to demonstrate my capacity in a school of Excellence, that Aluko & Oyebode was and still is till date. Working at Aluko & Oyebode also thrust me, particularly in the early years, into that constant battle of trying to find a balance between work and the home front, especially with two young kids. Phew! That was strenuous.
7. What aspect of your character helped you to surmount that hurdle or challenge?
Sheer determination and humility. The humility to hunker down and learn. Not so many law firms at the time I joined Aluko & Oyebode could boast of a catalogue of clientele and breadth of work. I was determined and worked tirelessly, often to the chagrin of family and friends. The reward was always in focus.
8. What would you say has been the highpoint of your career so far?
Being made a Partner in January 2008, just a little over 5 years after I joined the firm.
9. Do you have any regrets at all about the path you took? Have you ever wished you chose a different career?
Regrets? None. I would say my father, God rest his soul, must have had a crystal ball in steering me along this path. I will still pursue my interest in Egyptology and I am looking to join the society very soon, to rub minds with fellow enthusiasts.
10. Of all your landmark achievements (and there are quite a few), which are you most proud of?
Purely from a career perspective, being made a partner. An ultimate achievement for me is earning client’s trust and closing deals. Some of the remarkable transactions have been MTN Nigeria Communications Plc deals. I can mention these, as these transactions are already in the public space. I started working with this client, barely two years after the liberalisation of the telecommunication sector, so to see MTN become what it is to today, brings a smile to my face. Other than career, I derive great joy and a sense of accomplishment when the young people I have mentored go on to achieve their dreams.
11. Nigeria is a particularly tough environment right now and many of our youths are quite disillusioned. There are very few jobs available even for those with university degrees. What word of advice or encouragement would you like to offer our young ones?
I have informally been involved in some level of mentoring. I remember visiting the University of Ife to talk to their Law department and meeting a young man who subsequently interned on several occasions with Aluko & Oyebode, and now works in a well-known firm in the U.S. There are several other young people I also support to give them the necessary encouragement. I also partnered with Legal Concierge; Inemesit Dike to mentor and support young lawyers and give them a sense of direction. I would like to do more of this, particularly with some of the Universities and the Nigerian Law School. I sincerely believe this should be part of their curriculum.
I agree that there are few jobs out there. One advice I give to young lawyers is to explore the opportunities of internship, right from their first year in university. What internships in my view do, is demonstrate focus and create opportunities for developing vital relationships during internships ,being ahead of others in terms of understanding the law profession and identifying the practice area that appeals to them most.
It’s not so dire, as I meet several courageous young people, who although have studied law, are not afraid to follow a different path. Take the start-up space for instance. There are very proactive young people in Nigeria who are achieving remarkable success in this space.
12. Some young Nigerians feel somewhat disadvantaged that they were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths. What would you say to them?
Without a doubt, a silver spoon opens doors, but this in my view, is not the most essential ingredient. Hard work, integrity, competence, competence and yet more competence are key ingredients. You may need to knock on several more doors but with determination, soon one of those doors will open for you. So, don’t be down and out with the silver spoon narrative. Again, I am going to refer to my statement about what young people are doing in the start-up space. Essentially, what I am saying is that there is enough room for innovators. This is a good time for those with no “silver spoon”.
13. Can you tell us of any funny moment you experienced as a student or early in your career that has remained etched on your mind? One that evokes involuntary laughter in you any time you remember it.
As lawyers our standards, rightly so are “exacting”. I would beat myself up for even small typos but now I laugh at my mistakes and approach them with kindness, knowing now that mistakes are shared human experiences. I can now laugh about them and be more empathetic to the young lawyers. I recall sending an email to a client that apparently never left my outbox and then getting myself worked up when I still had not heard back from the client two days after I sent the email! I was just about to send him a reminder, when I saw the email in my outbox!
14. How would you say your education helped to make you the success you are today?
Absolutely, I am quite convinced that I would not have come this far without education. Education is LIBERATING. Whilst there’s truly nothing new under the sun, the ability to read enables you to glean other people’s experiences and learn from it, starting from the one and only “good book” that provides you with fundamental principles of how to live wholesome lives and applying it daily. Education is vital and I am grateful for how knowledge (soft & hard skills) during the process has prepared me and how far it has brought me. I will in my own little way continue to support anyone in this space.
Sumbo is actively engaged in stakeholder forums and is at the forefront of reform in her sector in Nigeria. She actively engages regulators in her sector with respect to various regulations, providing timely and practical inputs and comments to the National Information and Technology Development Agency (NITDA), in relation to the drafting of the current Nigeria Data Protection Regulation and the Implementation Framework. She also provided input to the Data Protection Bill 2020. Recently, she provided comments on the Draft Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries to the NITDA. She has also provided support to the regulators by speaking at various engagements.
Sumbo graduated from the prestigious University of Wales College of Cardiff with a B.Sc. Econ (Law and Politics) in 1989 and was admitted to the Nigerian Bar in 1990. She is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association, International Bar Association, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Franco – Nigerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Sumbo serves on the board of Chapel Hill Denham Management Limited, a leading African independent investment bank as an independent non-executive director.