Move Back To Nigeria: Lawyer to the Stars, Obianuju Erokwu Chronicles Her …

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Move Back to Nigeria is a series on BellaNaija which aims to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the brilliant team at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap, considering the leap, as well as those who have tried it and realized it is not for them. MoveBacktoNigeria.com’s mission is to showcase stories of Nigerians abroad who have moved back home and are taking giant strides, often against all odds and to serve as inspiration to others. This, however does not preclude us from sharing stories of the people who have moved back and are facing various challenges.

It’s an interesting and quite unexplored angle this week, as we bring to you, our interview with Obianuju Erokwu,  Entertainment & Intellectual Property Lawyer. Read on for some insight into the world of copyright & IP law and of course, her ‘move back’ story.

Thank you for speaking to us. Can you please tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Obianuju Erokwu, most people call me Uju and I am a lawyer. I currently work as an in-house counsel at 960 Music Group, which is a record label in Lagos.

Please give us an overview of your educational background?
I was born in the United States and shortly after my parents relocated to Nigeria. I started nursery school in Lagos after which my family moved to Germany, where we lived for about 3 to 4 years. Following this, we moved back to Nigeria and I lived here until after graduation from secondary school in 2002. I immediately moved to the UK for A-Levels, which was for 2 years and then studied Law at the University of Manchester graduating in 2007.

Afterwards, I moved to the United States to do a Masters Degree in Law, focusing on Entertainment and Intellectual Property at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, graduating in 2008. After this, I successfully took and passed the New York Bar Exam. I moved back to Nigeria for Law School in 2010 and have been here since then. Thankfully, life has been good thus far.

Did you always want to study Law?
Yes, I always wanted to study Law since as young as primary school age. I liked to read a lot, from that age I would read everything, all my older brothers secondary school books, newspapers etc. Also, I was generally very analytical and inquisitive, so it seemed to be the right fit for me.

And your interest in Entertainment and Intellectual Property?
Before I started my degree, I was not entirely sure what area of law I was going to specialise in, but what I did know was that I did not want to be a litigator. During my first year of university, I found some courses pretty boring and figured I did not want to be stuck doing legal work I did not enjoy. I did some research, came across Entertainment and Intellectual Property law, which seemed interesting and from then on, decided to pursue a legal career in that practice area.

This is because I support the right of individuals to be rewarded for their creative efforts, and especially support laws governing IP rights as this greatly encourages and fosters creativity. This in turn fuels the passion to develop new works that the public can ultimately benefit from. Take music for instance and the effect it has on people. Music means so much to different people: It unites, is a form of expression, it’s recreation and has the ability to transform a sad situation to a not so sad one. To be part of system that supports the protection of rights to create and recreate these expressions is very exciting and rewarding.

After graduation, how did you find the process of finding a job in this area of Law?
After my Masters degree, it was a bit challenging. One of the reasons I moved to Los Angeles for my Masters Degree was because I wanted to pursue a legal career in Entertainment and Intellectual Property. The university I attended also helped because they encouraged ‘networking’ and connected you with the right people in industry. However, I graduated around the onset of the recession and so getting a job was difficult. The fact that I did not get my primary law degree from the US did not help and furthermore, practicing Law in Entertainment and Intellectual Property in Los Angeles is incredibly competitive.

I was however, successful in my internship applications, which helped me develop my skills and learn a lot of practical competencies. One of such places was MTV Networks, this was a great experience as I learnt so much about music, royalties and the TV Network side of entertainment. I worked alongside brilliant attorneys and it was a fun collegiate environment.

Shortly after, I came back to Nigeria in 2008 and did the NYSC as well. After which, I returned to the US and worked for a branding and licensing agency called CMG Brands in Los Angeles, which involved the licensing and enforcement of the IP rights of certain brands such as such as I LOVE NEW YORK and the right of publicity of deceased celebrities e.g. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and a host of others. After a while, I got more interested in the movie industry particularly within Hollywood and began gearing up to finding work in that area, but as fate would have it, this coincided with my parents actively encouraging me to move back home for law school in Nigeria, even though I did not feel I was quite ready to make the move. I was already interviewing with the big entertainment companies in the US but in the end they had their way. I cancelled my interviews and moved back to Nigeria in time for the 2010 session of the Nigerian Law School.

What was the experience like at Law School?
It was quite an eye-opening experience. First of all, moving back in general was made easier for me because I moved to Abuja where my family lives. Abuja in generally is more developed in terms of infrastructure than most cities in Nigeria, i.e less traffic, good roads and better electricity supply. In terms of the Law School though, things were a bit different as the Abuja Law School is located in a town called Bwari, which is about an hour’s drive away from the city itself. I found the phone network and the state of other amenities to be quite poor, so it was a case of going from constant electricity, running water and fast internet to next to nothing.

The registration process was also quite disorganised, the administrative bureaucracies were immense with people scrambling all over the place, the school accommodation facilities were no better: we were each allocated to a tiny room, and had to share the bathroom with 3 other people, which was not what I was used to at all. In terms of the learning process, it was like a typical classroom environment unlike what I had become accustomed to in the UK and US. We had to sign a daily attendance register, wear black and white – almost uniform style like back in secondary school, not to mention the “uniform police” who would harangue you if you dared wear earrings larger than a certain diameter, or if your hair cascaded past your shoulders – among so many other, in my opinion, trivial matters. I guess I was not prepared, but in the end, I found a way to get by and acclimatize.

Law school was about 15 months for students with foreign law degrees, and halfway through my study I decided I would not return to the US afterwards, but stay and explore opportunities in Intellectual Property and Entertainment in Nigeria. Although this area of legal practice was not necessarily booming in Nigeria at the time, there were some law firms with practices in this area and I was determined to explore my options. What became clear was that I would have to move to Lagos to find work because that was where things were (and still are) happening in entertainment in Nigeria. Luckily, I located an opportunity at a law firm in Lagos, got interviewed for the job and was made an offer, and that was when I moved to Lagos to practice law.

How did you find your move to Lagos, having lived in the relatively calmer city of Abuja?
At first I thought I was going to dislike it and would be in Abuja every weekend or any opportunity I could get. My move to Lagos coincided with the period just before the Dana Air crash. I was actually meant to be on that flight because my new job was starting the following day but had some complications booking my ticket online and that is how I escaped the crash. It was particularly horrifying for my family and I, as for some reason my name was published in various media forms as being on the flight.

After that tragic incident I decided I would travel less to avoid the risks of flying in Nigeria, and it actually helped my integration into Lagos, as it allowed me explore the city more. Now, I have come to really like living Lagos and do not travel to Abuja as much as I thought I would but my family visit me occasionally. Lagos is a fun and social city, presenting the opportunity to meet many like-minded people. I happen to live within very reasonable proximity to my office and that is convenient, as I do not have to face the challenges that come with commuting in Lagos.

Tell us about where you currently work and what you do.
I work in a record label called 960 Music Group. It is the parent record label to few of Nigeria’s wave-making record labels such as Hypertek Digital (2face, Dammy Krane), Aristokrat Records (Burna Boy, Pucado etc) and few others.I currently manage the legal affairs of the group of companies, this involves: drafting, reviewing, negotiating terms and ensuring the execution of various agreements. These agreements can range from licensing deals, recording contracts, performances, endorsements and MOU’s of various subject matters. I am pretty much responsible for a lot of documents; interfacing with various departments to ensure all contracts are being complied with; enforcing IP rights with the copyright and content management team – this includes ensuring only entities or individual authorized to use, offer for sale and/or distribute IP materials of all artists under the group are doing so; coordinating and implementing corporate administrative matters, essentially legal housekeeping as it relates to all the companies under the group.

There is a lot of work to be done and there is a lot of multi-tasking. Contrary to what a lot of people think about the entertainment industry, we are not sitting around in meetings drinking champagne and watching TV. It is real substantive hard work but it is a very exciting opportunity and I have learnt so much in a relatively short period of time.

Does your current role meet your expectations?
My current role definitely meets and exceeds my expectations. It is not your typical 8 to 5, a lot of things come up and sometimes you need to make yourself available outside those hours. Some days are crazy and chaotic and other days are more even paced. However, it is great to be at the forefront of a change, which has never before been attempted on this part of the globe. In addition, I work with an amazing, enlightened and supportive group of people so that helps greatly.

There is the fulfilment in seeing some of your value after deals are made, songs are produced, videos shot etc. It’s fun! Work should not just be about work, one has to have passion too, this makes the entire process of “working” stimulating, and I am certainly passionate about what I do.

In the long term do you see yourself back for good?
I definitely see myself here for good. I like what I do, and I have met some very interesting people, and formed relationships I would never trade for all the money in the world, but if in future something extremely important takes me (and/or my family if I am married at the time) out of the country, then perhaps I would consider a move, but for now, the plan is to remain in Nigeria. I like to eat and I love to eat Nigerian food, I like the culture – the music! These are just a few of the reasons I am definitely here to stay.

On a final note, are there any tips or specific advice you want to give people thinking of moving back?
Do your research. I was kind of thrown into it and so it took me a few months to figure out how to condition myself for Nigerian living. I have friends who say they will never move back because of the challenges we face in Nigeria vis-a-vis traffic, electricity, security and lots more but I think you can always find a way to deal with or manage them.

Learn to be patient. I found that the more patient I became, the less stressed I was. Going to the Nigerian law School also helped me even though it was the most difficult part of my move back, the challenging experience makes everything else seem better in comparison. I guess you have to go through some difficult experiences to toughen up for life in Nigeria as we still have a long way to go but we are taking strides towards a better system.

Finally, have a career plan and pursue that as much as you can. A lot of people are willing to give you opportunities even if you do not have the experience, as long as you can demonstrate a keen desire, as well as knowledge of whatever industry or business you are pursuing, you will be on better path to success.

Thank you for your time and best wishes going forward.

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The  primary objective of MoveBackToNigeria.com is to connect Nigerian professionals with various opportunities in Nigeria, ranging from recruitment drives to information & support regarding relocation processes, financial & tax advice and much more. Move Back To Nigeria also features social interest topics such as what’s on, where to live, how-to survival tips and so on. Consistently engaging with and featuring Nigerian professionals in weekly  interviews, Move Back To Nigeria regularly publishes social interest articles relevant to the general public. Everyone is welcome to their online discussions & fora and you are invited to air your views & suggestions on the topical and trending matters section. For more information and further inquiries, please contact titi.owoyemi@movebacktonigeria.com.

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