Yemi Akisanya is an interviewer’s delight journalists would want to have as an interviewee. His quick response and down to earth nature is unprecedented. He is a versatile lawyer, with a stint in the energy sector. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in July 1977 as a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
He is a regular speaker, trainer and facilitator at conferences, seminars and workshops on Energy Law, as well as in the application of Mediation to conflicts, disputes and relationships at all levels of life, commerce, and business. Akisanya is an ordained Pastor, and Bible Teacher. He is also a classical pianist and a choir trainer/director. Despite his busy professional work, he finds time for his other loves such as reading, philosophy, science, fiction, and Christian Apologetics.
In this interview with Saturday Sun, he spoke about the state of the nation, his life as a lawyer, his lifestyle and lots more.
How has been your journey in life?
I attended Kings College Lagos from 1966 to 1972, thereafter obtained an LL. B (Hons), from the University of Lagos, Nigeria in 1976 and, in 1979, an LL.M from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
After brief stints with the firms of Odujinrin and Adefulu in Lagos, and Sullivan and Cromwell in New York, respectively, between 1979 and 1981, I joined the Law Department of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (“MPNU”), in November 1981, as Counsel in the company’s Law Department, the Office of General Counsel.
From 1993 to 1996, I was an International Transactions Counsel, in the Office of General Counsel of Mobil Oil Corporation, E & P Division, in Fairfax, Virginia. I retired (elective voluntary early retirement) from MPNU in March 2002, after over twenty-one years of service, the last seven of which were spent as Senior Counsel, Acting General Counsel, and Company Secretary. Presently engaged in private law practice as Principal of Adeyemi-Akisanya Associates, a service oriented boutique firm of Attorneys, Mediators, and Conflict Resolvers.
As a voice in the Energy sector, is government justified to hike fuel price and power tariff this period of pandemic?
These subsidies should never really have been sustained over the years. Truth be told, the money spent on these subsidies would have been better spent on other more needful areas of the economy.
Assuming of course, we can resolve some of the systemic dysfunctions of our governance structure. Regardless of the economy, people buy food and other services at economic cost; why not energy and fuel. If other infrastructural facilities were in place, such as good education, health, transportation and housing, people will be able to afford these things. Who knows how long this pandemic will be with us and, in any event, are there no other ways that the government can provide relief to the people?
What would you say are the lessons learnt by the ruling class and the masses from the recent EndSARS protests?
Nigeria has taken some fundamental steps which need to be reversed. First, we should return to true federal structure, on which our first republic was founded. Government was brought closer to the people through a system of provinces. We could use the twelve states and provinces, which existed from 1967 to 1976.
Secondly, we should design a governance system suitable to our needs and resources. We should not have to choose between a Westminster system or the American executive presidency system. Even if we adopt them as starting framework, these should be further adapted to our own realities.
Thirdly, there is a need to restore a professional civil service. Remember when Perm Sec meant “permanent secretary”. What I am going to say now should not be taken as a support or desire for a military or other dictatorship, benign or otherwise. However, it is instructive that such leaders are able to govern effectively with a small ruling junta and a mere handful of cabinet members and executives. The backbone of such systems, as in Nigeria past, was an experienced, highly skilled, professional, and efficient civil service. Along with these, we must also now move away from a system that equates government service or leadership with ostentation and a sense of privilege and entitlement, instead of sacrifice and giving. Our young generation must not grow up associating their image of government leaders with expensive flowing robes, exotic vehicles, lavish films-star like lifestyles, and a shortcut to wealth and privilege. The education system should reflect this. What history are we teaching? What religion are we teaching? What happened to “eni ko sise, a ma ja’le”. What is the point singing about the “labours of our heroes past”, when one can neither name even one of such heroes nor tell of their heroic acts in a way that inspires? Thus, hypocrisy is already ingrained in the mindset from an early age – the impressionable stage of life. We need to find a way to encourage back a culture of love, caring, generosity, and consideration for others.
Let us inculcate love leadership and self-denial in all areas of life. Caring for your neighbour and your environment. Our churches, and other religious groups should take the lead in this move. Start with leaders who, among other virtues, wash the feet of their members and not vice versa. Pope Francis is admired not so much for the soundness of his doctrines or the demonstration of miracles, signs, and wonders. It is the virtues that he reflects. Same for Mother Theresa.
There must be a commitment to truth and a hatred for lies, actively encouraging the flock, by example, to adopt a spirit of contentment. By so doing, you become salt to the earth and light to the world. The current crisis is like the stage of labour and travailing in the process of childbirth and a baby’s head that needs to be accommodated for safe exit. whole process is like the need to on the process of childbirth. Obstetricians will tell you that either you manage and control the process – i.e. do an episiotomy, which you have control of and can manage with minimum collateral “damage” or end up with uncontrollable, unpredictable, and sometimes irreparable tears. This whole crisis is a birthing process to make way for a new nation. It is a wind of change which must be skilfully embraced or else, it will destroy. God forbid! This caveat applies to both government and protesters. As hard as it is, let us start with forgiveness and not a spirit of vengeance, retribution or even vindication. Let us adopt a courage of purpose to do what is needful whatever needs to be moved or adjusted. It is a begin again, almost. A willingness to acknowledge that we have got it wrong so far and a readiness to pull the stops and start all over again, sincerely, and diligently. Note my previous comments about the fundamental steps that must be reversed. Anything not addressed now, will surface again in future; it is only a matter of time.
What inspired you to study law, and why specialized interest in Energy?
As a young man, I talked a lot and often advocated on behalf of others in many situations. I am probably not alone in this, but this caused me to be prodded toward a study and career in law. My period on Sullivan & Cromwell in New York introduced me to the fact that corporate legal practice was as challenging intellectually as courtroom advocacy, breaking a myth for me that “desk lawyers” were the dull cousins of bright advocates and barristers. Joining Mobil thereafter, was my introduction to a career and practice in the law of energy, oil and gas.
What are some of the memorable moments in your life and career?
My first flight to London on Nigeria Airways in September of 1976. I stayed awake all of the six plus hours and ran a commentary continuously, much to the annoyance of my poor neighbour in the seat next to me, who was my captive audience. It did not even appear to me that anything served in First Class could surpass the pleasure of my experience. The bliss afforded by ignorance. Then, coming to Sullivan & Cromwell in September 1981. In my former firm Odujinrin, I thought we were it. After all, we had two offices, radio connected and fairly sophisticated amenities and facilities. This was quickly punctured by Sullivan & Cromwell in an office occupying five floors of a major building, with over two hundred lawyers – seventy-two partners – and plenty of support staff. And there were other offices, too.
Performing J. S. Bach’s “Magnificat” and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Requiem” with the choir of the LSE Musical Society, with solos led by live album-name professionals from the Academy of Saint Martins-in-the-Fields, whom I had only previously encountered on record album sleeves.
The night my daughter was born on June 13, 1982, being sped along with a siren blaring police car, because my wife was quarter to delivery and we needed to reach the hospital across the Brooklyn Bridge, in Manhattan, on time to avert potential disaster. We could not afford to wait for an ambulance. And being there to see the delivery in person – miracle! I did not faint, yes, I did not! – but then, nearly did later, when asked to do the honours with the cutting of the umbilical. Being the lead Nigerian Counsel in the Project Financing for Mobil Producing Nigeria’s Oso Condensate Project. This was probably the first major project financing, bar NLNG, in the Nigerian Oil Industry. Exciting interaction with international professionals at the World Bank and IFC. I received a special award and recognition from my company for my contribution, not to mention the miles racked up in cross-Atlantic flights and acquired immunity to jetlag.
At what point did you become a pastor? Are you a pastor’s child?
In 1991, as Director of Music for the RCCG Mission, I was ordained an Assistant Pastor and later a “full” Pastor in 1996, in connection with my services and office, then. No, I am not a pastor’s child. My Father was a lecturer, and later Professor, of Organic Chemistry and my mother was a bespoke Dress maker, though a full-time housewife.
How was life growing up, any memorable experience you would want to share with us?
The yearly Christmas parties for the children of staff at the University of Ibadan, where I grew up as a child, my father being a lecturer then, will hardly be surpassable. Then the road trips with my father, all over Nigeria, from Ibadan through Oyo, Jebba, Ilorin, Lokoja, and to Benin, Sapele, Warri, Calabar, etc. Nights at the Catering Rest Houses along those routes. No, we did not go to London.
Visiting Victor Olaiya, Highlife Maestro in his (then) Tinubu Lagos home and being introduced to him by my father. My father had an amazing collection of highlife recordings ranging from Ambrose Campbell, through Victor Olaiya to Roy Chicago.
What are some of the other things that occupy your time?
My main pastime is reading and playing the piano. When I am not playing the piano, I love to read and watch movies – science-fiction, comic book heroes, and other fantasy movies, – and Discovery Channel. I also participate actively as Trustee and Honorary Secretary of the Musical Society of Nigeria, MUSON.
In what ways has your profession/calling as a pastor changed your lifestyle?
It took a while for me to come to realize that I was not as “social” as my non-pastoral contemporaries. I am also not given to fashion statements. It would be worse but for my wife who has helped me to find a good balance.
Tell us about the things that you treasure most in life?
Truth and loyal friendship, second only to the privilege of knowing God.
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere with a beach and devoid of shopping.
What is your favourite food?
Ikokore! And my own special recipe fried rice. It is family signature.