Nigeria’s Olaniwun Ajayi adds finance trio from international rivals for London launch

Lawyers from Dentons and White & Case among those joining the firm to lead the opening of its first office outside Nigeria
Portrait photos of Olaniwun Ajayi London partners Howard Barrie, Chuks Ibechukwu and Dr Gabriel Onagoruwa

(l-r) Howard Barrie, Chuks Ibechukwu and Dr Gabriel Onagoruwa Images courtesy of Olaniwun Ajayi

Leading Nigerian law firm Olaniwun Ajayi has added three lawyers from firms including White & Case and Dentons to launch an office in London, the firm's first outside its home country.  

Finance specialists Howard Barrie, Chuks Ibechukwu and Dr Gabriel Onagoruwa have joined as founding partners of the new office, which the firm said furthers its strategy to meet client need for more streamlined cross-border legal services on their Africa projects.

‘The office will strengthen our transactional capabilities in corporate finance, project development, M&A and private equity, in enabling us to deliver the specialised English law, cross-border and transactional services integral to many of the investments and bankable projects in Africa today,’ the firm said.

Barrie acts as senior partner of the new office and has joined the firm after almost four years at Dentons in London, initially as a partner and later a consultant, prior to which he was a partner at Eversheds Sutherland and legacy firm Denton Wilde Sapte. He advises government and corporate clients on projects and their financing with a particular focus on Africa, having worked on transactions in more than 16 African countries. Recent projects include advising the government of Cameroon on the financing aspects of the Nachtigal hydropower project and the East African Development Bank on development financings in the East African Community countries.

Ibechukwu has joined from a role as senior counsel and Africa regional lead for advisory services and private equity and funds at the International Finance Corporation, prior to which he spent a decade at Latham & Watkins, Allen & Overy and Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft. A corporate finance specialist, his practice focuses on project and infrastructure finance, asset finance, leveraged and acquisition finance and debt capital markets.

Onagoruwa, meanwhile, has joined after 12 years at White & Case, where he served latterly as counsel. A transactional lawyer specialising in energy and infrastructure projects in Africa, his practice focuses on advising clients including national and international oil companies and commercial banks on large-scale project financings, structured finance, investments and acquisitions.

Olaniwun Ajayi managing partner Dr Tominiyi Owolabi said the London office will enable the firm “to provide first-in-kind end-to-end legal services to our clients on projects in Nigeria that demand high-end, specialised English law advice with cross-border transactional support.”

He added that as Olaniwun Ajayi moves to become a global law firm, the London office is “the cornerstone for our broader international growth strategy and value proposition to expand our reach so that we can provide a similar integrated solution to clients on projects in other jurisdictions in Africa.”

Owolabi was named as Olaniwun Ajayi’s managing partner in September, at the same time Wolemi Esan was made deputy managing partner. The firm currently houses more than 100 lawyers and has three offices in Nigeria in Abuja, Port-Harcourt and Lagos, as well as the new London location.   

Looking to Nigeria, global giant Dentons agreed to combine with local practice Adepetun Caxton-Martins Agbor & Segun in April, becoming only the second global law firm after DLA Piper to gain a presence in Africa’s largest economy. 

And in January, Kofo Dosekun took over as chair of Nigerian law firm Aluko & Oyebode after Gbenga Oyebode, its co-founder and chair and a leading business figure in his own right, stepped down.

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