Recently, one of the most prominent Nigerian lawyers, Kemi Pinheiro SAN, clocked 50. Although he chose to celebrate quietly, here is the profile of one of the most hard working legal juggernauts in Nigeria.
There is a way that God directs the affairs of men according to His plans and purpose. For Kemi Pinheiro SAN, his dream was to be a chemist. “My first choice in the university was Biochemistry. Law was not in the horizon in my first attempt to enter University after my Ordinary Level. But while growing up, people used to tell me that I argue like a lawyer. I started to think about it. As a young man, I used to see lawyers along Igbosere, road, Lagos, in their neat suits and in some cases with their wigs and gowns. I therefore changed my mind to read law. Today I thank God for allowing me to make the right decision. I have discovered myself in law”.
This discovery did not come without its own challenges. As a young lawyer, one of the challenges he faced was that he had to spell his surname to judges anytime he announced his appearance in court. Although a Yoruba man and a Lagos indigene, Pinheiro is actually a Portuguese name meaning “sweet” from the word pine. It is part of his heritage that he was born into the Brazillian quarters of Lagos Island. His progenitors tasted slave trade before they returned to their fatherland.
This in itself gave them challenges as it also came with the positive side. Due to sojourn in foreign land, they were exposed to education early. This gave his progenitors and others like them opportunities and advantages in the colonial government, advantages that affected positively the generations coming behind. They soon occupied the middle class of their era. The Brazillian quarters are an integral part of Lagos till date.
Igbosere Street is regarded as the base of lawyers’ right from colonial days. The street is about three kilometers long. First the Supreme Court was relocated to the street after it was moved from Tinubu Square in the 1940s. Most lawyers therefore have their chambers located on the street and it’s environ. In post-colonial days, the first campus of the Nigerian Law School was also located on the street. The street was later to host the first modern Nigerian Supreme Court. It also hosted till date the Lagos Division of the High Court of Lagos State. The complex that used to house the Supreme Court is today housing the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal.
Pinheiro as a child watched lawyers, smartly dressed in their black suits and wig and gowns strut in and out of these courts and got influenced. As at the time Pinheiro was in his teens, the Supreme Court was still at Igbosere. Nigerians from all walks of life usually come to both High Court and Supreme Courts for litigations.
This was the era when great jurists like Justices Chukwudifu Oputa, Kayode Eso, Chukwuwinke Idigbe, Mohammed Bello, and Nnamani, among others held court. Legal luminaries like FRA Williams, GOK Ajayi, Gani Fawehinmi, Kehinde Sofola and several others strutted in and out of the courts. The young Pinheiro’s imagination was fired and influenced by the acts of these great men.
From Primary school at Adrao Nursery and primary school, Victoria Island, to Baptist Academy, the secondary school he attended, the young Pinheiro never lost focus. By the time he attended the Federal School of Arts and Science, Victoria Island, for his A level studies, the Law School has moved to its permanent site in the same area. This was a big boost to the young man’s ambition as he was daily under the influence of young graduates doing their compulsory one year training at the school.
By the time he gained admission into the University of Benin in October 1983, he was already clear headed as to how the course of his life would be. His passion for the profession made his studies easier. All he had to do is to study more than his peers to stay on top his class. By the time he was called to the Bar and enrolled as a solicitor and advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Pinheiro was 22 years old.
During his one year National Service in Rivers State, Southern Nigeria, he developed a great passion for advocacy and this prompted him to serve as state counsel in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution and Office of the Director of Civil Litigation where he successfully secured the conviction of some felons. Thereafter, he proceeded immediately into active legal practice. The young Pinheiro was again lucky to have a senior brother who was already an astute lawyer in his own right. Toyin Pinhero SAN, together with the late Chief Abiola Oshodi played their fatherly roles to train their junior one in the art of practice for eight good years.
Within a very short period, he distinguished himself as an astute advocate. Due to his high integrity and uprightness, he was made a Notary Public within 10 years of his practice. He was also appointed as a Special Assistant to The Attorney-General of Lagos State during the regime of Brigadier General Buba Marwa. The Attorney General then was Mrs Wonu Folami whom he regarded as a mother and mentor.
The toil and dedication of yesterday has led into an institutional practice. Today, his practice cuts across a wide horizon, covering legal consultancy, advocacy, commercial and corporate practice, maritime, arbitration, debt recovery, election petition, matrimonial causes, industrial dispute, aviation, intellectual property, real estate, banking and finance, probate and administration of estates, environmental law and land use and criminal prosecution.
In Nigeria today the name of Pinheiro and Company rings a bell as the major handlers of insolvency matters as the chambers handles more than 70 per cent of insolvency cases with the top 10 financial institutions in the country. The company also holds retainership with several foreign and indigenous companies across the country. They are also lawyers to manufacturing and major retailing organisations.
His practice also extends to covering electoral matters. He handles election petition matters across the country and also across party divides which reflects his nonpartisanship. For instance, in Osun and Ogun States respectively, he handles matters for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). In Kaduna State, he is lawyer to the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). In Lagos and Adamawa States, he also handles electoral cases for the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). He is also involved in several chieftaincy matters that has led to many towns conferring chieftaincy titles on him.
In recognition of his distinction in legal practice, he was elevated to the status of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2006. He is on the Board of many companies in Nigeria, a recipient of numerous awards locally and internationally, and he is also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.
How has this extraordinary man able to achieve success in his young life? “I believe that hard work does not kill. I also believe in dedication and loyalty”. This reflects in the way Kemi Pinheiro and Company is run. The chambers occupy a whole building which is divided into several sections.
The organization of the office is in the hands of a Practice Manager who employs every staff including the Principal Counsel. The PM is a non – lawyer and she have a Master’s degree in Administration. The holder is responsible for both human and infrastructural facilities of the firm. There is an effective library system both in terms of hardware and electronics. All staff has access to internet from their desktop as they are all connected to a central server.
This is followed by the Legal Department where Pinheiro is the Principal Partner. There is a Head of Chambers who coordinates the different cases and the job of the lawyers, followed by senior associates who are in charge of different areas. In all there are 22 lawyers and 12 Para Legal staffs which bring our staff strength to 36 in all both in Lagos and Abuja.
Pinheiro believes that human capital is the greatest asset. For him, senior lawyers must do everything to possible to bring up young lawyers and show them the proper practice of law. He said: “We try everything possible to encourage our human capital. We pay one of the best salaries in the industry. We have motivational schemes for the staff. We pay bonuses sometimes twice in a quarter and it goes across the broad spectrum of the entire staff hierarchy. This is of course after proper appraisals have been carried out on whether they merit the bonus in terms of productivity;
We also have what we call the lunch scheme. Every staff both in Lagos and Abuja are entitled to lunch everyday Lunch is served at the same time between 1 and 2 pm daily. It is the firm’s responsibility and it is not deducted from staff salaries. The free lunch comes with staff employment package;
We also have the HMO scheme. We are registered with an HMO provider. Every staff and their dependents’ are obliged to use the facility. I am also told that the scheme covers the whole maternity package for our female staff- pre-delivery, delivery, and post-delivery, regardless of condition. The firm pays the HMO providers once in a year; we are also obliged by law to engage in the pension scheme. We are registered with IBTC Pensions and we do our remittances every month. Our staffs know that their future is secured working in the firm;
Just recently, the firm bought five brand new cars for members of staff just to encourage them. This is what the management feels the minimum the firm as an entity ought to do to motivate its staff. When you have a hard working, loyal and dedicated staff, it beholds on every employer to create a reward system that continues to motivate and encourage such staff to put in their best.
With all this motivations, he believes that the stick should also be used for erring staff. “Mind you, just last month, we have to exit two youth corps members and a full staff on account of failure to meet productivity standards. So we don’t suffer fools. We use the carrot and stick approach. Those who are willing to work are encouraged to the fullest while those who are not are excused”.
Pinheiro’s, integrity, uprightness and discipline has positioned him for the fight against corruption in Nigeria. Presently, he holds the Attorney General of the Federation’s fiat to prosecute corruption cases. He has vigorously canvassed against the ills of corruption in Nigeria. To this end, he has collaborated with the anti-graft agency in Nigeria, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, to prosecute some high profile corruption cases in Nigeria.
He has been actively involved in the prosecution of some Bank Chief Executives since 2009, when the Central Bank of Nigeria removed them from office for high level corruption, money laundering and financial misappropriation running into billions of naira. His total prosecution of corrupt officials in the financial industry and the public sector exceeds N80 billion.
Pinheiro has won many awards both at professional and institutional level.
Culled from the book “For the Love of their Nation-Lawyers as agents of change in Nigeria” recently published by Mustapha ‘Kunle Ogunsakin