Sumbo Akintola
  • Partner
  • Aluko & Oyebode
Nigeria
Sumbo Akintola

Sumbo Akintola

  • Partner
  • Aluko & Oyebode
Nigeria

I started off my career being a pure corporate commercial lawyer. I advised on various aspects of corporate and commercial law and have been involved in several landmark transactions in connection with investments and divestiture by local and foreign shareholders of their interest in Nigerian companies.

My current area of focus is advising local and multinational organisations on products and service offerings in the telecommunications, data protection and technology space. I have worked on and provided extensive legal advisory support to top tech multi-national companies based in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

The advent of the GDPR and the Nigerian equivalent; the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) has created significant need for companies to ensure and ramp up compliance. Data is dynamic and has become a key component of everyday life particularly in the light of more digitisation of the way we live, work, and carry out commercial activities. The practice and protection of data in the last decade has become a significant subject that cannot be ignored. Data has rightly been termed as the new oil of the digital era: thus, the importance and consequence of data protection continues to grow, and raises issues of fundamental importance to the digital ecosystem. Hence the regulatory response in the form of the GDPR and the local response in the form of the NDPR.

In providing data-related advice, there are no clearcut or black and white paths. It takes a lawyer who is innovative to produce constructive advisory support for their clients, because clients are typically always more innovative than the regulators/regulations. It is also important to note that there is tech speak or lingo. There are necessary styles and lingo a tech lawyer has to adopt to communicate effectively. Clients expect that you know the law and also thoroughly understand their product and services.

The data protection space is still developing, while the regulators in Nigeria are developing and building structures around the space. One of the challenges in Nigeria is regulations issued by various regulatory agencies. Oftentimes guidelines are created in silos without taking into consideration the regulations issued by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) which is the apex regulator of the technology space in Nigeria. These can negatively impact the data space and create distortions in terms of compliance with the various regulations. Again, from a practice perspective, you are spending valuable time to try and unravel if a client has to obtain a waiver or compliance certificate with one agency or several agencies.

To adapt to this challenge, the firm has been in the forefront of engaging with regulators on the issues outlined above. We attend various stakeholder forums and provide comments to ensure the regulations, laws and guidelines are well drafted and also provide innovative advice and solutions to clients in respect of their various products and service offerings.

I am closely examining the implications of new technologies on the Nigerian telecommunications and digital ecosystem. Importantly, I am looking at low-latency broadband internet systems enabled by constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites. It is interesting to follow these trends as its usage in Nigeria would improve broadband connectivity and provide low-cost internet to especially remote locations. I am researching regulations and laws covering the intersections of these technologies in Nigeria. I believe these innovative technologies have the prospect of changing how communication and information rapidly reaches any point within and outside Nigeria, and in hard-to-reach places where fibre-optic cables would be difficult and expensive to lay.

The career routes for women remain narrower due to the social and cultural responsibilities imposed on women which exists alongside their career goals and aspirations. Women strive twice as hard and commit more hours to get to the peak of their careers. In the legal profession a small number of women get to head law firms or achieve high ranking positions. There have however been significant gender equity in the legal space, starting with Aluko & Oyebode which currently has a good representation of women.

In the past, tech used to be a thing for men. In the early days of technology, men dominated the field. In the legal profession, men focused and provided advice on the commercial aspects of tech products thus, it was difficult for women to break the glass ceiling and delve into that space. However, for data protection I have not observed any form of gender discrimination. These days women are heading policy departments, providing solutions to compliance-related issues and leading discussions on privacy and data protection debates.

The best piece of advice I can give aspiring data lawyers and professionals: study everything pertaining to this field. Articles, papers, regulations, and laws. Privacy and data protection experts are people who think creatively and have broad perspectives to issues, so having a curious nature and understanding how things work is critical. Translating these to concise and business-friendly opinions for your clients also creates a platform for client satisfaction and a thriving practice. I also advice persons who choose to practice data law to get certifications, attend training and have a curiosity for the understanding of technology.

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