The WFE's Women Leaders 2022 - Irene Robinson-Ayanwale, Acting Divisional Head of Business Support Services, Nigerian Exchange Limited

By: The WFE Focus Team Mar 2022

Member: Nigerian Exchange Limited

Nominee’s name: Irene Robinson-Ayanwale

Nominee’s job title: Acting Divisional Head, Business Support Services, Nigerian Exchange Limited

1. - Brief description of nominee’s role/job: 

As a member of the executive committee of Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX) and the acting divisional head of the Business Support Services Division (BSSD), I am responsible for coordinating and overseeing the activities of the departments within NGX that provide shared services to the Nigerian Exchange group of companies, comprising Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group) and its three operating subsidiaries, namely: Nigerian Exchange Limited (“NGX” or “The Exchange”), the operating exchange; NGX Regulation Limited (NGX RegCo), the independent regulatory company; and NGX Real Estate Limited (NGX RelCo), the real estate company. In this role, I am responsible for providing effective leadership and the strategic direction to ensure that business teams across the Nigerian Exchange group of companies are supported to meet strategic objectives and service levels.

In addition, I serve in the capacity of general counsel and head of the Legal Services Department, NGX, where I have direct responsibility for the Legal Services team, which assists the Nigerian Exchange group of companies. The Legal Services team was part of the team that drove the demutualisation and restructuring of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) into the Nigerian Exchange Group. I also serve as the exchange’s representative and co-chair of the Nigerian Coalition of Services Industries (“NCSI”). NCSI is a lobby group representing stakeholders in the Trade in Services group to formulate inputs into domestic, regional, continental and multilateral trade policies on behalf of the services sector in Nigeria, in collaboration with the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN).

On the regional front, I serve as chair of the Legal Committee of the African Exchanges Linkage Project (AELP), which is a project jointly created and coordinated by the African Securities Exchange Association (ASEA) and the African Development Bank (AFDB). The Project seeks to ensure seamless and integrated cross-border capital market activities among all the securities exchanges in Africa.

2. - Short bio (career highlights, education, interests/hobbies):

With a career spanning over 21 years, I have a proven track record in delivering large and complex transformational programmes and exhibiting strong leadership in public service, legal, regulatory, compliance, capital market and public-private partnerships and initiatives/programmes. My expertise spans numerous areas including capital markets, regulation, administrative proceedings, international trade, intra-African trade, international relations, corporate, commercial, intellectual property, technology, labour, banking, telecommunications, oil & gas, aviation and constitutional matters.

I have served on numerous continental and national assignments and committees. Across Africa, notable committees I have served on, and leadership positions I have held include:

Co-champion for the Business Services Sector Workstream of the National Action Committee on AfCFTA (NAC-AfCFTA) since September 2020 and member of the Domestic Engagement Sub-Committee of the National Action Committee on AfCFTA (NAC-AfCFTA) since December 2019.

Member of the reconstituted Presidential Steering Committee on the Impact and Readiness Assessment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement since September 2018; and

Chairperson of the Legal Committee of the African Exchange Linkage Project (AELP) since 2017.

In Nigeria, I have equally led and supported key national committees including:

Co-chairperson of the Nigerian Coalition of Services Industry (NCSI) (A body established on July 24, 2018, by the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN).

Member of the Legal and NFSSC (Nigerian Financial System Stability Council) Bill Passage Technical Committee set up by the FSRCC since 2020.

Member of the Legal and Enforcement Sub-Committee of the FSRCC since 2017 and member of the Systemic Policy Partnership/Oliver Wyman Report Implementation Workstream set up by the FSRCC from 2015 to 2018.

My efforts and contributions have been rewarded with multiple accolades and awards. I was named the 2021 General Counsel of the Year at the renowned Esq Nigerian Legal Awards. I also received a Highly Commended recognition at the 2021 African Legal Awards in the General Counsel of the Year category. Under my leadership, the NGX Legal Team has won five times consecutively (including in 2021) the In-House Capital Market Team of the Year Esq Nigerian Legal Awards, and from 2017 – 2020 been a finalist at the In-House Legal Team of the Year (Large) African Legal Awards. My team was also recognised as one of the top 100 Legal Departments/in-House Teams in the Africa Legal 500 GC 2018 Power List, and won the In-House Legal Team of the Year at the 2018 Law Digest African Awards.

3. - What were your professional highlights and challenges of 2021 (ie why should you be on this list):

Undoubtedly, the successful demutualisation of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) and subsequent restructuring and rebranding of the NSE into Nigerian Exchange Group, in March 2021, was a major professional highlight for me. This highlight was capped by the self-listing of NGX Group Plc on NGX in October 2021. These milestones brought to conclusion an aspiration that was conceived over 19 years ago and driven by the direct efforts of the Legal Services team. As General Counsel/Head, Legal Services, I led multiple workstreams and provided legal solutions to complex issues that enabled the successful demutualisation of the NSE, which involved, among other things:

Drafting the Demutualisation Bill that was eventually passed into law in 2018 with the assent of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Recommending the new structure post demutualisation, which entailed the conversion of the NSE into a public non-operating holding company and the creation of new privately owned subsidiaries to carry on the previously regulated business of the exchange.

Working on the Scheme of Arrangement that was passed by the General Meeting of the NSE and approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Federal High Court.

Working with other teams on the creation and implementation of a change management framework and procedure post demutualisation.

Recommending and implementing the employee structure to be adopted by the NGX group of companies.

Creating the framework for the allocation and provision of shared and regulatory services among the group companies.

Another notable highlight for 2021 was the completion and execution of a memorandum of association for the African Exchanges Linkage Project (AELP). The memorandum was executed by seven African exchanges in 2021. This success builds on my efforts as chair of the Legal Committee of the African Exchanges Linkage Project (AELP), where I worked with and coordinated in-house legal teams in the pilot securities exchanges across Africa. In that role, I worked with the other in-house legal teams to negotiate and finalise for execution the memorandum of association that will govern cross border capital market activities, identify and agree on the framework that will govern the sponsored access relationship (which forms the basis of the cross border broker relationships), identify and agree on the modalities for the application of AML laws/regulations in respect of the cross border capital market activities, and finalise the procurement process to be adopted by international bidders for the technology platform required for the project.

Following my appointment in 2020 as co-champion for the Business Services Sector Workstream of Nigeria’s National Action Committee for the implementation of AfCFTA and as a member of the Financial Services Sector Workstream of the NAC-AfCFTA, I served as part of the team that, among other things, lobbied and got Nigeria to ratify the AfCFTA on December 5, 2020, created the AfCFTA implementation roadmap for Nigeria for both trade in services and trade in goods, created the implementation plans for the Business Service and Financial Services Sectors Workstreams, and created the schedule of negotiation services for the Business Services and Financial Services Sectors’ Workstreams. These efforts continued in 2021 through the implementation of AfCFTA sensitisation programs and the continuous engagement of private sector associations by the public sector in the creation of the AfCFTA implementation roadmap and negotiated schedule of services.

Since becoming the acting divisional head of BSSD in 2021, the team has been led to achieve record cost savings across the NGX group of companies. Her respective teams successfully defended the potential liability of $1,000,000,000 in litigation, and leveraged media partnerships to drive strategic coverage and communications leading to savings estimated at 3 billion naira.

4. - What and who inspires/has inspired you to achieve your professional success:

At various stages of my life and career I have been privileged to enjoy direct and indirect tutelage from several people who have inspired and continue to inspire me to keep improving myself, striving for excellence, pushing the envelope, and striving to make an impact and a positive difference.

These range from my late parents to people considered legal luminaries who I had the privilege to work with in the course of my career in fully fledged legal practice. These include Mr. Kola Awodein, SAN, Mr. Ebun Sofunde, SAN, Mr. Babajide Ogundipe, SAN, Mr. Dele Belgore, SAN, Mr. Babatunde Fagbohunlu SAN and Mr. Adeniyi Adegbonmire SAN. These legal luminaries inspired me by first believing in me, my intelligence, capability and ability to deliver value. They equally inspired me by giving me the platform and room to grow and express myself and to evolve and develop, and most importantly, by investing their time in mentoring me through interactions and joint experiences.

During my current experience within an enterprise, I have had the privilege of being inspired by:

Mr. Oscar N. Onyema OON, GCEO of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc who inspired me and continues to push me to extend my capabilities and abilities beyond just legal services to enterprise related capabilities/abilities, to be a citizen of the enterprise and always see the bigger picture.

Ms. Tinuade Awe, CEO NGX Regulation Ltd., who inspired me and continues to inspire me to be a better manager and leader, and to be versatile. Her growth and versatility continues to inspire me, and my continued engagement with her assures me that I can be more than just “a one trick pony”; and

Mr, Temi Popoola, CEO Nigerian Exchange Ltd., who not only believed in my ability and capabilities, but invested (and continued to invest time and effort) in making me a better version of myself by pushing me to become a global leader, visionary and champion.

In conclusion, I must recognise those who shaped my mantra, which is: “A life of service that contributes to the positive growth and development of individuals, the community, the nation, the region and the world.” This perspective started with my late father, Mr. Charles Olufemi Odemwingie Robinson, who made me understand that education is a tool for improving my thought process, logic, reasoning, perspective and compassion to enable me to improve the lives of others, some of whom may be less fortunate. My late mother, Mrs. Comfort Abayomi Akinyemi, who equally played a leading role in forming this perspective. She was a strong, independent, ambitious and proficient woman who excelled in her career despite being in what was regarded as a man’s world at the time. I learnt valuable tools from both parents - excellence, strength, independence, hard work, resilience, ambition and generosity, all of which have assisted me in my career over the years.

5. - What advice do you have for other women who aspire to be in leadership positions:

I advise women to be strong, and to believe in themselves and their abilities, while also being very objective about their capabilities, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. I believe every woman should be her strongest critic. Above all, I advise women to learn to see every experience, either good or bad, as a learning and growth opportunity. I believe that the ability to build and maintain relationships is critical to career success and I encourage women to make a conscious effort to build their contacts and relationships over the course of their careers and make the most of them as they climb the corporate ladder.

I encourage women to invest in themselves, and ensure that they invest equally in work, family and friends and in building a functional community that enables them to achieve excellence. Continuous improvement is equally essential to career success. It is critical for women seeking leadership positions to continually invest in themselves by consciously seeking out networking, exposure and mentorship opportunities, whilst also creating valuable balance by making time for rest and rejuvenation.

Lastly, I have found that one key ingredient to maintaining good mental and emotional health is having a good and strong support system that can be called on anytime. Women leaders need to build a support system that is not judgmental, but honest and supportive, even through the toughest and most difficult times.


The views, thoughts and opinions contained in this Focus article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the WFE’s policy position on the issue, or the WFE’s views or opinions.