Chuks Nwana: Our Value System Needs Fundamental Overhaul to Have Better Society

Chuks Nwana: Our Value System Needs Fundamental Overhaul to Have Better Society

Chuks Nwana is the principal, Chuks Nwana and Co, and the Admiralty Law Centre, a law firm specialising in shipping, private maritime disputes and nautical issues. In a chat with Adedayo Adejobi, he bares his mind on what sparked his interest in law at 16, how the seductiveness of water and sea power sparked his interest in admiralty and maritime law, the impact of the Russia -Ukraine war on Nigeria’s shipping market, the liberty of being a lawyer and his hobbies. Excerpts:  

Can you share a significant event or experience from your childhood that influenced your career path?

Truthfully, I had no childhood interest in law until I was about 16 years old. I was fascinated by the politics of the time with regular visits to Tafawa Balewa Square to observe proceedings at the National Assembly. Politics had very big attraction  after about 13 years of military rule and the quality of the debates in  the  proceedings  eventually  triggered  my interest  in law,  even though I made a detour and read Political Science as a first degree and  read Law at the University of Ibadan as a graduate student.

 What sparked your interest in admiralty and maritime law?

Nobody disagrees with the fact that sea power and activities around water is seductive.  Admiralty law is a vibrant and robust field of Law even though its offshoot is actually from contract, but it is a kind of contract that is based on customs and practices over the years. Admiralty and shipping proceedings are customarily treated with dispatch and it is universal. It is so exciting when you realise that shipping is a  24-hour business, because while others are sleeping you are awake, and while they are awake you may be sleeping. It is an area that demands very prompt attention.

 Have you noticed any trends in the field or significant court decisions that have most impacted your practice in Admiralty law or in federal court litigation in general?

We have dealt with a lot of memorable cases, but a particular collision at sea involving a huge vessel registered in Italy resonates with me. We dealt with the matter very aggressively and eventually settled in London. Admiralty practice in relation to collision is very unique and you must have an eye for details. Priority of claims under the Merchant Shipping Act was also a matter that presented unique challenges, something akin to winner takes it all.

Can you describe one or two of the most memorable cases that you have been involved with during your career and tell us why?

The shipping industry has receded from the strides it made under the Obasanjo administration when activities ramped especially with the passage of the Cabotage Act with protections for local Shipreneurs who were encouraged to own vessels. It saddens me that we have failed to utilise the moment and our unique location to maximise the benefits from shipping and coastal activities. Government efforts at shipping through the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) was an unsustainable experiment, but the enabling environment has not been created for big shippreneurs to emerge. Shipping is an international business and in the absence of local  capacity, you cannot compete. I hold out hope that this current administration may be able to activate  local capacity and provide means that will witness a resurgence by the creation of the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy.

How would you describe the current state of the shipping industry in Nigeria?

In Malaysia, shipping acquisition enjoys about four per cent interest rate while in Nigeria it is closer to about 30 per cent and for this reason businesses find themselves unable to acquire vessel for maritime business. The cabotage fund is yet to be disbursed while the sub-sector wallows in a debilitating financial situation and foreign vessel owners rule our coastline.

How do you think the Russia -Ukraine war impact Nigeria’s shipping market? How can the fallout be mitigated?

Russia-Ukraine war has had a profound negative effect on the maritime industry and created long-term systemic disruptions and the war has to end, for us to understand the damage both regionally and internationally. It is really a war on land, but it has impacted shipping activities in very profound ways because the movement of goods has been impaired and the United Nations warned about impending ravages of hunger if the war escalated as food security was threatened.

What is the outlook for Nigeria’s maritime industry?

I want to see tighter and deeper regulation of the maritime and shipping industry as foreigners are engaged in sensitive sectors of the economy to the detriment of national security.  Foreigners should not be involved in freight forwarding, logistics and clearing, and some aspects of shipping. These areas are too sensitive for foreign participation.  We want Foreign Direct Investments, but the Indigenisation Decree excluded foreigners from certain aspects of the economy on grounds of national security. The Chinese and Indians have become fully involved in the value chain from importation to clearing, logistics, and warehousing. This poses a lot issues in national security and the sad reality is that some Nigerians front for them.

 What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer?

I truly enjoy the liberty of being a lawyer, especially in private practice. I will not trade that liberty for anything, not even the bench. Being a lawyer creates a unique awareness in me because we continue to engage intellectually in different spheres. Information awareness is crucial to what we do and I am not essentially bound by a code of conduct other than that prescribed by the NBA.

 How has your upbringing shaped your values and principles?

I like winning and when I don’t win I could fall into depression. That really is the aspect of law I do not like because we engage emotionally and a lawyer must believe in the quality of his case before immersing himself body and spirit. It is also important that you let clients know that there are certain variables in the litigation chain that is not under your control. It is important to always remind clients that you are not the judge and quite often litigation hardly results in a draw.

When you are not racking your brain to crack a case, what hobbies or activities do you enjoy outside of your professional life?

I enjoy reading biographies and autobiographies for purposes of having an insight into the minds of the personality of the persons involved and the trajectories of their lives. There was this interesting account by President Clinton where he said that he prepared for his presidential run by engaging all persons who had run and lost elections because he believed he could learn much more from losers than from winners.

 Are there any personal milestones or achievements that hold a special place in your heart?

Our value system has gone rogue. You cannot vouch for what children are taught in schools and if we are not careful, we may lose them for the foreseeable future. It is strange that we are unable to draw a parallel between what is being taught in school and the society we live in. Family is at the centre of everything and our value system needs a fundamental overhaul for us to have a better society. Our idea of heroes and heroines have been so altered beyond recognition.

Is there a cause or social issue that you are deeply passionate about?

Success and fulfillment evolve as we grow in life. At a certain point, it may be professional, financial or family success etc, but at some point when we grow older it may become spiritual.

How do you define success and fulfillment in your personal life?

A static mind will never grow. I attend conferences, seminars and read up new developments in my area of interest. When you read and engage with people, you will never go stale.

How do you continuously evolve and reinvent yourself in a country where the legal procedures are constantly changing?

Times are forever changing, pursue your ambitions and take on vocations that give you pleasure while getting paid for it. For you to excel, you must stand out because society has become very, very competitive.

What advice would you give to aspiring individuals looking to pursue a career similar to yours?

Two of my children are interested in law as a passion and not necessarily because they see their father engaged in it.  My hope is that they will chart their own course and make their mark in uncharted territory maybe or maybe not related to law .

Can you share a mentor or someone who has had a significant impact on your career?

I read a lot of biographies, and I am not short of mentorship. I have mentors I admire at a distance, and draw inspiration from what they have  done  or currently doing. Mentorship is not limited  by time and space.

What strategies do you use to recharge and find inspiration outside of your work?

I travel when I have to and socialise with  old friends in a space spiced with jokes and laughter .

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Back in time? I will love to do things at a much younger age and get married to my present spouse  at a  much  younger age. Every adult I know misses and relishes their youth and I do.

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