Building Your own Legal Empire: Dare to be Different -Lawyer Maxwell Opoku-Agyemang writes

I remember at the Faculty of Law University of Ghana at our time, the most popular electives were Trade and Investment Law, Commercial Law, Private International Law. However, I chose with few others to study Natural Resources Law.

Is allowance instantly strangers applauded

One of the many challenges facing a young professional is how to choose a carrier path. Sometimes the anxiety even starts at the final year when the student had to choose electives or specialisations. Mostly we tend to follow the popular craze and choose areas which compel us to join long queues when looking for job opportunities rather than maybe venturing into unchartered areas, which may in future prove very fulfilling. 

I remember at the Faculty of Law University of Ghana at our time, the most popular electives were Trade and Investment Law, Commercial Law, Private International Law. However, I chose with few others to study Natural Resources Law, then ably taught by my academic mentor Mr. Fui Tsikata. In fact, Fui liked my industry so much so that he quickly roped me into his consultancy work with the Minerals Commission and made me his Teaching Assistant. 

Mr. Fui Tsikata taught me how to recognise the strengths of your students and provide all the necessary assistance to pave the way for their future success. I remember the wonderful academic references written for me which enabled me to secure 8 foreign post-graduate scholarships to choose from after graduation. Then against all odds also I decided to join the Intellectual Property Law Class as a pioneer in IP Law which was introduced at the Faculty in the 1990/1991 academic year. 

I chose IP Law for two main reasons, one serious, the other hilarious. The second reason for choosing Copyright law then was to be very close to the foundation lecturer, the beautiful Mrs. Betty Mould Iddrisu, who was then also the Copyright Administrator of Ghana. In fact, I never missed her class and unlike in other classes never asked questions in her class as all my energy was spent in admiring her sheer beauty, eloquence and intellect. Unlike other classes where I prefer to sit at the back, for Copyright law class, I always sat in front. 

So one day while teaching her favourite topic International Copyright administration, WIPO and ARIPO, my mind had wandered out from the topic into other things, best not to disclose here. Unknown to me Aunty Betty, as I always call her was asking me a question but I was absent minded. The whole class was murmuring and I heard the voice of Aunty Betty " Heh Maxwell what are you looking at?". 

I became the son of Mrs Betty Mould Iddrisu and till today she is very proud of me and I remember the kind words she offered to me when she launched my first law book, Constitutional Law and History of Ghana in 2010. The significance of learning new things dawned on me one day when I appeared in the High Court presided over by the late Justice Faakye. 

There were two very senior lawyers in a trademark case involving the importation and sale of Binatone and Banatone products. The issue at stake was the effect of the passing off. Binatone was the known brand and Banatone was later brought in and the action was to stop the importation and sale of Banatone products. I could see that the seniors were using English, sophistry and general tort ideas to fight the case as none of them had studied Copyright and Trademark and Industrial Design laws.

 In the heat of the case, the presiding judge asked the parties whether the products are made in Ghana and the answer was in the negative. Then in jest told the parties to go and fight over it in their country of origin. As a friend of the court, I saw a small window of opportunity to show my new empire. So though I was less than 2 years at the Bar, I scribbled a note for the senior lawyer for Binatone to the effect that since Ghana is a signatory to both WIPO and ARIPO Conventions Ghanaian courts have jurisdiction to determine the matter. I also brought to his attention the then Copyright Law, PNDLC 110 and the main Trademark case in Ghana at the time Essiebons v Abraham. Armed with these apor, the senior counsel asked for adjournment which was granted. 

I continued in the same spirit to always dare to be different when I went to University of Utah for my second Masters in Law. I remember when I had to choose an elective area, I contacted some of my colleagues in other law schools and as usual they all mentioned the familiar territories like international trade and investments, human rights and humanitarian law. But out of nowhere I chose Water Law, an area I have never heard about throughout my legal journey. 

When I informed my colleagues like Yaw Boadi and Eric Okyere Darko they burst out in laughter and asked whether I was coming to sell water in Ghana after my studies. Honestly, I didn't know the future prospects for studying Water law. However I was prepared to venture into it as I found out that the most litigated natural resource in Western part of the United States of America was water. It was fascinating to learn about water allocation, hierarchical water use, conflict of use and dominant purpose of domestic water use over other uses.

 I also learnt about riparianism, the relationship between upstream and downstream transboundary water, the three types of water, natural water resources, marine water and value added water and the international regime for the management of transnational waterbodies, surface water and groundwater.. I saw an opportunity to develop a new legal empire so I brought my knowledge in customary land law to bamboozle my class by introducing my own concepts like customary water law, customary ownership of water resources abutting and contiguous to land, allodial ownership of water resources and usufructually water use in Ghana.

 I also developed ideas on traditional concepts and institutions for water resources management and conservation by highlighting some of the cultural beliefs and institutions, like the belief in River God's and the siting of sacred groves along river banks. In fact we still believe that defecating along river banks amount to defecating in the mouths of the children of the river God. I strongly advocated in my research papers the integration of traditional concepts and institutions in the management and protection of water resources in Ghana.. 

I must say that later upon my return to Ghana in 1997, I developed the curriculum and course outline for Water Law as part of the Natural Resources Law Course at the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana. Upon my return to Ghana, I got to know that there were only three water resources lawyers in the whole of Africa, two in South Africa and one in Ghana and for that matter the whole of West Africa.

 I am happy that through my little efforts we now have cohort of lawyers who have come to the knowledge of water law. I can say that I have benefitted immensely as a water law expert especially in the area of the development of water law for informal societies as I became a resource person for International Water Association delivering papers around the world even in areas like Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina. Coincidentally I returned to Ghana when Parliament had passed the Water Resources Commission Act, 1996, Act 522, which among others separated water resources, both surface and underground from ownership of land. 

The Act vested all water resources in the President for and on behalf of Ghana and extinguished all existing water rights. In effect it nationalised existing private water rights acquired by entities like the mining companies. Unfortunately there were no provisions for the role of traditional authorities in the management of natural water resources like rivers, streams and lakes. The Law established the Water Resources Commission with the mandate to grant water use licences. The Act also made it an offence to alter the flow of or abstract water resource without permit from the Commission.. 

At this juncture let me share with you how I got into Water Resources Commission and later became the Emperor of water resources sector in Ghana and some other countries in West 


To be continued. ...