As the founder and CEO of the international Centurion Law Group, known around the globe for its work with African energy companies, NJ Ayuk is aware of what some people think about him.
Although he frequently works for or alongside governments and individuals, Ayuk has become most famous for his work with energy corporations — what some refer to as “Big Oil.”
But he’s not out for money. Born in Africa and educated in the United States, NJ Ayuk was mentored by pioneers of the civil rights movement. His work with energy companies, he explains, is more about helping Africans than aiding big business. It’s why he was recently named one of the 100 Most Reputable Africans in 2023 by Reputation Poll International.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is that there is always a misconception when you stand with an energy corporation. People think you’re a sellout and you don’t really believe in their cause,” he said. “There is an idea that if you’re a moral person, you’re supposed to be against corporations, so when you walk around with a partition, they think, ‘Oh my God, he’s evil. How dare you walk in the room with it?”
Hearing criticisms that he’s profiteering stings, Ayuk said. To ease his mind, NJ Ayuk finds solace in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” which takes the form of gentle advice passed along from father to son.
He identifies most closely with one verse, in particular. It begins: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue / Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch” and ends with “You’ll be a man, my son.”
The poem serves as a reminder that, while he may be misrepresented by the media and tried under false charges in the court of public opinion, what matters to NJ Ayuk is that he never strays from his morals.
“I have to be like that poem when I’m dealing with corporations and the public in this line of work,” he said. “I have to always know that the idea that I’m going to be successful without taking hits in this job is unrealistic. People don’t always know the full story about what is going on, and they are sometimes informed more by their emotions and their preconceived ideas than by what is actually happening.”
It’s not just environmentally conscious constituents or progressive idealists who express worry when they first meet NJ Ayuk. Every level, from college to law school to public law to founding his practice, has been met with skepticism.
“The challenge of really dealing with an environment, especially in Africa where there is always doubt, is that you always have to prove yourself, all the time,” he explained. “Now, I don’t have a problem proving myself all the time because I have a very high work ethic, and I’m confident that I can always put in the work and get the results.”
For NJ Ayuk, the results mean more people in Africa have access to affordable energy. Energy helps people live longer and learn easier, and it improves their quality of life. If he can help the neediest Africans have a shot at bettering their lives, the criticism is worth it, he said.
Raising African people out of poverty is central to his ethos. He knows it’s possible because he’s seen it firsthand, watching his single mother further her education while raising a family on her own. Her example inspired his work to help others who don’t have the ability to overcome their circumstances without assistance.
NJ Ayuk toiled to get accepted into an American college and law school, and ultimately become the executive chairman of the African Energy Chamber — a position many never thought he could hold.
“You have to turn what other people say and do to you into a motivation and say, ‘You might look down on me, but I’m going to beat you all the time,’” he said. “I think it’s similar to the feeling I learned when I lived in the United States and I heard people say that you should never look down on somebody unless you’re trying to lift them up. That keeps me going in spite of all the insurmountable odds that I have to face in doing this work.”