How can Nigeria overcome its challenges of corruption, poor infrastructure and develop a culture of arbitration, with its attendant benefits to business and the economy? Participants at the just ended Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators (NICArb) 40th Anniversary/Annual Conference and Investiture/Awards Ceremony, examined the problem and proffered solutions, writes ROBERT EGBE.
Experts have long canvassed the economic and judicial benefits of developing a culture of arbitration and other means of alternative dispute resolution.
They often advise the government to take urgent steps to create a regional and international arbitration hub in the country, especially considering the size of Nigeria’s economy – the largest in Africa.
Already, Nigeria is a party to many international conventions recognising the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards, such as the New York and Washington Conventions.
It has also signed bilateral and multilateral investment treaties offering investors – foreign or local – recourse to international and/or investment arbitration.
Despite this and many more, few international arbitrations of note take place in Nigeria, for a variety of reasons.
NICArb 40th Anniversary/Annual Conference and Investiture/Awards
It is a problem that worries stakeholders and they proffered solutions to it at the just ended Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators (NICArb) 40th Anniversary/Annual Conference and Investiture/Awards Ceremony.
The two-day conference, with the theme ‘’Building a culture of arbitration and sustainable institutions in West Africa’’, focused on the general legal and shared norms of culture affecting arbitration in Nigeria and West Africa.
The multi-stakeholder forum afforded policymakers, the private sector, and ADR practitioners, a platform to build consensus on transformational issues that could shape the future of arbitration and ADR in West Africa.
NICArb Vice President Professor Fabian Ajogwu, SAN, who represented the Chairman and President of the Governing Council, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN; NICArb Vice President and Governing member, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; and NICArb Chief Executive Officer/Registrar, Mrs. Shola Oshodi-John, among others, welcomed the participants.
Solve infrastructure deficit
Agbakoba urged the government to show respect for the rule of law, provide infrastructure such as electricity and ensure good quality of life.
He said these are “important factors to drive Nigeria’s arbitral position.”
Corruption, a menace to arbitration
One of the speakers, Mrs. Dorothy Ufot, SAN, identified some of the challenges of arbitrating in the country to include, risk of anti-arbitration injunctions being issued, perceptions of corruption, obsolete Federal Arbitration Law and length of time for arbitration and enforcement cases to reach the Supreme Court for final determination of the rights of the parties.
Ufot noted in particular that corruption in arbitration is “a real menace that needs to be addressed.
“The perception about corruption in Africa affects the appointment of arbitrators and the choice of seat of arbitration and the solution is a strong stand against corruption.”
She cautioned against the rush for foreign arbitration seats, for instance Dubai, where the arbitrators may not be very familiar with the local laws or legal system.
Instead, she advised arbitrators to encourage businesses to choose Nigeria as their seat of arbitration.
Ufot added: “Arbitration clauses should be thoroughly negotiated and properly drafted in precise and unambiguous terms, in order to avoid intervention by the courts.”
Need to amend Arbitration and Conciliation Act
Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, emphasised the need to re-introduce the Bill to amend the Arbitration and Conciliation Act (Chapter A18, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004) to align with current trends.
He observed that this was one way to develop the culture of arbitration in the country.
Bamidele noted that the last amendment bill did could not be passed before the last National Assembly’s tenure ended.
Why Nigeria must become seat of arbitration
Other experts also focused on the need for Nigeria to prioritize itself as a seat of arbitration, when entering contracts with foreign investors or/and companies.
Oshodi-John suggested that “if investors and companies can do business in Nigeria, then they should arbitrate in Nigeria.”
She also emphasised the need for the Federal Government to consider formulating a national arbitration policy, as a way to boost Nigeria’s quest to become an arbitration hub, save jobs and foreign exchange.
Mrs. Oshodi-John also re-echoed NICArb’s willingness to support and collaborate with other arbitration (and ADR) bodies within the continent and West African sub-region, to boost arbitration in the sub-region.
Other participants at the event included Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, represented by Mr. Enoch Simon, who felicitated with the Institute on its 40thanniversary.
He implored the Institute to continue to be at the vanguard of arbitration training and development in the country as this is sorely needed at a time such as this.
Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, represented by the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo, declared the conference open.
Sanwo-Olu commended NICArb for its work and leadership role in the arbitration community and encouraged the institute to keep up the good work.
The Vice Chairman, Academic Council, Institute for Transnational Arbitration (ITA) Professor Victoria Sahani, and about 40 speakers and panelists examined the role of technology in pioneering new frontiers in arbitration practice.
Aside Dr Agbakoba and Prof Ajogwu, other key speakers at the conference included: Elie Kleiman, Partner, Jones Day; Dr. Gaston Kenfack Douajni, President, Association for the Promotion of Arbitration in Africa (APAA); Mrs. Funmi Roberts, Principal, Funmi Roberts & Co; Professor Jonathan Aremu, Consultant, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Common Investment Market (ECIM); Chief (Mrs.) Anayo Offiah, SAN, Principal Partner, Obra Legal; Chief Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN, OFR; Hon. Wilfred D. Ikatari, Director, Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration – Lagos (RCICAL); among others.
They emphasised the need for the regulation of the arbitration environment – as both government and the private sector are stakeholders in the economic development of the country.
The conference echoed a widespread agreement that there was a need for African Arbitration bodies to encourage and implement research-driven and capacity-building programmes that will accelerate the development of arbitration in Africa.
Investiture and honours
The event also featured the investiture/Presidential dinner for the induction of new members.
More than 600 associates, members, and Fellows were inducted into the Institute from across different fields such as engineering, medicine, academia, media, technology, law, among others.
Several leaders and policymakers, who pioneered and promoted arbitration (and ADR) in Nigeria and globally, were also honoured.
The honourees included the institute’s founder and former President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Prince Bola Ajibola, SAN; Enugu State Governor (Dr.) Lawrence Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu; and Mrs Ufot, among others.