The Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators’ 2019 Annual Conference and Investiture Award Ceremony which was held at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria from the 14th to the 15th of November touched on the theme: Building a Culture of Arbitration and Sustainable Institutions in West Africa.
The focus of the Conference was on the general legal and shared norms of culture affecting arbitration in building strong and enduring arbitral institutions in Nigeria and West Africa. It was a multi-stakeholder forum that afforded policymakers, the private sector, and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) practitioners, a platform to build consensus on transformational issues that could shape the future of arbitration and ADR in West Africa.
The Honourable Attorney General of the Federation, and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, represented by Mr. Enoch Simon, felicitated with the Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators on its 40th anniversary and 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.
The Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the host of the annual conference, ably represented by the Honourable Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Lagos State, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo, SAN, declaring the Conference open, commended the Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators (NICArb) for its work and leadership role in the arbitration community and encouraged the institute to keep up the good work. This was immediately followed by a welcome speech by Professor Fabian Ajogwu, SAN, FCArb Vice President of the institute, who represented the Chairman and President of the Governing Council, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, OFR, CON, SAN, FCArb.
At the Conference, speakers emphasized 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. Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, FCArb, Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters emphasized 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 stated that there is no current amendment Bill before this present Senate, as the last amendment did not succeed and as such died a natural death with the last National Assembly.
There were also discussions on the need for Nigeria to prioritize itself as a seat of arbitration, when entering contracts with foreign investors or/and companies. According to Mrs. Shola Oshodi-John, FCArb, Chief Executive Officer/Registrar, NICArb, ‘if investors and companies can do business in Nigeria, then they should arbitrate in Nigeria’. Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, FCArb, Vice President and Governing member of the institute called on the government to show respect for the rule of law, provide infrastructure such as electricity and ensure good quality of life, as important factors to drive Nigeria’s arbitral position. Mrs. Dorothy Ufot, SAN stressed that the issue of 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.
The Conference also had Professor Victoria Sahani, Vice Chair, Academic Council, Institute for Transnational Arbitration (ITA) and other notable panelists examine the role of technology in pioneering new frontiers in arbitration practice.
At the end of the 2-day Conference, the Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators with its over 5,000 members across diverse sectors and professions, re-committed itself to intensify its efforts at driving policy advocacy around issues that increase the ability for the Arbitration community and users of ADR to harness the current potential of ADR. 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. Mrs. Oshodi-John re-echoed the willingness for NICArb to support and collaborate with other arbitration (and ADR) bodies in this regard within the continent and West African sub-region, being the pioneer arbitration body in Nigeria (and West Africa).
There were over 40 speakers and panelists at the Conference. Some of the key speakers at the conference included: Elie Kleiman, Partner, Jones Day; Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, and Professor Fabian Ajogwu, both Vice Presidents and members of the Institute (NICArb) Governing Council; 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 other notable panelists.
The investiture/Presidential dinner for the induction of new members was also held at Eko hotel and suites. Where NICArb honored several leaders and policymakers who have pioneered and promoted arbitration (and ADR) in Nigeria and globally. Those honored included Prince Bola Ajibola, SAN, KBE, the founder of the institute and former President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ); H.E. Rt. Hon. (Dr.) Lawrence Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Governor Enugu State; H.E. Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, Governor Abia State; Mrs. Dorothy Ufot, SAN, to mention a few.
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.