By Dennis Agbo
Cerebral Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba has been appointed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami to head the federal government’s Committee for the Development of National Arbitration Policy that would guide the arbitral process and agreements in Nigeria.
Performing the virtual inauguration in Abuja, yesterday, Malami noted that the Committee came at the nick of time when the practice of arbitration was facing challenges, particularly with the negative outcomes of arbitral proceedings in the ongoing litigation by the Federal Government against the award of almost $10billion (inclusive of seven percent interest) to Process and Industrial Development Limited (P&ID) by the London tribunal on January 31, 2017.
He said that the P&ID award has raised concerns on the impact of arbitral cases and awards against Nigeria leading to calls for the development of a National Policy on Arbitration to guide the arbitral process and agreements in Nigeria, adding that such an Arbitration policy will also provide for sanctions against public officers who fail to act in the national interest by ensuring that agreements reflect national laws.
Malami stated that Nigeria, like other jurisdictions has benefited from the growing popularity of arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism and has embraced it in her body of laws and business practices, citing the presence of arbitral bodies and arbitration centers in Nigeria and the adoption of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, Cap. A18 Laws of the Federation (LFN) 2004, modeled after the UNCITRAL Model Law as a testimony to its acceptance and institutionalization in Nigeria.
“Our goal is to create an arbitration hub in Africa and to ensure that the venue of arbitration for transactions arising from Nigeria. It is expected that the National Arbitration policy will be applied in respect of government contracts, such that arbitration agreements in respect of all disputes arising from governmental contracts, especially with foreign entities will have Nigeria as the seat of arbitration.
“The objectives of the Committee are to develop a transformational Arbitration Policy framework that addresses issues relating to arbitration agreements, government contracts, domestic and foreign contractual relationships and transactions arising or terminating in Nigeria or both.
“The proposed Policy will Protect Nigeria’s economy which currently generates significant transactions; ensure that transactions originating and terminating in Nigeria, which can be termed ‘Domestic’ in nature are being arbitrated in Nigeria; having the seats/venues of these arbitrations in Nigeria, thus the government and indeed, Nigeria will save billions of dollars, and create jobs for millions of Nigerian lawyers who have specialized in Arbitration,” Malami stated.
He said it was also expected that the federal and state government agencies will adopt the policy to be applied to all agencies, which will encourage domestic arbitration and curtail the flight of arbitration to other countries.
Major responsibilities of the committee are to review the current laws and policies on Arbitration in Nigeria; Advise on a new national Arbitration Policy; Draft an Executive Order to support the application of the new Arbitration Policy across government agencies; Develop an implementation plan and Advise the federal government on the required infrastructure for setting up a world standard Arbitration Center in Lagos and Abuja.
The Committee consists of specialists and experts in the field of Arbitration as well as representatives of government institutions. They include Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) as Chairman; Abubakar B. Mahmoud (SAN); Chairman of International Dispute Resolution Institute (IDRI), Mr. Akin Sowemimo, Mr. Lawal Hassan, Prof C.J Amasike, Mrs. Halima L. Halilu, the head of Legal Services & Council Secretariat Unit Bureau of Public Enterprises, and Mr. Chike Okoye, representing NNPC.
The secretariat of the committee would be managed by an international criminal law attorney and development expert, Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu, who is also President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Adviser on Justice Reform and International Relations.
Mrs. Ibekaku-Nwagwu will also serve in the committee as the representative of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice to lead AG’s initiative in the reform of the arbitration sector.
Other members of the committee are: the Permanent Secretary and Solicitor General of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Apata, Director/Chief Executive Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration, Wilfred Ikatari; Head of Legal Nigerian Ports Authority, Mr G. Umar Andumar; Representative of Nigeria Petroleum Corporation, Chike Okoye; the ministers of Transport, Budget and National Planning. The committee members from the Federal ministry of Justice (FMOJ) also include the Mrs. Maimuna Shiru, Felix Okojie and Jamila Akaaga-Ade.
It also has representatives of other Ministries and Agencies such as the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, NNPC, CBN, NPA, Ministry of Power, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Works and Housing, Bureau for Private Enterprises and the Federal ministry of Justice (FMOJ) Regional Center for Arbitration.