By Henry Ojelu
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic, Research, Innovation and Strategic Partnerships (ARISP) of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Professor Damilola S. Olawuyi, has urged stakeholders in the justice sector to urgently develop a national policy that will maximize the full value of the practice of arbitration in the country.
Professor Olawuyi, a professor of law and Vice-Chair of the International Law Association (ILA) worldwide, stated this during an online workshop organized by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS).
The web-workshop was hosted and moderated by NIALS Director-General, Prof Muhammad Tawfiq Ladan, and featured the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), Prof Paul O. Idornigie (SAN), Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN), Prof. Wahab Egbewole (SAN), Mr. Etigwe Uwa (SAN), Mrs Maimuna Lami Shiru of the Federal Ministry of Justice, and Associate Professor Francisca Nlerum of NIALS.
The event was chaired and declared open by Prof Taiwo Osipitan (SAN) also of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka.
In his lead presentation, Professor Olawuyi remarked that even though arbitration has come to stay as a less adversarial, flexible and effective means of achieving the fair and timely resolution of disputes in Nigeria, its real potential and value is yet to be fully maximized in Nigeria.
“When you look at the sheer volume of arbitration that could have been conducted in Nigeria but are still being conducted in London, New York and Geneva by Nigerian disputants and by Nigerian arbitrators, then you realize the urgent need for a coherent national policy that will create the right environment and incentives for us to achieve more Nigerian content in the practice of arbitration”, he said.
The university don emphasized that there is also a need to update the 32-year-old Arbitration and Conciliation Act to reflect contemporary realities, especially to widen the excessively narrow scope of the Act which currently excludes non-commercial disputes in key sectors, address perennial issues of undue judicial intervention in arbitration, establish clear deadlines for stay of proceedings applications, introduce an award review tribunal, and most importantly integrate the use of efficient and modern technology for evidence and arbitral proceedings.
Olawuyi urged arbitral institutes in Nigeria to develop tailored mentoring and pupilage programs to equip young arbitrators with practical knowledge and skills on the rudiments of building a successful arbitration client base and practice.
While discussing the need for stakeholder engagement in drafting a national policy on arbitration, Prof Idornigie also suggested the establishment of a national commission on arbitration that can promote regulatory coherence, professional ethics and standard setting for the practice of arbitration in Nigeria.
In his contributions, Uwa, reflected on a wide range of challenges that must be addressed if Nigeria is to be perceived as an attractive seat and venue for arbitration.
The issues ranged from “respect for the sanctity of the judiciary and quasi-judicial processes, reducing judicial interventions in arbitration, having the necessary infrastructure and facilities for arbitration, as well as increasing opportunities for capacity development and training for arbitrators that can handle the volume of disputes that may require resolution.”
In his contribution, Prof Nlerum noted that a coherent national policy and strategy must be understood as the needed foundation and pre-cursor to any legislative act.
She remarked that some of the challenges with arbitration in Nigeria today are traceable to the absence of a national policy that could have provided the foundation for its maturity and development.
She maintained that ongoing efforts to develop a national policy will go a long way in addressing the challenges, while also promoting greater synergy and cooperation between all arbitration centers and practitioners in Nigeria.
In his remarks during the closing the session, Prof Osipitan SAN, who was chairman of the event, appreciated the exceptional leadership roles of NIALS in spearheading innovative research, capacity development and stakeholder dialogue on issues of national importance.
He noted that improving the attractiveness of the practice of arbitration in Nigeria can significantly contribute to the government’s ongoing economic diversification efforts.