Professor Damilola S. Olawuyi is the deputy vice-chancellor, academics, Research, Innovation and Strategic Partnerships (ARISP), Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti. The professor of law and vice-chairman of the International Law Association (ILA) recently tasked stakeholders in the justice sector to work on maximizing the full value of the practice of arbitration in achieving more dispute resolution in the country.
He charged the stakeholders to urgently develop a national policy in pursuing the goal, insisting that, if the advocacy is achieved, society would be better for it regardless of whoever is aggrieved.
Olawuyi stated this during an online workshop organised by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS).
The web-workshop was hosted and moderated by NIALS director-general, Prof. Muhammad Tawfiq Ladan. It 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 Francesca 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).
In his lead presentation, 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 was yet to be fully maximized.
“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 realise 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 emphasised that there was a need to update the 32-year-old Arbitration and Conciliation Act to reflect contemporary realities. He stated the need 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 pupillage programmes 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 to 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 was 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.”
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 were traceable to the absence of a national policy that could have provided the foundation for its development.
She maintained that ongoing efforts to develop a national policy would go a long way in addressing the challenges, while also promoting greater synergy and cooperation between all arbitration centres and practitioners in Nigeria.
Lending his voice, Prof. Osipitan 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 government’s ongoing economic diversification efforts.