‘Our duty is to ensure high business standard in Nigeria’

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Ozofu Latunde Ogiemudia is a partner at the law firm of Udo Udoma and Bello-Osagie, one of Nigeria’s leading commercial law firms. She is Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) 2019 Conference Planning Committee Vice-Chairman. In this interview with Legal Editor JOHN AUSTIN UNACHUKWU, she speaks on challenges of commercial law practice and the forthcoming SBL conference.

Arbitration is taking centre stage in the resolution of commercial disputes. How can Nigeria’s arbitral institutions be strenghtened?

One approach is to further develop the laws, rules and practice guides to create a more efficient arbitration system. In my experience, I have observed that parties to commercial agreements often elect to refer disputes to arbitration in foreign countries in accordance with a process regulated by foreign rules. The rationale for this is that these countries have a more developed system for conducting arbitration proceedings in a consistent and impartial manner that does not undermine investment.  This has, therefore, made their jurisdictions and processes more attractive and reliable as a means of settling commercial disputes. If our domestic institutions are to rival these foreign institutions, then the laws and rules that govern the arbitration process must be further developed to address these concerns. It would also be important to ensure that there is more certainty to the enforceability of foreign arbitral awards – the objective being to boost the confidence of foreign investors in the entire system for the administration of civil justice in Nigeria.

What role has the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) played?

One of the ways in which the NBA-SBL has sought to address this issue is by working closely with the eight National Assembly in drafting the Arbitration and Conciliation Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2018, which was to be passed by the Senate, but unfortunately did not go through the entire legislative process before the end of that National Assembly.  We are hopeful that the Bill will be passed by the ninth National Assembly and signed into law.

What is your role in the forthcoming  2019 Annual Business Law Conference of the NBA-SBL?

I am the vice-chairperson of the Conference Planning Committee (CPC), and the chairperson of the Programme and Content Sub-committee. As vice-chair of the CPC, I provide general support to the Chairman, Dr. Adeoye Adefulu, in relation to the planning of the conference. In my capacity as the chair of the Programme and Content sub-committee, I led the development of the content and discussion points of the programme for the conference in collaboration with Dr. Adefulu and other sub-committee members.  In addition to this, my sub-committee provided support to the Chairman in identifying knowledgeable speakers and panelists, and we are really excited about the lineup we have for the conference.

Can you tell us more about the nature of the NBA-SBL conferences?

The NBA-SBL was established primarily to engender the professional development of Nigerian commercial lawyers and thereby ensure a high standard of business law practice in Nigeria, comparable with other leading jurisdictions. In furtherance of this objective, for the past 13 years, the NBA-SBL has organised the Business Law Conference annually with the aim of discussing topical issues affecting commercial law and business in Nigeria and providing a forum in which practical solutions to issues discussed can be outlined.  Over the years, the Business Law Conference has attracted leaders in government and the industry, as well as leaders in the legal community both at home and abroad.  Our invitees cut across various sectors of the Nigerian economy as well as the international legal community, and the intention is to ensure that the opinions shared during the conference are well-informed, relevant and diverse.

What impact do you hope the theme for this year’s conference will have?

The theme is geared towards addressing issues that are pivotal to the growth of the Nigerian economy as a whole and our hope is that the conference would not be just another talk shop, but that it would start a debate on the practical and pragmatic solutions to issues identified during the conference, the effects of which would be evident long after the conference. This is why we chose the theme: Growth, Investment and Employment:  Beyond Rhetoric. We, indeed, want to go beyond rhetorics and identify what needs to be done to stem the tide of declining foreign direct investments in Nigeria, growing unemployment and impaired development.  As I indicated earlier, the keynote speakers and panelists for this year’s conference have been carefully selected to ensure, not just that the issues are discussed extensively at the conference, but that after the conference, active steps are taken to drive the agenda of the conference.

The Companies and Allied Matters (CAM) bill is yet to receive President’s assent, how do you hope the conference would address critical issues surrounding the Bill?

Despite today’s dynamic and exponentially evolving global community, Nigerian companies have relied on a 28-year-old law to govern the way local businesses operate. If the Companies and Allied Matters Act (Repeal and re-enactment) Bill 2019 (“CAMA Bill”) is passed into law in its current form, it would give Nigerian businesses and organisations the tools they need to operate and compete efficiently in the 21st Century, with the overall objective of positioning Nigeria as a hub for entry into African markets.

This is a key area of focus for me, particularly because I was the chairperson of the eight Senate’s Technical Advisory Committee on the CAMA Bill.  The CAMA Bill is designed to reposition the landscape for doing business in Nigeria and contains a lot of innovations in Nigerian company law that are intended to have a real, tangible impact on the way small businesses carry out their important role as an engine for economic growth and development. These innovations include single-member and single-director companies, a more inclusive board for the Corporate Affairs Commission, company administration and voluntary arrangements, netting and greater disclosure of beneficial interests in companies, to mention a few.

How do you  think the theme for this conference will impact the Nigerian economy?

As the theme suggests, this conference will focus on practical and pragmatic solutions to achieving inclusive economic growth, attracting and retaining investment and increasing employment within the Nigerian economy. The engaging discourse during the conference, with the keen participation of several policy makers and stakeholders, will highlight the importance of creating a conducive commercial environment that can attract and retain investment in order to boost the Nigerian economy.   Hopefully, these discussions will create the spark that is required to drive excitement for the signing of the CAMA Bill into law.  I think that Nigerian and foreign investors should be excited about the prospect of passage of the CAMA Bill as it draws on inspiration from selected jurisdictions, while at the same time proffering solutions in the context of our local market and repositioning Nigeria and the way we do business here.  These and others are issues that will be discussed extensively at the conference.

Are there notable examples of how deliberations at the NBA-SBL conferences have driven policy changes or led to enactment of legislations that affect economic growth? Could you please share these with us?

One of the NBA-SBL’s core objectives is to promote the exchange of views and information on the laws, practices and procedures affecting commerce in Nigeria. Our conferences are, therefore, always designed with this goal in mind.  There have been deliberations at previous NBA-SBL conferences that have spurred economic growth such as the 12th Business Law Conference in 2018, which focused on the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement(AfCFTA).  As you know, the discussion around the AfCFTA has intensified since then, especially as the Agreement came into force only a few weeks ago, without Nigeria as a party to it.  As a result of the SBL’s focus on this topic, the chairman of the SBL, Mr. Seni Adio (SAN), has been appointed as a part of the Presidential committee advising on the AfCFTA.  Another topic of discussion at the 12th Business Law Conference was the Nigerian competition and consumer protection framework, and shortly thereafter, on January 30, 2019, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2019, was passed into law.  It is for reasons such as these that we believe that the annual Business Law Conference of the SBL has become so important; the ability to put law and policy makers, regulators, the private sector participants and, of course, young trail blazers in the same room will always generate outcomes that have a direct impact on the growth of the economy.

We’ve seen the NBA-SBL in recent times forming very strategic partnerships with government, regulators, policy and lawmakers. What are the objectives?

The NBA-SBL is very deliberate in its objective of working collaboratively with stakeholders and regulatory agencies in order for capacity building.  As a result of these collaborations, we are able to contribute to framing the policies and laws that affect the Nigerian business environment.  We know that we have a major role to play in shaping the commercial sector in Nigeria and by bringing thought leaders and policy makers together to contemplate and discuss pertinent commercial issues, we learn what direction the Nigerian commercial space is moving towards, as well as offer our own opinions in order to promote the common interest of business law practitioners locally and internationally.

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