The Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen has acknowledged that the ongoing reforms in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector by the Federal Government will throw up innovations in the management of the sector and introduce new legal regimes that will impact on the quality of Justice delivery by judicial officers.
In a keynote address to flag off a two day workshop on oil and gas matters for judges organized by the Petroleum Technology development Fund (PTDF) in collaboration with the National Judicial Institute (NJI), Justice Walter Onnoghen challenged stakeholders particularly judges to take advantage of the workshop to acquaint themselves with the rudiments of the sector and be better prepared for the inevitable disputes that may arise as a consequence.
“The workshop is organized with the objective of keeping our judges abreast with the role of the judiciary in ensuring mastery of the dealings in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. Indeed, the adjudication duty of a judge can only be performed optimally when he remains up to date with the emerging developments and trends in jurisprudence pertaining to the oil and gas sector”
The Chief Justice of Nigeria said that the passage of the Petroleum Industry (Governance) Bill, reflects the willingness of government to promote transparency on issues dealing with oil and gas and an indication of the positive direction that the government is steering the oil and gas sector towards.
He urged Judicial Officers to encourage the application of Alternative Dispute Resolution by parties in the settlement of disputes arising from oil and gas transactions before exploring the option of litigation. “You must have recourse to the arbitration clauses contained in oil and gas agreements and ensure that parties respect theses clauses before exploring the option of litigation on the matter”.
The Nigerian judiciary, he said, remains a key partner in ensuring growth and stability in the oil and gas sector through its interpretation of the relevant laws governing the industry and applying such laws proactively.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria therefore commended the synergy between PTDF and NJI to expand the knowledge base of the judicial officers in oil and gas law.
The Administrator, National Judicial Institute, Justice Roseline Bozimo identified the impact of oil spillage and environmental degradation in oil producing regions of Nigeria, the remittance of royalties and tax regulations in the oil and gas sector as capable of giving rise to contentious legal claims that judges will be required to adjudicate on in the course of performing their judicial functions. In addition is the resolution of disputes arising from the increasingly complex and dynamic transactions in the rapidly growing Nigerian oil and gas sector, which contributes the largest share of revenue to the economy. “Consequently, our Judges need to be better acquainted with these developments in the Oil and Gas Sector in order to better perform their adjudicatory duties. Judges are now required to posses adequate knowledge and skills to efficiently adjudicate on the cases that may come before them. This has ultimately informed the need for this Workshop to expose Judicial Officers to changes within legal and technical aspects of the oil and gas sector”. She said.
Executive Secretary, Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), Dr Bello Aliyu Gusau gave reasons why PTDF found it expedient to collaborate with the National Judicial Institute in hosting the workshop. According to him, the oil and gas industry is made up of a network of legal relationships which end up before judges and justices for adjudication. These include matters between the Nigerian state and International oil companies, disputes between different companies in a joint venture, matters between host communities and producing companies or between suppliers and consumers of the products of oil and gas industry. He said it is therefore imperative to ensure that judicial officers are kept abreast of the emerging challenges regarding these relationships.
The second reason for the workshop, according to him is the fact that new legislations giving rise to major in fundamental changes in the oil and gas industry are being processed in the legislative chambers which ultimately will end up with judges and justices for interpretation and adjudication. One of such legislations which has already been passed by the Senate is the Petroleum Industry (Governance) Bill. Others in the making are the Fiscal framework legislation, and the host community participation bill both before the National Assembly.
Some of the topics discussed at plenary include fundamentals of oil and gas agreements: guiding rules and principles; The impact of oil spillage and environmental degradation: understanding the legal framework; An overview of legal issues arising from tax regulations in the oil and gas sector; and challenges in Nigerian admiralty proceedings: the petroleum sector perspective. The theme of the workshop is “enhancing the quality of judicial services in the petroleum sector”.
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