Mr. Abubakri Yekini a Law Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Lagos State University and Nigeria’s representatives at the ongoing 7th Journal of Private International Law Conference at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil spoke on the need for Nigeria to join the Hague Conference on Private International Law without further delay. Abu highlights the benefits of joining the convention and the many privileges being lost as a result of Nigeria’s non membership.
The Hague Conference is a global institution established in 1893 for the progressive unification, or development if you like, of conflict of law rules. The Conference attracts scholars and judges from all over the world and it is really a melting point for brewing and harmonizing the divergent rules applied in different jurisdictions.
The Conference has made tremendous efforts at simplifying the tasks of lawyers and litigants involved in transnational litigation. We live in a cosmopolitan world today. With the advent of internet, electronic commerce and faster means of travel and communication, almost every transaction now has a cross-border effect. If states were to continue to be myopic and self-centered in the exercise of jurisdiction and applying their laws to cross-border issues, the effect will surely be unpalatable for both the litigants and the courts. What we are going to have in such circumstance is a high degree of unpredictability and uncertainty of laws which is very bad for business men and this will eventually hamper the growth of commerce. In the worst case, it could also bring states’ courts in conflict as was witnessed in the Laker Airways litigation and its likes.
The Hague Conference has over the years turned out a number of conventions to ensure an efficient transnational litigation regime. These conventions include: Convention of 30 June 2005 on Choice of Court Agreements, Convention of 18 March 1970 on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters, Convention of 15 November 1965 on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, and Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents Program) conventions have been widely ratified by states. Nigeria as the largest economy in Africa (or may be second largest now) needs to take its position in international affairs. Lagos State ought to be the hub for litigation in Africa, just as what London and New York are to the world. Without these conventions, it is doubtful whether we can make any headway in having an efficient transnational justice delivery system. These conventions set up a mechanism for cross-border judicial assistance to remove erstwhile obstacles in civil litigation. With these conventions, it is easier to serve court processes abroad and to take evidence abroad. In 2016, the The e-APP (electronic Apostille Program was launched to implement a low-cost and more effective way to issue Appostilles (confirmation of official documents) and ‘the operation of electronic Registers of Apostilles that can be accessed online by recipients to verify the origin of (both paper and electronic) Apostilles’.
Central Authorities are established by the Conference to manage each convention and the Hague Conference itself offers expertise advice and coordination. Personally, I don’t know of any serious state that is not part of the Hague Conference or at least subscribe to some of its conventions. To me, probably, Nigeria is only such a state. Our civil procedure rules talk about ‘the Convention’ in service outside Nigeria. No one has bordered to ask what ‘Convention’ the rules are talking about. Nigeria hasn’t signed any and it keeps re-occuring in the rules including the Lagos 2012 rules. This is the effect of ‘copy and paste’ syndrome. The rules are actually referring to the Hague Service Convention. No government has made effort to sign the convention since 1965. As it stands in Nigeria today, it is extremely hard to serve our court processes abroad. At best, litigants use private courier to effect service abroad. This has serious implications if our judgments were to be enforced abroad whether the process was acknowledged or not. However, the Service Convention has a number of easier and more effective channels for service. The same goes for Evidence Convention and others.
In the area of family law, a number of conventions have been concluded and are now in force. Some of these include Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Convention of 23 November 2007 on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance and Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. These conventions will assist the Nigerian children many of whom are today subject of ‘international’ marriages. Recently, a client approached us to help prevent the retrieval of her children from Nigeria to Senegal by her husband. This and many of such cases that we see in the courts wouldn’t have pose any serious challenge if Nigeria were a member of the Hague Conference of accede to some of its conventions. As it stands today, many children are being abducted from Nigeria by their fathers or mothers as the case may be,many more children are in Nigeria with fathers in other jurisdictions without any forms of support or maintenance, and we can continue to mention these challenges.
Nigeria and Nigerians are loosing a lot for not being part of the Hague Conference. It is time we joined.
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