Views from Rio: Nigerian Courts Must Embrace Judicial Globalization

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Nigeria needs to do more to develop and promote its legal environment especially in the areas of cross border civil and commercial matters. The government should invest in legal reforms. There is dare need for a colloquium to address the dearth of scholarship on Nigerian perspective to legal aspects of cross border relations.

It is astonishing to hear presenters at the plenary session of the 7th Journal of Private International Law in Rio discussing Nigeria and nature of underdevelopment of Nigerian laws in addressing some salient cross border issues involving some big multinational corporations activities in Nigeria. Unfortunately, Nigeria is hardly represented in these important fora.

Professor Michael Sturner from University of Konstanz (Germany) discussed the topic ‘ Between Desire and Reality- PIL and global Governance’.  His presentation dealt with how private international law could be used to bring about global governance and justice. He cited Nigeria as an instance to buttress his points. Shell and other multinational corporations have been involved in environmental degradation in Nigeria and these MOCs have been cheating on Nigeria because of low standards of care and under-developed laws, standards, policies and enforcement regime Nigeria.

The above scenario has caused various indegenous communities to drag shell before foreign courts in the United States, England and the Netherlands. They have sued these MOCs and their parent companies for corporate liabilities over the activities of their subsidiaries in Nigeria. There are, however, various challenges facing these disputes in foreign lands. Many courts abroad have refused to hold the the parent companies responsible for the activities of their subsidiaries in Nigeria using the concept of corporate personality. Some raise jurisdictional questions altogether and the question of applicable law. Will the foreign court apply Nigeria (lower) standards or the higher standards required by the laws in developed countries.

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Professor Sturner saw environmental degradation as human right issue and since human right is universal in nature, countries with lower standards of care or with no standard at all could resort to and apply the higher standards required of these companies in other locations they operate, or those ones required by the law of the nationality of the parent company. This universalist approach is a potent tool of private international law that could bring about global governance and justice.

The lesson to be learnt by Nigerian courts from his exposition is that the world is a global village and we cannot continue to turn our eyes away from the developments elsewhere. Our court should make themselves available to global discussion on judicial globalization and global governance. There is need to set up a department in the justice sector to monitor best practices in the world. We don’t need to shop around the world to get adequate and effective justice for litigants. The courts can make use of private international law tools to apply adequate standards/justice to environmental degradation cases even if our laws are inadequate or silent in this regards.

It is not enough to import foreign standards, we need to move our courts to enter into judicial cooperation agreement with other courts for the recognition and enforcement of Nigerian judgments. This is the trend globally among serious nations. The Dubai Investment Court for instance recently signed MoU with many courts around the world for judicial cooperation and assistance in civil procedure matters and enforcement of judgment. Russia has one in place with the European Union and the examples are many.

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We need to break the shell and come out to the real world.

The second discussion was presented by the duo of Professor Hannah Buxbaum (Indiana University) and my amiable Prof Ralf Michaels (Duke Law School) on the topic ‘ Private International Law for International Antitrust’. Unfortunately, Nigeria was again used as a scenario for States with no antitrust laws despite the prevalence of many multinational corporations operating there.

The details of their presentation and how it could impact on us will be made available on this platform.

Abu Yekini…

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