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Arbitration Experts Call for High Ethical Standards from Practitioners in Nigeria

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Leading arbitration practitioners in Nigeria have called for a significant change in attitude towards accountability and integrity within their profession.

This call to action was made at the 2023 Annual Dinner of the International Law Association, Arbitration Commission, held at the Oriental Hotel in Lagos State. The event, themed ‘International Arbitration: Putting Our House In Order’, brought together leading experts to discuss the current state of arbitration in Nigeria.

The conference was presided over by Prof Damilola Olawuyi, SAN, President of the International Law Association, Nigerian Branch. Prof Olawuyi commended the efforts of the Arbitration Committee in spearheading change within the Nigerian arbitration landscape. He stressed the importance of aligning arbitration practices in Nigeria with international standards and best practices, as it serves as a crucial platform for resolving international commercial disputes.

Mr. Tolulope Aderemi, Chairman of the Arbitration Committee, took center stage in advocating for change. He highlighted the decline in the reputation of arbitration practitioners and emphasized the need for a universal code of ethics. Aderemi proposed the idea of practitioners having accountability partners to ensure adherence to ethical standards. He dispelled the notion that Nigerian arbitrators are incompetent, highlighting the presence of experienced and diligent professionals with impeccable character. However, he urged stakeholders to hold themselves to high standards and be accountable to one another.

Aderemi also expressed concerns about the increasing number of arbitration-related appeals reaching the Supreme Court. He called for a reconsideration of such appeals on weak grounds, stating that they hinder Nigeria’s potential as a preferred foreign investment destination. Aderemi advocated for the imposition of strict penalties on those who violate the industry’s ethics.

The keynote speaker, Mr. Babatunde Fagbohunlu, SAN, delivered a speech on ‘International Commercial Arbitration: Putting Our House In Order’. Fagbohunlu focused on the challenges faced by African arbitrators in accessing the global arbitration market and the significant arbitral awards against the Nigerian government. He emphasized the need for Nigerian arbitrators to equip themselves for global opportunities. Fagbohunlu proposed the establishment of a single arbitration institution for the African continent to enhance its attractiveness and participation in international arbitration. He also stressed the importance of supporting the judiciary in enforcing arbitration agreements and awards by acting as amicus curiae in related cases.

During the Fireside chat, Mrs. Hairat Balogun, a Life Bencher and the first female Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Lagos State, addressed the ethical issues plaguing the legal profession. Balogun attributed the loss of the profession’s standing in society to the lack of adherence to ethical rules and the diluted training of lawyers in the country. She criticized the current method of admission into the Nigerian Law School and urged the responsible body to reconsider the suggestion of admitting only students from accredited (not online) schools.

The 2023 ILA Dinner concluded with a unanimous recognition that for arbitration to thrive in Nigeria, practitioners must uphold the highest levels of integrity, probity, and diligence. Thanking the participants, the Committee Secretary, Mrs Foluke Akinmoladun, also acknowledged the need to implement a universal or national code of ethics to govern the conduct of its members. This is seen as essential for Nigeria to continue attracting foreign direct investments. The discussions during the event highlighted the crucial role that arbitration plays in economic development, emphasizing the importance of practitioners supporting governments worldwide by practicing with diligence and integrity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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