The Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators’ 2021 Annual Conference and Investiture Award Ceremony will hold at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria from the 18th to the 19th of November, theme: Disruption and the New Normal in Arbitration/ADR in Africa: A Way Forward.
The focus of the Conference is geared towards addressing the effects of COVID-19 pandemic unexpected disruption in the arbitration and business landscape in such a way that threatens the survival of the practice in societies that are not technologically advanced. The disruption has created a new narrative and a new normal with the advent of online dispute resolution, digital economy, online trade in goods and services amongst others. At the inception of the pandemic, everyone had thought that it would soon fizzle away and that things would return to the old ways. That expectation has long been dropped for the more pragmatic approach of fashioning a way forward in order to adapt to the disruption and harness the benefits of the resultant changes.
This year’s conference will be the first Hybrid Annual Conference held by NICArb to create a forum for users, experts and practitioners in Arbitration and other ADRs across sectors on the Africa continent and beyond, to discuss and proffer solutions in the wake of COVID-19 disruptions on how to improve the use and practice of Arbitration/ADRs to create an environment that attracts investment and investor confidence, and a roadmap for dispute resolution under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
A statement released to the media listed the guests thus: Special Guest of Honour, His Excellency, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON, FCArb Vice President of Nigeria; Chief Host, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Executive Governor of Lagos State, Keynote Speakers: His Excellency, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, CON, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment; Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Honourable Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Nigeria; Professor Emmanuel Sibidi Darakoum, Permanent Secretary, Organisation for Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA); Honourable Justice Rita Nosakhare Pemu, CJA, FCArb; Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo, SAN, Honourable Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Lagos State; Dr Mrs. Lola Akande, Honourable Commissioner for Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives, amongst others dignitaries.
This conference shall seek to, amongst other things to propose a viable way towards harnessing the benefits of the new normal for the arbitration and ADR community, with particular focus on the challenges of the African continent. There shall also be a discussion on an overview of the current trends in the digital economy and their implications for consumer protection and competition policies. Speakers at the Conference will be opportuned to review emerging issues in consumer protection in electronic commerce (e-commerce), in particular, how it relates to legal and policy frameworks, consumer empowerment and business guidance, enforcement, dispute resolution and redress.
More so, the commencement of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in January this year led to the assessment of preparation made so far by the Nigerian government and Nigerians to engage the process, emphasizing dispute resolution. However, the loophole here is that AfCFTA DSM gives the capacity to bring actions under the Agreement only to states. Thus, private actors (non-State actors) are eliminated from the dispute settlement arrangement. This seems problematic because the major operators in Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are private persons.The agreement’s leaning towards a state-state arbitration poses some questions, which shall be addressed by erudite scholars at the Conference.
During the Conference, there shall be an extensive discussion on the Ethics and Integrity in Arbitration. It is noted that the quality and success of arbitration are as good as the arbitrators involved in the proceedings. One of the fundamental principles in arbitration is the Arbitrator’s impartiality, ethics, and integrity during the arbitration process. Therefore, international law and arbitration institutions impose varying ethical and integrity standards on arbitrators, emphasising impartiality and independence. The new normal has thrown up more challenges in respect of the ethical standards expected of the Arbitrator, some of which are quite novel and others far-reaching. The Conference will focus on some of these new challenges to help the 21st-century Arbitrator navigate her way through them.
Another interesting topic for discussion at the hybrid conference is the challenge of enforcement of arbitral awards in Sub- Saharan Africa. According to the World Bank, the ability to enforce arbitral awards is an important factor for investors considering potential markets in which to invest. The enforcement of arbitral awards in sub-Saharan Africa poses a number of issues and risks to investors, which shall be discussed at this Conference. There are also pungent issues linked to refusal by some States to readily abide by arbitral decisions, such as the perceived encroachment into their regulatory space and immoderate award of damages. These issues have become seminal in international investment law parlance and will be addressed in this Conference.
Furthermore, the Young Arbitrators are not left out at the Conference. At the Conference, there shall be a discussion on the major concern for young arbitrators, how to break the “barriers to entry”. Bridging the gap between young arbitrators and older professionals has been a recurring topic in arbitration circles. The thrust of this topic is to advocate for initiatives that would bring young arbitrators, howbeit gradually, into the mainstream of arbitration practice.
Prominent personalities of various expertise and seasoned long standing experience in the Arbitration/ADR sphere from Africa Continent and beyond have been invited to speak and share few words on a wild range of topics reflecting the theme. These speakers are drawn from private practise, government institutions/parastates and international institutions. More so, there will be a Fireside conversation with arbitration experts, who would share their practical experiences relating to Arbitration proceedings.
At the end of the 2-day Conference, the Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators will also launch its Arbitration Centre and Arbitration Rules. This will be an opportunity to intensify its efforts at driving policy advocacy to the public in a bit to create awareness that the Institute is ready to its full capacity to host an Arbitration Proceeding.
The Investiture/Presidential dinner for the induction of new members will be held also, on the 2nd day of the Conference. At the dinner, NICArb shall honour organisations, leaders and policymakers who have pioneered and promoted arbitration (and ADR) in Nigeria and globally.