The 16th Annual Business Law Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) themed, “Recent Developments in the Business Law Environment”, is a ray of hope that the country’s pathway to economic recovery may not be a mirage, if the needful is done. The conference, which critically looked at current developments in the Nigerian business environment, was held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. According to the Chairman, Conference Planning Committee (CPC), Chike Obianwu, every year, NBA-SBL provides a platform for lawyers, non-lawyers and other stakeholders to sit down together and champion a healthy business climate for the nation.
The keynote speaker was Kosi Yankey-Ayeh, Chief Executive Officer, The Ghana Enterprises Agency (TGEA), a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, United States of America and fellow at the Instituto de Empresa (IE) University, Spain, to mention a few. Yankey-Ayeh called on business operators in Africa to leverage on technology to improve their business environment for “To maintain order, establish a state of generally-accepted standards, resolve disputes and protect liberties or rights when it comes to businesses”. At the occasion, President of NBA, Olumide Akpata stated that the association would continue to devise ways to improve the nation’s business environment and that since its inception in 2004, the conference had remained a converging point for decision-makers, saying “SBL has set the tune for conversation on various aspects of our national lives” while the NBA President-elect, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), pledged engagements with the government in promoting the economic fortunes of the nation.
The conference featured 11 insightful, thought-provoking and inspiring plenaries with sub-themes such as “CAMA 2020: The Journey So Far”, which had the Director-General, Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Garba Abubakar as speaker, who was represented by Nidiya Biraol, as he took his time to highlight the over 200 changes in the amended version of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) and how the provisions can positively affect the Nigerian business clime. Other plenaries include “ESG and the Nigerian Business Environment”, where it was pointed out that the ‘social’ component of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is often downplayed and why this must change for organisations to seen as acting lawfully and responsibly and “In-House and External Counsel Relationship: New Trends and Expectations”, where senior lawyers were tasked to desist from delegating the entire chambers’ work to their juniors not to compromise standards, adhering to deadlines, always rendering cheap, fast and reliable services, avoid being blacklisted, and the need for external counsel to be ready to justify and analyse fees charged by them for their clients’ easy comprehension .
“Tackling the Challenges of Ponzi Schemes: Insolvency as a Resolution Tool” took the centre-stage, where ponzi scheme operators were distinguished from loan sharks. Major reasons why it had been difficult to prevent ponzi customers from being duped ranged from the long time that it usually takes complaints to be reported and investigated, and the fact that many ponzi scheme operators often shield themselves from public scrutiny and sanctions by instituting legal actions against regulators. “AfCTFA: The Prospects for the Nigerian Business Lawyer”, was discussed and it was observed that key stakeholders like lawyers should have been better involved in the packaging of the legislation at the initial stage, the importance of a uniform currency for African states to operate with, and a clarion call on local lawyers to partner their foreign counterparts for smooth implementation of AfCTFA. The panels on “The New Face of Competition: Merger Control in the Nigerian Context”, had a presentation by the Executive Vice Chairman, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Babatunde Irukera while “Tax Administration Strides and the Nigerian Business Environment”, x-rayed the importance of digital technology in tax administration and the essence of striking a balance between tax compliance and right to privacy.
The panel on “Regulation of Internet Services Platforms: Necessity or Overreaching?”, had the Director-General/CEO, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Abdullahi on the hot-seat, to respond to participants’ inquiries on their perceived over-regulation of the Internet space by the government, as the DG was represented by Emmanuel Edet. The panelists described data as the new ‘oil’ and made a case for balancing of misinformation, national security and regulations and that many social media platforms already have their strong internal regulatory mechanisms in place and need not be over-regulated again, but that more tax incentives should be put in place to generate huge income for the nation. “The Nigerian Startup Bill: Economic Enabler?” considered the challenges and prospects of the bill that seeks to encourage start-ups in the country while “The Petroleum Industry Act: Making it Work” had main actors in the petroleum industry, shedding light on gray areas on PIA as it affects the nation’s economy.
“The Business of Law: New Frontiers and Succession” was the last panel that dissected the issue of succession in legal practice. The panelists bared their minds on their experiences when it comes to leadership and management of law firms. The role of competence, trust, clear vision, and consistency were highlighted as being necessary for any successful succession to take place. A survey was administered during the discourse, to elicit research information from participants. In all, the conference had over 60 experienced speakers and resource persons from within and outside Nigeria, who the Vice Chair of CPC, Ayoyinka Olajide-Awosedo, deeply appreciated without leaving behind participants and guests in her closing remarks. Apart from the panel sessions, notable events include side the CAC Clinic, which gave registered attendees either in person or virtually, an opportunity to engage directly, representatives of CAC to resolve pending matters.
During my interventions at the conference, I sought to know how the various regulatory agencies can be better coordinated for cost-effectiveness and optimal performance. Responding, the FCCPC Executive Chairman said such situations or competitions were inevitable, but that through effective communication, what looks like rivalry can be turned into a synergy. Furthermore, I posed a question to participants on what should be the role of the media be in tackling legal issues affecting agricultural production in Nigeria. Suggestions given include revamping legislation governing the agricultural sector that is long overdue, raising awareness on available incentives and opportunities in organised and mechanised farming, according pioneer status to farming, and educating farmers on current trends in agriculture, harnessing interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and non-governmental organisations, which many farmers and beneficiaries are not aware of, and hence the need for more education and enlightenment.
Attendees added value to their participation by visiting exhibitor booths, product demos, and one-on-one chat with the exhibitor representatives. They had recording sessions that were made available on the section’s website through active social media interactions and live-streaming of events. The Whova web application was the main official communication platform that facilitated easy development of agenda and planning of personal schedule, got connected other attendees to set up in-person/virtual meet-ups, created conversations through various discussion topics on the community board, and received updates such as last-minute session changes from the organisers. The Innovation Hub Challenge was in place to support technological solutions to generate social and economic value for a digital society by advancing the development of promising and innovative technologies. This year’s conference equally featured the Tare Yeri annual award for selfless service to NBA-SBL, which was won by Rotimi Ogunyemi, among other highlights.
The programme was the first after the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, coming after the last edition that was held physically in Lagos in 2019. The 16th conference reflected the vision of NBA-SBL towards advancing the growth of young lawyers such that 25 new wigs were sponsored to attend. This gesture was meant to maximise their participation in specific sessions such as ‘learning curves’, designed to bring both young and experienced lawyers together to do a recap of what had been learned from the earlier sessions. It is only hoped that like the previous editions, the outcomes of the conference, which had culminated in collaborative efforts in the establishment of National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable (NASSBER) in conjunction with the National Assembly and Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), National Action Plan on Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria and the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) and other stakeholders, would further assist in the assessment of the impact of major legislative and regulatory changes on the economy.
The conference, since its inception in 2004, has remained a converging point for decision-makers in both the public and private sectors, policy formulators, regulators and industry practitioners to find solutions to the myriad of challenges limiting businesses. NBA has three professional practice sections; NBA Section on Legal Practice (“SPL” or “NBA-SPL”), Section on Business Law (“SBL” or “NBA-SBL”) and Section on Public Interest and Development Law (“SPIDEL”). These three practice sections are designed to equip NBA members with necessary skills for advancement and exploits in the legal profession. The NBA-SBL has at its apex, a council that is currently chaired by Ayuli Jemide with 21 other members and 18 sector-focused committees established to cover existing and new areas of law with a view to enhancing commercial law practice. On a final note, as new officers emerge to steer the affairs of the section, the main takeaway is that NBA-SBL remains a strong force to be reckoned with as a catalyst for stimulating the Nigerian economy.