The Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) recently held its 17th Annual International Business Law Conference at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos State themed, ‘The Nigerian Business Landscape: Priorities of Law, Policy and Regulation’, which was aimed at exploring recent trends in the country’s business law environment for national development.
The Chair of the Conference Planning Committee (CPC) and Treasurer of the Section’s Council, Ayoyinka Olajide-Awosedo, at a pre-event press conference, informed that “there are plethora of laws that affect the economy and so we want to sit in the room with all the relevant stakeholders, industries regulators, policies makers and look at how to move our economy forward” while the Chairman of NBA-SBL, Dr. Adeoye Adefulu, disclosed that the council had keen interest and made various landmark successes in developing the economy of the country. This year’s conference keynote speaker was the Country Director for Nigeria of World Bank, Shubham Chaudhuri while the special guest of honour was Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Dr. Chaudhuri had traced the development index of Nigeria and Indonesia, noting that Nigeria lost its strategic advantage over the Asian Tigers, because the country failed to develop its private sector. He further added that, no nation has been able to develop without the private sector by contributing at least 80% to its Gross Domestic Product, stating that his bank had been working with both federal and state governments, to improve the nation’s statistics on private sector involvement. He observed that for the nation to develop, both physically and economically, the government must unlock the private sector and improve law, justice delivery, as well as the judiciary, among others.
The Lagos State Governor, represented by the Secretary to State Government, Mrs. Bimbo Salu-Hundeyin, lauded NBA-SBL for choosing Lagos for the annual conference. He stated his government’s determination to further reduce the difficulty of doing business in Lagos State, noting that his government was working on unifying taxes and reducing the time needed to getting all forms of business permits in the state. On his part, the NBA President, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), lauded the choice of the conference theme, stating that with a new government in place, it was time to chart a well-defined track for the Nigerian business and economic environment.
At the well-attended conference, the plenary sessions include ‘Transforming Nigeria’s Business Environment: Unlocking Potential through Legislative and Policy Reforms’, which was moderated by Mrs. Folake Akinkugbe-Filani, Chief Commercial Officer, Mixta Africa and had other panelists such as Dr. Yemi Kale, Partner and Chief Economist, KPMG Nigeria; Mrs. Ronke Sokefun, former Chairperson of the Board of Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC); Olukorede Adenowo, Chief Executive Officer, Standard Chartered Bank; Zeal Akaraiwe, Chief Executive Officer, Graeme Blaque; and Dr. Yemi Osindero, Managing Partner, Uhuru Investment Partners. Speaking on legislative reforms, the panelists noted that laws should not be prescriptive, but should rather be made broader to allow the judiciary to effectively discharge its functions.
They also noted that the economy is dysfunctional because it is tied to oil and that there is an urgent need to fix the machinery of the non-oil sectors and allow them to grow. The panelists further suggested that the government should bring in the informal sector into the tax regime to reduce the burden on the formal sector and that the amount of tax one pays should be proportional to the services they get from the government. They stressed the need to increase Nigeria’s domestic savings and investments like other emerging markets. The panel further identified that the country is confronted with unstable economic policies, obstacles in regulatory processes, security issues, corruption, and inadequate infrastructure.
The conference also had the session on ‘The Future of Financial Services Regulations in Nigeria: Is There a Need for a Paradigm Shift?’, whereby the financial services sector was described as one of the most robust in Africa, and one of the fastest-growing globally with high prospects for exponential growth. However, there were questions as to whether such growth is sustainable in the long term, given the current regulatory environment. The moderation was done by Desmond Ogba, a Partner at the law firm of Templar’s, which also had the likes of Dr. Folashade Adeyemo, a senior law lecturer at the University of Liverpool, who participated virtually; Tunde Oladosu, a Partner at Clifford Chance; Dr. Ajibola Asolo, a Partner at Aluko and Oyebode; Franca Eguekwe, Company Secretary at NG Clearing Ltd; and Temitope Sowunmi, a Counsel at The New Practice (TNP).
Leading the discourse, Adeyemo gave an overview of current legislation and a profile of regulatory bodies, their purpose, importance, shortcomings, challenges and solutions to them. Oladosu considered the question of how to prevent a run on banks in response to current economic shocks, notably occasioned by the policies of the Federal Government, the feasibility of the call for the ‘unbundling’ of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and how this aligns with global best practices. The panelists took a closer look at the insurance industry in Nigeria in its ongoing quest for greater market penetration; the need to maximise the provisions of the Nigeria Startup Act in the quest to grow the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) ecosystem; and managing energy transition in a manner that does not impact negatively on economic growth, among other salient issues.
There were also the ‘Fireside Chat on The Nigeria Startup Act: From Enactment to Implementation: What Next?’, ‘The Impact of Emerging Technologies and Digital Transformation on the Nigerian Business and Legal Environment’, and ‘Closing Nigeria’s Infrastructural Gap with Public-Private Partnerships’. In addition to the above, the conference witnessed a flurry of both breakout and plenary sessions devoted to some crucial matters that engage the attention and professional preoccupations of the legal ecosystem. The session examined the rise of the Nigerian creative industry with the aid of artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital enablers, the industry’s ability to navigate as well as the regulatory environment in a manner that recognises and rewards creators, and the feasibility, or otherwise, of harmonising regulation across jurisdictions.
This session was moderated by Paul Okeugo, Founder and President of Chocolate City, which included other panelists such as Christian Aniukwu, Partner at Stren and Blan; Mrs. Lynda Alphaeus, Director at the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC); Akin Agunbiade, an Associate at the law firm of Aelex; and the popular singer and songwriter, MI, whose real name is Jude Abaga, the Chief Executive at Incredible Music, a record label. It was pointed out that, as the second-largest employer of labour in Nigeria, the exponential growth of the creative industry has the enormous potential to transform the country’s economy, most especially, in its digital manifestation and its ability to scale up its value chain in a global market. With this trend, it had come a great deal of concern among stakeholders and relevant legal bordering on data privacy, intellectual property (IP) management, copyright violations, and ownership of AI-generated contents.
The panelists made a number of insightful observations such as the need to recognise that creative expression is a fundamental rights and to craft the regulatory environment and enforcement mechanism accordingly. Furthermore, with the growing number of Nollywood movies in Nigeria, it is crucial to talk about the balancing of ethical standards with the promotion of innovation, and the need for key stakeholders to invest in infrastructure that encourage the development of the industry beyond the confines of major cities where the bulk of these movies are shot and produced, plus the need to scale-up legal instruments such as the Nigerian Copyright Law, the Creative Industry Act and the Nigeria Startup Act, to make adequate provisions for digital innovations in a manner that leaves no ambiguity as to the distinction, between human interference and AI-generated contents as well as the imperative of preventing the appropriation of contents from creators from disadvantaged backgrounds such as advanced world industrial players.
The breakout sessions include: ‘Harnessing Investment Opportunities in Nigeria’s Mining Sector: A Case Study of the Segilola Gold Project’, where Ola Alokolaro moderated the four-man panel an engaging discussion on the Nigerian mining sector, with Segun Lawson, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of SROL; relating the progress made by Thor Incorporations in the Segilola Gold Project. Other interesting sessions include ‘The Imperatives of Creative Rights in a Digitalised Industry with a Global Outlook’, ‘Energy Transition and ESG: The Pathway to Energy Security and Sustainability in Nigeria’, ‘Forging a Path to Effective Commercial Dispute Resolution in Africa: Exploring the Need for an African Arbitration Centre’, ‘The impact of Transportation Infrastructure on Sustainable Development in Nigeria: Emerging Trends and Challenges’, and ‘Harnessing the Economic Potentials of AfCFTA in Nigeria: Regulatory and Institutional Frameworks Required for Implementation’.
The panel on ‘Legal Practice Management Series III: Challengers or Upstarts?’, had Mrs. Soibi Ovia, Partner, DOA Legal; Ms. Modupe Odele, Partner Vazi Legal; Mrs. Fawehinmi Oyinkansola, Rep. Voza; Mrs. Amara Inegbenoise, Partner Noise and Blue; and Ms. Inemesit Dike, Chief Executive Officer, The Legal Concierge. The all-female panel discussion was moderated by Mr. Ayuli Jemide, Lead Partner, Details Commercial Solicitors and the immediate past Chair, NBA-SBL, whereby each panel discussed how they started their law practice, their operations, and the various services they render. The growth of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), as a viable mechanism in the Nigerian and international jurisprudence, especially in relation to commercial transactions and the feasibility or otherwise of a Nigerian/African-based arbitration hub when intra-African integration and efforts to deepen the impact of such instruments as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), gained great attention.
The President of the Lagos Court of Arbitration, Prof. Wole Olawoyin (SAN), moderated the panel, and was joined by two other Learned Silks; Chukwuka Ikwuazom, a Partner at Aluko and Oyebode; and Mazi Afam Osigwe, Managing Partner at Law Forte. On the panel were also Mrs. Folashade Alli, Principal Partner at Folashade Alli and Associates; and Jide Adesokan, a Partner at Stephenson Harwood, who participated virtually. In addition to interrogating whether the focus of ADR management in Nigeria should prioritise the country’s strategic interests, or simply focus on ensuring an efficient ADR framework across the board, the panelists made a case for the establishment and global recognition for an Africa-centric arbitration centre that is based in Lagos, Nigeria, to cater for African commercial disputes, as opposed to the current practice of exporting such processes to non-African jurisdictions.
The panel of experts recognised the inescapable value of a strong, independent and ethical national judicial system that elicits confidence among the citizens and international investors. During the event, it was observed that none of the BRICS nations; Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is an arbitral hub, but for their strong judiciaries and favourable ease of doing business profiles, which are strong factors that contribute to attracting foreign investments. Other factors that aid investment are the general reputation of the nation of the arbitral seat as far as the ease of enforcing arbitral fees and the integrity of the arbitral processes are concerned. Panelists agreed that Nigeria still has a way to go, but that the establishment of an Award Review Panel (ART) and the promulgation of the 2023 Arbitration and Mediation Act, are strategies that can make Nigeria to maximise the ADR option.
Additionally, the importance of bringing the nation’s judicial system to be at par with the needs of ADR and to downplay the present system, which accords ADR no particular advantage over litigation in the resolution of disputes, was emphasised. The panelists equally endorsed the idea of an Africa-centered arbitral centre whereby African countries can join, but for this to happen, the nation’s judicial architecture system should be revamped. The session on ‘Closing Nigeria’s Infrastructural Gap with Public-Private Partnerships’ was moderated by the Executive Director at ARM-Haring Investment, Jobalo Ogunkanlu. The panelists included the Chief Executive Officer, Nasarawa State Investment Development Agency, Ibrahim Abdullahi; Managing Director/Founder, Excellion Capital, Diekola Onaolapo; Director-General of the Ogun State PPP Agency, Dapo Oduwole; Senior Partner at the Africa 50 Infrastructure Acceleration Fund, Opiuyo Oforiokuma, and Partner at The Law Crest LLP, Tobenna Erojikwe.
Speaking on the urgent need to balance the quest for infrastructural development with the challenge of climate change through its impact on the natural ecosystem and human communities, Oforiokuma said Africa could be a global leader in this regard. According to him, the continent’s contribution to the problem of climate change was so meagre compared to the more industrialised economies and that, if the rules were followed, Africa could become a torchbearer for a more responsible global developmental paradigm. He also recommended that in order to fix the worrisome dearth of infrastructure in Nigeria, the country should leverage on what he described as ‘bankable capital’. On his part, the Director-General, Ogun State PPP Agency emphasised that the future of infrastructure development is in PPP, while Ibrahim Abdullahi of the Nasarawa State Investment Development Agency highlighted the human element of development, saying the silent ‘P’ in the PPP equation, stands for ‘People’.
The panelists submitted that there was the need for the Federal Government of Nigeria, along with corporate and inter-governmental organisations, to be more robust and intentional in their engagements with states and other subnational stakeholders given that the bulk of PPP projects actually reside within the purview of state governments. They further harped on why it is good to have reliable policies and regulatory frameworks that address all concerns around PPPs, including accountability and transparency, to create an enabling environment for the model to thrive. The breakout session on the ‘Challenges to Agricultural Development in Nigeria: Technology and Policy Solutions’, featured the Chief Executive Officer, Farm More Limited and Founder Clusters Project, Owuno Mo Ogbeh; Partner, Denton ACAS, Ms. Uzoamaka Emerole; Team Lead, Eupepsia Place Limited, Farmer Samson Ogbole; Corporate Affairs Director, GB Foods, Dr. Teddy Ngu; and Chief Executive Officer, AFEX, Mr. Akinyinka Akintunde. During this breakout session, I drew the attention of all to the fact that the role of agriculture in national development seems to be greatly downplayed in Nigeria, hence the urgent need to change the narrative by making agribusiness the main theme at the 18th Annual International Business Law Conference, next year when NBA-SBL clocks 20 years. This argument is strengthened by the declaration of state of emergency on food security by the President Bola Tinubu administration.
Participants at this year’s conference were opportune to visit exhibiting booths, product demos, and hold one-on-one chat with exhibitor representatives and served a unique forum to receive personalised complaints resolution at the NBA-SBL Regulatory Clinic. The Whova web application served as the major official communication platform that facilitated easy development of agenda and planning of personal schedule, enhance connection with other attendees to set up virtual meet-ups, just as online attendance of the conference was activated for virtual attendance using the section’s well digitalised platform. Without sounding immodest, this year’s conference was as interesting, just as the previous editions, which was made possible by the unwavering commitments and passion displayed by CPC members, special guests, guest speakers, and sponsors.
At the end of the plenary sessions, there was a debate amongst junior lawyers. The topics of the debate was: ‘The Future of Work: Does Remote Work Reduce or Increase Productivity?’ and ‘Lawyers Working with AI Will Replace Lawyers Who do Not Work With AI: True or False?’. In both topics of the debate, team one members, who were called “Oti Sumi Esquire”, emerged as the winners via votes of the conference delegates. Thereafter, the ‘Tare Yeri Prize and SBL Award for Selfless Service’ was given to Damola Awobokun posthumously for her contributions and commitment to the NBA-SBL before her untimely demise while the conference officially with a word of appreciation by the Chair of CPC, Ayoyinka Olajide-Awosedo.
Meanwhile, outside the conference hall were the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) Regulatory Clinic, whereby the NBA-SBL Chair, Dr. Adeoye Adefulu, commended CAC’s team for providing robust engagement with customers and resolving most of their lingering challenges. Responding, the Coordinator of the Regulatory Clinic, Oluwatoyin Oladejo, expressed satisfaction with the turnout of customers and the immense support and resolution of complaints by the CAC team. She enjoined customers to endeavour to always read the available guidelines on the CAC’s Companies Registration Portal (CRP), to maximise their usage. The Technical Assistant to the Registrar-General, Mohammed Abdullahi, equally charged customers and the general public interfacing with the Companies Registration Portal, to first read the inline guidelines before embarking on any transaction.
Earlier, the Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX) management had commended the section for its consistent support to the development of the Nigerian capital market and sought further collaboration on corporate governance. The Divisional Head, Capital Markets of NGX, who received the delegation on behalf of the Chief Executive of NGX, expressed appreciation for the section’s activities and their positive impact on the Nigerian capital market, as he expressed NGX’s desire to strengthen its partnership with the NBA-SBL, particularly in the area of corporate governance, to foster an improved marketplace for key stakeholders while Dr. Adefulu, emphasised that the partnership with NGX was crucial for the future development of the capital market and the Nigerian economy.
In the final analysis, it is instructive to state that the umbrella body of lawyers in the nation, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), has three professional practice sections; NBA Section on Legal Practice (SPL), Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL) and Section on Business Law (SBL). Since its establishment in 2004, NBA-SBL 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. The NBA-SBL has at its highest level, a council that is led by the chair and other members as well as sector-focused committees established to cover existing and new areas with a view to enhancing commercial law practice in Nigeria.