FOLASHADE ALLI

The city of Lagos, will live up to its billing as the fast growing Arbitration Hub in sub-continental Africa, when it plays host to Arbitration Practitioners from various jurisdictions, at the 2017 Annual Conference of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK (Nigeria Branch), which will take place from 2nd to 3rd November, at the Balmoral Convention Centre, Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. With the theme “Strengthening the Building Blocks of Arbitration in Africa”, the Conferees will, in the course of two days, participate in lectures and interact with over 40 leading Arbitration Experts from around the world. Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi spoke with the Conference Planning Committee Chairperson, Folasade Alli, on the preparations, logistics and expectations from the Conference

Please, give us a brief overview of the upcoming 2017 Annual Conference of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK (Nigeria Branch). How can intending Conferees register for the Conference? Are there any registration and accommodation discounts for Young Arbitrators? Who are your main speakers? Lagos potentially is the next arbitration hub in the West Africa sub region. For a conference of this nature, are there plans to bring in participants from other African countries? What are the highlights of the Conference? What entertainment do you have planned for the Conferees?

The 2017 Annual Conference of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK (Nigeria Branch) will take place from 2nd to 3rd November, 2017 at the Balmoral Convention Centre, Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.

The theme of the conference is “Strengthening the Building Blocks of Arbitration in Africa”. Previous conferences have focused on the challenges faced by arbitration practitioners, which has ultimately resulted in the clamour to review the existing Arbitration statute. This time around, we want to go a step further, by putting arbitration-users at the heart of the discourse. It is hoped that the conference will provide arbitration-users with an opportunity to discuss the challenges they face as a result of the way arbitration is conducted in their various jurisdictions, and thereby, assist arbitration policy makers and enforcers in their task of improving the arbitration ecosystem.

For eighteen years, the Institute has organised the Annual Conference of the Branch and it has attracted a diverse pool of delegates, including members of the Executive arm of government, the Judiciary, the Legislature, Academics, Arbitration Practitioners and Corporate Leaders from across the continent and beyond. The Conference Planning Committee, is working hard to ensure that this year’s conference builds on the success of past conferences, for an even more productive event.

Approximately 40 national and international speakers, are scheduled to speak on carefully selected topics at this year’s conference. The conference will commence with a welcome address by the Chairman of the Institute Mrs. Adedoyin Rhodes- Vivour, C.Arb. Some of the featured speakers at this year’s conference are, the Governor of Lagos State, His Excellency, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, Acting Chief Judge of Lagos State, Honourable Justice Opeyemi Oke and the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr A.B Mahmoud, SAN who will be delivering goodwill messages; Mr Adeniji Kazeem, Attorney-General of Lagos State; Mr Herbert Wigwe, MD/CEO Access Bank Plc; Mr Robert Wheal, Partner at White and Case LLP UK; Mr Timothy Lemay, United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL); Mr Andrew Mackenzie, Hogan Lovells, Dubai; Rashida Abdulai, Hogan Lovells, UK; Mr Stephen Karangizi, Director, African Legal Support Facility; Mr Mouhamed Kebe, Geni & Kebe SCP Senegal; Tunde Ogunseitan, ICC; Godfred Penn, African Development Bank; Marille Camille-Pitton, Aceris Law, Paris; Chief Bayo Ojo SAN; Isiah Bozimo; Senator David Umaru, Chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights & Legal Matters; Tunde Fagbohunlu, SAN; Bimbo Akeredolu, SAN; Justice Peter Affen and Justice Sumbo Goodluck, of the FCT High Court discussing the role of courts; Seyilayo Ojo; Mrs Funke Adekoya, SAN; Mr Dele Belgore, SAN; Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN; Mr. Osayaba Giwa Osagie and a host of other carefully selected national and international speakers.

Members of other African branches of the Institute, will be in attendance as well.

Special consideration is being accorded to young members below the age of 40 years at this year’s conference. All interested young members under the age of 40 irrespective of your profession, are encouraged to attend the Conference at discounted rates of =N=20,000. A segment of the conference, taking place on November 1st, 2017, will feature the maiden edition of the YMG evening dedicated to the young members to encourage young arbitrators and avail them the opportunity to be more involved in the practice of arbitration. It will also educate them on how to develop a career through training, and become successful arbitrators if they so desire.

YMG evening is at no additional cost to attendees; once you register for the Conference and Gala Night, you will be able to attend the YMG conference.

The theme for the YMG day is “Change of Guards; Diversity and Involvement of Young Members”. This will be the first time that young members of the Institute between the ages of 25-40 will be given the opportunity to have a day to themselves.

Discounts are available at various hotels for those intending to attend the conference, the Federal Palace Hotel, which is the conference venue, has offered generous discounts to all delegates, and this includes breakfast. There are also other hotels near the conference venue. For more details on discounted hotel accommodation during the conference, kindly visit our website www.ciarbnigeriaconference.org.

The conference promises not only to be intellectually stimulating but also socially exciting. Notably, a number of interactive and debate sessions have been incorporated into the conference. The conference will provide an opportunity for delegates to network and have fun in a relaxed atmosphere.

Finally, the conference will be closing with an All-White Caribbean themed Gala Nite/Induction dinner holding at 6.00pm on the 3rd of November, 2017 at the Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island. There will be live music, dance and drama performances by Terra Kulture. The cuisine will probably be the highlight of the evening. Delegates will have an intercontinental culinary experience, as the cuisine will include Indian, Mexican, Chinese and our local Nigerian dishes. Lastly, there will be an exciting raffle draw with good prizes to win. Indoor games will be available, allowing Conferees to have fun, and creating a friendlier and more relaxed atmosphere for networking. Conferees are expected to attend the Gala Night in white attire. They are in for a great time at the Conference. The gala night is shaping up to be a thrilling event.

The theme of the Conference, is “Strengthening the Building Blocks of Arbitration in Africa”. How does your Institute intend to achieve this goal when for one, if you take Nigeria which is probably the largest group of the Institute in Africa, Arbitration seems to be used as a prelude to litigation, and not as a final dispute resolution tool? The issue of finality of arbitral awards is one challenge in Nigeria that has refused to go. How do we ensure that arbitration is not just a first step to litigation, the way it is carried on in Nigeria presently? Does our mindset not have to change, for us Africans to see Arbitration as a final dispute resolution tool, before we can start to talk of strengthening?

It is true that enforcing arbitral awards, is quite a challenge in Africa. Generally, we all know that an award that is not enforceable, is not worth much to the winning party. This is one of the focal points of the upcoming Conference, where the issue finality of arbitral awards will be examined by experienced panelists from within and outside Nigeria; who will be sharing their experience from other jurisdictions, examine how other jurisdictions have been able to overcome this challenge, and proffer solutions.

This year’s Conference sessions, have been designed to identify impediments to the growth and advancement of arbitration, be it from the legislative, judicial, institutional and governmental standpoints. Apart from the general sessions that will help identify these impediments, the session titled “Finality of Arbitral Awards: The Big Challenges for Africa”, will particularly focus on attendant issues in enforcement of arbitral awards from the perspective of the judiciary, legal practitioners and users of the process generally. Panel discussions will span issues such as dearth of capacity, infrastructure, supporting legal framework, and efficiency of the legal system, and ultimately proffer solutions to such challenges.”

We are happy to report that the courts in recent times, have become supportive towards arbitration. Nigeria has made some progress since the last CIArb (UK) Nigeria Branch Annual Conference, in the advancement of commercial arbitration. A significant development, was the public support shown by the Chief Justice of the Federation, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen GCON, for commercial arbitration sometime in June this year, when he called on all judges, to desist from unduly interfering in matters where parties have chosen arbitration as their preferred way of resolving their dispute. He appealed to judges, to resist the urge to entertain commercial disputes that are subject to an arbitration agreement. He also admonished parties, to embrace and adhere to arbitration. We believe that such pronouncements by leaders of the judiciary, help in no small way, to portray Nigeria as an arbitration- friendly jurisdiction which will ultimately impact on the country’s economic development, as prospective investors would be more willing to invest in the country when they are assured that their disputes, which are inevitable in any commercial relationship, will be speedily resolved by an impartial and independent arbitral tribunal.

As the Chairperson of the Conference Planning Committee, how have you addressed the issue of logistics in Lagos where the Conference is taking place, especially with the ‘infamous’ Lagos/Victoria Island traffic, to ensure that Conferees are able to get to the Conference venue on time?

Like they say, spectacular achievement is always preceded by massive preparation. The Planning Committee for this year’s Conference, has been working tirelessly to ensure that the event is an overall success. Significant arrangements have been made, to cater for all logistics issues relating to the Conference. With respect to possible traffic in the Victoria Island environ, first a list of hotels close to the Conference venue, has been circulated to all registered delegates. Delegates are encouraged to stay at these hotels for the duration of the Conference, at the highly discounted rates already negotiated by our Committee. Moreover, the Lagos State Government is partnering with us on this project, and all the relevant agencies will be on deck to facilitate smooth co-ordination of traffic for the duration of the conference.

Do you believe that Arbitration has any role to play with regard to the present agitations for restructuring going on in Nigeria? Can Arbitration be used to reconcile the different groups and the Federal Government?

Arbitration is primarily focused on commercial disputes. The principle of arbitrability, prevents certain types of disputes from being submitted to arbitration. But Alternate Dispute Resolution, always has a role to play in diffusing tensions. Our motto at the CIArb is “evolving to resolve” and our core goal is the promotion of harmonious societies through assisting people and organisations avoid, manage and resolve conflict. The Institute therefore, supports and offers in-depth training of other ADR methods, such as Mediation and Conciliation, which have been utilised internationally, and in many jurisdictions to resolve disputes.

In commercial arbitration in Nigeria, a case has been made to extend arbitration to small and medium scale businesses, which unarguably constitute a huge percentage of the business community in Nigeria. Has the Nigerian arbitration community taken this into consideration? What needs to be done to ensure that this vital business sector is captured?

Yes, the Nigerian Arbitration community has acknowledged the need for small and medium scale businesses, to settle their disputes by arbitration and ADR. One of the consequences of last year’s CIArb Conference, was the recent launch on the 30th June, 2017 of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Arbitration Scheme by our Institute. The pilot MSME scheme, is for small claims ranging from N250,000.00 to N5,000,000.00. The scheme is not however, restricted to the stated monetary range, so long as the disputants apply to the Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, (UK) Nigeria Branch, to have their disputes resolved through the scheme.

The cost effectiveness of the scheme, is ensured by a set of rules designed to guide proceedings through simple, quick and affordable paths to resolution.

The CIArb Nigeria Branch MSME Scheme, recognises the need to build capacity for the Micro Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, a sector that is the bedrock of economic development. The Institute recognises that unresolved, protracted disputes, could have an adverse impact on the growth and development of MSME’s.

The CIArb Nigeria Branch MSME Scheme, is developed as a means to promote and formulate access by MSME’s to arbitration and ADR, for resolution of their commercial disputes. The Scheme provides simple cost effective and timely resolution of disputes, and an outcome within 90 days of the appointment of the arbitrator. The outcome is a final, legally binding and enforceable award. Under the MSME scheme, the arbitrators’ fees have been capped to ensure that the expense does not prevent MSMEs from accessing arbitration.

The CIArb MSME Scheme, is in line with the Institute’s commitment to giving access to alternative means of dispute resolution, to a wider category of business owners at reduced costs and within short timelines. MSME’s remain an integral part of the economic fabric of our country, and they need to be fully aware of alternative means of resolving their business disputes outside the court system.