Onnoghen: Oil Sector Benefactor of Judiciary’s Impartiality

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Chineme Okafor in Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, on Monday said Nigeria’s oil sector has enjoyed relative stability in its operations largely because of the impartial position of the country’s judiciary on issues which concern it.

Onnoghen said on several occasions, the judiciary has had to step in to interpret the country’s relevant laws as they relate to the sector, thus ensuring that peace and stability of operations are maintained in it.

The CJN said this at a workshop organised in Abuja by the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) to enhance the understanding and legal commitments of judicial officers in Nigeria to the oil and gas sector.
He also stated that new changes and reforms in the oil sector would impact on the quality of judicial commitment to the sector, hence, the need to have judicial officers trained on how to handle the new challenges.

“It is on record my lords, that timely intervention of the courts at critical points in this country has certainly contributed in no small measure to the peace and stability in the country today. I make bold to say, without any fear of contradiction, that the Nigerian judiciary is a key partner in ensuring stability in the oil and gas sector by interpretation of the relevant laws in the industry.

“My lords, it is my expectation that participants will be enlightened on global best practices and measures adopted by regulators in resolving disputes arising in this sphere of the economy,” Onnoghen said.
He further explained that: “The recent innovations in the oil and gas industry will introduce new legal regimes that will impact the quality of justice delivery. As such, it is necessary to acquaint stakeholders in the sector, as well as our judges, with the rudiments of the sector in order to better prepare them for the inevitable disputes that may arise.”

According to him, the judiciary must remain impartial in its responsibilities to Nigeria and the oil industry, in addition to supporting conflicting parties to adopt alternative dispute resolution in settlement of disputes.

“Our responsibilities as judicial officers, must endear the hearts of the populace and litigants alike. Hence, you must be knowledgeable in the law and be in charge of your courts to ensure speedy resolution of disputes which in turn serves as an economic development mechanism, as investors and other major players in the industry will remain confident that their investments are safe.

“As judicial officers, you are expected to encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution methods, such as arbitration and mediation, which will engender the expeditious resolution of cases.
“My lords, I must not fail to emphasise that you must have recourse to the arbitration clauses contained in oil and gas agreements and ensure that parties respect these clauses before exploring the option of litigation on the matter,” Onnoghen, added.

He said the judiciary would continue to live up to its constitutional mandate by correctly applying the law and proactively supporting regulators in the sector to guarantee its growth and stability.
Similarly, the administrator of the National Judicial Institute (NJI), Justice Roseline Bozimo, stated in her remarks at the workshop, that the impacts of oil spill and remittance of royalties to the government were key areas the judiciary needed to emphasise on.

Bozimo, said: “The impact of oil spillage and environmental degradation is indeed a recurring decimal in the oil producing regions of Nigeria. In addition, legal issues pertaining to remittance of royalties as well as tax regulation in the oil and gas sector are continuously shrouded in controversy; which requires the attention of all stakeholders to address.

“This workshop, therefore, affords interested parties the opportunity to dialogue on such burning issues related to the sector. Our judges must be proactive by not allowing technicalities stand in the way of substantive justice, especially with regard to oil and gas disputes which accrue huge financial costs for the litigating parties.”