Fashola Commissions Lagos Court of Arbitration, Says It Lagos State's Bold Economic Statement Towards Improving Local Capacity
• "It is our strong statement that Made-in-Nigeria is the best way to grow the Nigerian economy", he says
• Urges lawyers to shun the stoppage of Arbitration decisions in Court
May 5, 2015 - Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN, Tuesday commissioned the Lagos Court of Arbitration and Africa's first International Centre for Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution in Lekki describing it as an economic initiative towards improving the nation's capacity to do things at home.
Addressing the capacity audience consisting of members of the State Executive Council, eminent national and international Jurists and Members of the Bar and Bench, at the handover ceremony, Governor Fashola said the Centre also represented a strong message that if such initiatives was taken at the national level it would be saving money that would have gone out of the country.
The Governor, who blamed the present economic downturn in the country, particularly the decline in the value of the Naira, on the penchant of Nigerians for foreign goods and products including seeking arbitration in foreign courts, said with the coming on stage of the Lagos Arbitration Court, such monies hitherto spent abroad would be spent in the country.
"This Court is Lagos State's bold economic statement towards improving our capacity to do things at home. It is our strong message that if we take this kind of initiatives we will be conserving our money at home. It is a strong statement that Made-in-Nigeria is the best way to grow the economy", he said, adding, "The earlier we begin to domesticate some of the services we seek abroad, the stronger our Naira will become".
Stressing that the building, standing on its own, would not deliver the objectives of the Centre part of which, according to him, is "to be the natural and the neutral Arbitration and Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centre for Nigeria and for the sub-region and ultimately the Continent" , Governor Fashola said what would deliver the objectives would be the quality of arbitration coming out of the court adding that the Centre would provide the nation the opportunity to improve her image among the comity of nations.
"This building, standing on its own, will not deliver that dream; it is a beautiful building, but what will deliver the dream is us, the people. The objectives have been set; we want to be the natural and the neutral Arbitration and Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centre for Nigeria and for the sub-region and ultimately the Continent", the Governor said adding that the quality of Arbitration that would be delivered would depend on the people and not the building.
The Governor declared, "What would be the efficacy of the awards; what would be their enforceability? And it does not matter what reputation we have, we can change such reputation in terms of how people see us; the Centre provides an opportunity for us to send a global message that we are one of the best professional people this Continent has assembled".
Recalling that Lagos State, once described as one of the dirtiest cities in the world, was able to change that reputation, the Governor added, "So for the arbitrators, for the practitioners and for the judicial officers, awards that are written and produced here must have comparably competitive status with awards handed down elsewhere in the world. That is when the purpose of this building would really have been served".
Governor Fashola, who urged Nigerians to make use of the court instead of similar courts abroad in order to conserve scarce foreign exchange, described the court as the only purpose-built arbitration centre in the whole of Africa and called for confidence in the awards of the court pointing out that its objective as an alternative conflict resolution centre would be defeated if after it has handed down an award one of the parties went to a high court to stop the enforcement of such award.
Noting that although there are many arbitration centres across the Continent, the Lagos Arbitration Centre is the only one that was purpose-built, conceived, planned, designed and delivered as a purpose-built arbitration centre in the whole of Africa, the Governor emphasized that the practice of going to court to stop enforcement of awards from Arbitration must stop because it would mean "locking up the enforcement of such award in ten years of litigation".
He urged lawyers to be brave and courageous enough advise their clients against such litigations adding, "It is not a matter of name calling, because cases don't get filed in court unless lawyers do so and judges cannot abdicate adjudication on cases that are filed before them. So it is us who must be brave, who must be courageous and who must give the necessary advice that this is the end of the matter".
Giving a background history of the arbitration centre, Governor Fashola, who said it was as old as his professional practice, paid tribute to Mr. Babajide Ogundipe, the Court of Arbitration's first President and his former employer, whom he said used to insist that every agreement he drew up in court must have an arbitration clause adding that as such agreements were drawn over the years, arbitration practice gained grounds and many law firms bought into the idea "on their own or by persuasion".
"We found out that Nigeria was losing the economic value of the arbitration clauses we were putting in contracts and whenever disputes arose, they were going on to Cairo, they were going on to Paris, they were going on to London or to New York", the Governor said adding that when he became Governor he decided that the State should have an arbitration centre that would compete with such centres across the globe.
Describing the Centre as a multi-hearing room complex with various facilities, the Governor said it would be handed over to the Lagos Court of Arbitration to be totally run by the Private Sector adding, "Government has done its own part; so this baby must now run on its own steam and the Court of Arbitration has been running on its own except for occasional references to me as Governor whenever the need came".
He said the Centre would be dedicated "to the cause of parties and to the pursuit of durable solutions achieved through the full power of equity" adding that although the building would remain the Lagos Court of Arbitration, recognition would be given to some pre-eminent Nigerians by naming the hearing rooms after them as a memorial and recognition of their service to Nigeria.
Such pre-eminent Nigerians, the Governor said, included Judge Teslim Elias, QC "an illustrious Lagosian who had an exemplary career as an Attorney-General and Chief Justice of Nigeria" and who, according to him, led the Permanent Court of Arbitration, as member and President of the International Court of Justice, appointing and serving on international arbitral tribunals.
Others after whom the hearing rooms were named at the occasion were late Hon. Justice Atanda Fatai-Williams "who, by his own testimony, first sat as chairman of a statutory arbitral body as early as 1970 while still serving as a judicial officer", Prince Bola Ajibola SAN, "who championed the enactment of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act of 1988", Professor Itse Sagay, "acclaimed as pre-eminent scholar in Law of Contract in Africa, and now a leading Arbitrator himself", Chief (Mrs.) Tinuade Oyekunle, "arguably Nigeria's best known arbitration expert" and Mrs. Hairat Aderinsola Balogun, former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State.
Earlier in his opening remarks, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, who was represented by the Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Lawal Pedro, noted that good governance would be impossible without an efficient justice system adding that the Centre would provide mutual understanding in dispute resolution.
Reiterating that Arbitration has become a leading legal process globally, Ipaye said the Lagos Court of Arbitration and International Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution was set up for the purpose of providing, among other things, a mutual understanding in the resolution of disputes arising out of commercial transactions by arbitration.
He noted that the idea of Arbitration system was muted by the immediate past Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and his Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, in 1999, adding that the idea created free accessibility to justice among the citizens.
Commending Governor Fashola for making that dream a reality, the Commissioner said the Governor had "demonstrated unequivocally that Justice is not an abstract concept", adding that the policy of his government was that Justice could only be meaningful if citizens could have access to it.
In her own remarks, the Executive Secretary of the Lagos Court of Arbitration and International Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution, Ms Megha Joshi, described the Lagos Court of Arbitration as "a symbol of pride in Nigeria just as other arbitral Organizations are regarded in other parts of the world".
"The Lagos Court of Arbitration is a symbol of institutional growth, positive change and progress. We will have users and visitors from all over the world and it will serve as a place where Nigerian businesses can resolve their disputes in sitting that match international standards of best practice", she said.
The Executive Secretary noted that the Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre would provide an ample opportunity for the Lagos Court of Arbitration to establish a stronghold and entrench its position as an arbitration hub for West Africa in addition to becoming an internationally recognized Alternative Dispute Resolution centre.
She commended Governor Fashola "for his vision and commitment in ensuring the viability and sustainability of the Lagos Court of Arbitration with the strategic investment in the Lagos Court of Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre".
In his remarks, President of the LCA and former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Lagos State, Mr. Olasupo Shasore, SAN, thanked the State Governor for his vision and his leadership adding that projects such as this were "only a child of a huge vision, a huge commitment, a massive dedication and a critical mind to strategize and to think".
The LCA President, who said the story of the project would be told another day, however, recalled how the project was arrived at "over a period of time, through constant nagging and prodding, rethinking re-strategizing and reimagining and nagging and prodding over and over again".
Among those that witnessed the handing over ceremony, coordinated by the General Counsel to the Governor, Mrs. Oyinkan Badejo-Okusanya, were some members of the State Executive Council including Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Prince Segun Oniru, and his Works and Infrastructure and Physical Planning and Urban Development counterparts, Dr. Femi Hamzat and TPL Olutoyin Ayinde, Special Adviser on Works and Infrastructure, Engnr Ganiyu Johnson and his Environment counterpart, Dr. Taofik Folami, and Justice Toyin Abdullahi Oyekan, among other eminent Nigerians and international Jurists as well as other stakeholders.