An international arbitrator, Mrs. Dorothy Ufot SAN has faulted the position of the Supreme Court which held that the enforcement of an arbitral award starts from the day of the contract breach, on the basis of the statute of limitation, than from the day the award was made.

Ufot, who was a speaker at a seminar organized by the College of Arbitrators Nigeria, commended the provision in the new Arbitration and Mediation Act (AMA) 2023 which amended that position by providing for enforcement to be due from the date an award is published.

She also noted that Nigeria will continue to be at the receiving end in international commerce unless conscious efforts are made to make our laws conform with international best practices as well as represent the daily changes in the political and business world.

While observing that the length of time for bringing arbitration to a conclusion is one of the major constraints of arbitration and conciliation in Nigeria, Ufot remarked that one key area Nigeria must get right for it to become a preferred seat for arbitration is the area of enforcement.

She however she counselled lawyers to change the mindset and habit of fighting to the last “when it is obvious that they are losing the case,” adding that she had failed twice to enforce awards in favour of her clients in Nigeria.

Giving an overview of the 2023 Act, notable arbitrator and lead speaker, Prof. Paul Idornigie SAN disclosed that the new law has changed the landscape of arbitration and created a statutory framework for the practice of mediation in the country.

Tracing efforts at making arbitration effective and efficient to the first bill sent to the National Assembly in 2006, Idornigie said he was overwhelmed with joy when President Muhammadu Buhari signed the bill into law, thereby bringing a happy ending to a journey of nearly two decades.

Speaking on the seminar titled “The Arbitration and Mediation Act, 2023: Prospects and Challenges,” the chartered arbitrator said: “When I got the news that the president had signed the bill, I was so happy, I started texting, I started sharing. In fact, if the president had committed any sin before then at all, we forgive him.”

According to Idornigie, among some of the benefits of the new Act is the right of an arbitrator to step down or remain when challenged by any party, adding that arbitrators now enjoy the immunity of judges in the regular courts.

He also commended the section which provides for the court to appoint arbitrators within 30 days if parties agree to go into arbitration.

Other senior lawyers who spoke at the event include Mr. Patrick Ikwueto SAN, Mr. A. U. Mustapha SAN, Dr. Chikwendu Madumere, and the representative of Dr. Elachi Agada, Ms Grace Ehusani.

The stakeholders agreed that the signing of the Arbitration and Mediation bill into law not only repealed the 35-year-old obsolete Arbitration and Conciliation Act, but has put the country on a strong pedestal to compete in international commerce and trade. They however identified infrastructural deficit and insecurity as the major bane in the practice of arbitration in the country.

Earlier in his welcome address, Ikwueto, the Faculty President of the College, noted that one of the best things to have happened to arbitration in Nigeria is the new Act.

He challenged members to use it to their advantage, saying: “We need to appraise the Act, look at the challenges, as well as the prospects.”

The seminar which was moderated by a member of the college, Chioma Onyenucheya-Uko, had an impressive attendance of judges, representatives of government entities and educational institutions, legal practitioners, and arbitration & ADR enthusiasts and practitioners.

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