Communiqué issued following the 14th Annual Business Law e-Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) held on the 16th and 17th of July 2020 on the Hopin.to e-conferencing platform
The Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) has, since its inception in 2004, held thirteen annual law conferences to deliberate on issues and topics pertinent to improving the practice of business law in Nigeria. Despite the odds and upheavals posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA-SBL was determined to fulfill its mandate of providing an annual platform for legal practitioners, business leaders, regulators, and other stakeholders to discuss and proffer economic and other various policy reforms and solutions. This was achieved by holding the 14th Annual Business Law Conference on the Hopin.to virtual platform as the first e-Conference of NBA-SBL. The e-Conference was themed “Business Unusual: Digital Acceleration for Growth in a New World”.
The opening ceremony was held on 16th July 2020 and the Conference was declared open by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR (CJN). Opening remarks were given by Ozofu Ogiemudia, Chair of the Conference Planning Committee, Seni Adio, SAN, Chairman of the NBA-SBL, and Paul Usoro, SAN, President of the NBA. Goodwill messages were given by His Excellency, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Governor of Lagos State and His Excellency, Seyi Makinde, Governor of Oyo State. The keynote address was given by U.S. Senator William “Mo” Cowan, President, Global Government Affairs and Policy (GAP) and Developed Markets for General Electric (GE).
Comprising 13 stimulating and solutions-centric sessions including a fireside chat, SBL showcase (smart regulation presentation), a well-being session, and a debate session, the main objective of the 2020 e-Conference was to facilitate discussions around how business lawyers, key players in the various sectors of the economy, as well as the Government can successfully navigate the evolving new world occasioned by the pandemic by leveraging technology to galvanize sustainable growth and success post COVID-19. The Conference topics were as follows:
- Plenary Session 1 – Disrupting the Status Quo: Charting the Path for an Alliance.
- Plenary Session 2 – Business Unusual: Continuity in times of Crisis.
- Plenary Session 3 – Zooming Ahead: The Legal Industry post COVID-19.
- Breakout 1 – Banking through the Crisis.
- Breakout 2 – Fossilised: End of the Oil and Gas Industry as we know it?
- Breakout 3 – AFCFTA: Dead or Alive?
- Breakout 4 – Sunk Costs: COVID-19 and the Maritime Industry.
- Breakout 5 – Grounded: The Future of Travel and Tourism.
- Breakout 6 – The Price of a Cure: Patent Mechanics in a Crisis.
- Breakout 7 – e-Medicine: The Future of Technology in Healthcare.
- Changes on the Horizon: The Future of Company Law in Nigeria.
- Level Up: Initiatives of the NBA-SBL Business Unusual: Continuity in times of Crisis.
- Every Mind Matters: Emotional Wellbeing during a Crisis.
The ‘Next Normal’: Practice in a borderless legal profession.
- Is digital technology an aid or inhibitor of legal practice?
- Are 9-5 work patterns still relevant?
- Are Nigerian-trained lawyers well-equipped for practice in the Digital Age?
- Pay cuts in a COVID-era: a necessary sacrifice by all, or an unfair burden on already under-paid lawyers?
The engaging debates and discussions throughout the Conference focused not only on identifying issues but also recommending solutions to foster the leveraging of technology to accelerate growth across all sectors of the Nigerian economy. Against this background, the NBA-SBL is pleased to set forth the following recommendations and commitments.
The panelists and delegates identified a number of key issues which include:
- Businesses need to review their corporate governance policies, rules, and regulations in the context of COVID-19 and other potential disruptions.
- The “new norm” requires the enthusiastic embrace of technology to promptly and efficiently deliver qualitative services and solutions for clients and other stakeholders.
- There has been a significant decline in Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment into Nigeria since the pandemic. Therefore, enhancing the ease of doing business is a sine qua non to competing favorably with certain favoured destinations in Africa, and other emerging economies.
- There is an urgent need to resolve congestions at Nigerian ports, and harmonize the relationship between concessionaires and regulators to encourage investments and optimize profitability.
- Mobile applications should be broadly deployed to enhance access to local and international telemedicine, and reduce incidences of self-medication.
- Nigeria urgently needs to address issues of insecurity and an anemic power supply to achieve transformational, sustainable, and inclusive growth.
- The oil and gas sector needs to urgently innovate. The demand for fossil fuels is on the decline, however, fossil fuels remain for now an important source of foreign exchange earnings for Nigeria and many developing economies. Nigeria needs to urgently implement reforms before the sector becomes a dinosaur.
- On July 8th 2019, Nigeria signed the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which created the largest trading bloc since the advent of the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, many countries have recently been exhibiting protectionist tendencies including the closure of borders, which has been justified, in part, as being due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The resulting postponement of the implementation of the Treaty from July 1st, 2020 to January 2021 has caused many to become skeptical about the success of the Treaty in the short term.
- Regarding the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors, Nigeria needs to find a way to participate in the ongoing global activities relating to the development of vaccines and participation in clinical trials.
- Mental health significantly impacts productivity and it is important to invest in it. There is a lack of a deliberative and cohesive policy on mental health in Nigeria, and we need a policy that supports employees and abhors stigmatization.
- The NBA-SBL was charged to maintain its collaboration with the private and the public sectors and, in particular, the deployment of technology to enhance competitiveness and develop a pandemic-resilient economy.
- The ‘Ease of doing business’ mandate needs to focus on infrastructural deficits and insecurity.
- Nigeria needs to become less reliant on fossil fuels and embrace renewable/clean energy solutions. The country also needs to accelerate the diversification of the economy, particularly with respect to Agriculture and Agro-allied products, as well as healthcare and technology.
- Federal and State Governments should develop deliberative policies to attract investments in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors, and equally important, attract Nigerians in the diaspora who have the required expertise and resources including physicians, scientists, and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the gaps in the healthcare space.
- To successfully survive this pandemic, there is a need to focus on emotional, psychological and social well-being. Organizations should develop programmes to enable employees communicate their mental health issues. There is a need for a mental health policy for lawyers, and legislation on mental health in Nigeria in order to address the stigma that is associated with it.
COMMITMENTS OF THE NBA-SBL
The NBA-SBL commits to:
- Reviewing the legal framework and regulations of key sectors of the economy including healthcare, technology, and agriculture to foster transformational investments, employment, sustainable, and inclusive growth.
- Championing the development of workplace policies and practices that foster both physical and mental wellness in the private and public sectors.
- Ensuring that future Annual Business Law Conferences and other knowledge sharing programs continue to optimize the use of technology to deliver content to stakeholders.
- Engaging all levels of government and private stakeholders to push for smarter regulations and, in doing so, strengthening the alliance between the public and private sectors towards maintaining the path for sustainable and inclusive growth of the Nigerian economy in our “new world’’.
Seni Adio, SAN
Chairman, NBA-SBL 14th Annual Business Law e-Conference Planning Committee