20 Defining Events of the Legal Year (Part II)

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6. P&ID v Nigeria 

In January 2017, an independent London tribunal found that Nigeria was liable for $6.6 billion in damages against Process and Industrial Development (P&ID) after failing to deliver on terms agreed in a 2010 gas facility contract. In 2020, this sum had grown to $9.6 Billion, and P&ID sought to enforce this ruling through a seizure of state-owned assets. An arbitration case rarely garners so much attention. Still, considering the GDP altering sum and the federal government already borrowing at an all-time high the last thing the country needed was another loss. Fortunately, things have taken a positive turn as Nigeria has been cleared of any sanctions and given an extension of time to defend the nearly $10 billion ruling. Although there is mounting evidence of fraud against P&ID, this matter will be worth paying attention to going into 2021 as we are certainly not in the clear yet.

7. Igbosere Court Arson

As part of the collateral damage subsequent to the END SARS movement and the Lekki massacre’s aftermath, the ensuing chaos saw the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere burnt down. This damage may have been somewhat mitigated through e-filing, but the inconvenience to the court is still extensive. For many senior lawyers, there was a heavy surreality hanging in the aftermath of its destruction. The State High Court in Igbosere was known as the oldest judicial building in Nigeria and had existed during the period when Lagos was still a British protectorate. This historical structure saw legendary lawyers and judges regularly walk through its hallowed halls.

Comically contrasted against this reverence was the image of a hoodlum seen strolling out of the court donning the Judge’s robes.

8. Monica Dongban-Mensem confirmed as President of Court of Appeal 

In a year that BusinessDay emphasised the empowering of women in the legal profession, a significant event in this vein was the confirmation of Monica Dongban-Mensem as President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) by the Nigerian senate, only the second woman to occupy that role.  BusinessDay notes that due to a three-month delay of her appointment, there was mounting public pressure, as she was the most senior judicial officer and the obvious next in line. Following a letter by President Muhammadu Buhari urging the Nigerian senate to approve her nomination, the committee on judiciary and legal matters conducted an interview looking into Dongban-Mensem’s career and other requirements of the constitution, which turned out satisfactory.

Particularly noteworthy was that there was no petition against her appointment according to Opeyimi Bamidele, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, and Legal Matters. Dongban-Mensem was confirmed after Bamidele’s report.

9. The Social Media Bill 

The Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill 2019 AKA “social media” bill arrived to much public criticism. This bill aimed to curtail the spread of “fake news” in Nigeria, but many see it as a government scheme to silence opposition parties. This ploy became even more urgent in 2020 as the government identified social media as the driving force behind the staggering escalation of the ENDSARs movement.

This follows the initial bill to regulate social media in 2015 which failed to pass after deafening public outcry but has currently gone beyond its predecessor. The bill is at the report stage; it’s penultimate stage before being passed. The senate communications are deliberating on it and will send a report to the senate. Following this, a third reading will occur, which presents a final chance for senate to debate the bill’s contents before passed. If passed, the effect could spark an activist movement on a national and international level, the likes of which has never been seen before in Nigeria.

10. NBA Competency Framework- Competency over years at the bar

In a bid to set standards and raise the level of proficiency across law firms in Nigeria, the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law, (NBA-SBL), in March, launched a competency framework. The framework identified 18 general competencies (applicable to all lawyers) and technical competencies in five business practice areas, Banking and Finance, Corporate, Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property and Real Estate. These proficiencies were classified – novice, basic, intermediate, advanced, and expert with clearly-defined expectations for each proficiency level as well as what proficiency level is required for each rung of the legal career ladder. Stakeholders say that if properly implemented, this framework will tilt the promotion model heavily towards competence over years at the bar, and this shift will spur a new trajectory in over a century of legal practice in Nigeria.

11. Africa Continental Free Trade Association

In March 2018, at its 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government, the African Union (“AU”) reached a landmark agreement to create a free trade area in Africa, presumably the biggest Free Trade Area (“FTA”) in the world by signing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). This AfCFTA which was ratified in May 2019 was eventually signed by Nigeria on July 7, 2019 and was expected to kick start in July 2020. However, as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the commencement date was postponed and the new date for operationalisation is January 1, 2021. AfCFTA will occasion several changes in the way African countries do business with each other and other trade partners leading to intense scrutiny of local laws, an expansion of sector focuses and fresh transactions for the legal sector.

12. Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020

The signing of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020 has been hailed for introducing a lot of long-awaited changes into Nigerian company law, particularly for micro, small and medium-scale enterprises, which make up a significant portion of the Nigerian economy. For instance, the threshold for the definition of a small company has been increased to include a companies who, amongst other criteria, have turnovers of not more than N120 million and a net asset value of not more than N 60 million, compared to N 2million and N 1million, respectively, under the repealed act.  This qualified several more companies to access benefits reserved for small companies e.g. tax breaks, increasing the viability of several businesses.  Several other provisions aimed at increasing the ease of doing business in Nigeria have also been reflected, including lower entry costs for company registrations, and recognistion of e-filings. A conducive environment for business, typically leads to more business. While several provisions of CAMA 2020 are commendable, we look to 2021 to see how they hold up in the field and the resultant effect on the legal and business landscape.

 

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