AfCFTA Will Open New Vista of Legal Practice – Seni Adio, SAN
The Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) On Wednesday August 29, 2018 held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) during the NBA Conference in Abuja, where a newly elected council for the section was inaugurated. Among those elected to steer the affairs of the NBA-SBL for the next two years are Seni Adio, SAN as chairman, Ayuli Jemide as Vice Chair, Dr. Adeoye Adefulu, Secretary and Chinyere Okorocha as Treasurer. In this interview with BusinessDay Law Editor, Theodora Kio-Lawson, the new chairman of the section, Seni Adio, SAN, speaks of the vision of this new council; disruptions in the legal profession; the role of business lawyers; the NBA-SBL, Pebec and Nassber collaborations, globalisation and capacity building, amongst other things. Excerpts:
Congratulations on your election as Chairman of the NBA – Section on Business Law. What should we expect from this administration under your leadership?
At the outset, I want to put on record that I feel very privileged and, indeed, divinely favoured to have the opportunity to serve as Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Section on Business Law. It is also a distinct honour to serve as Chairman on a Council comprising of exceptional legal practitioners who have already demonstrated a predisposition for sacrificial service to the Bar and, indeed, the society at large.
Regarding what to “expect”, speaking as a member of Council, I would say that the 2018-2020 SBL Council will strive to elevate and burnish the already lofty accomplishments of our predecessors by enhancing various programs of the Section. We will also be a highly innovative Council in terms of broadening the areas of legal services and developing the professional expertise of business law practitioners.
In sum, we intend to build on the foundation and building blocks laid by the pioneer Chairman of the Section, Mr. George Etomi, the inspiring and transforming accomplishments of successor Councils led by Messrs. Gbenga Oyebode and Asue Ighodalo, respectively and, more recently, Mr. Olumide Akpata.
Much of the discourse at the 12th Annual Business Law Conference this past June 2018 led to a resolution that bar associations and law firms across Africa should reorganise and reposition for inevitable disruptions in the profession. I would expect that the Section on Business Law would be at the forefront of this move in Nigeria. How do you intend to drive this process?
“Disruptions” come in different forms. One example is the inevitable advent of market integration across Africa. Indeed, your question dovetails with the consultations concerning the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which was initially signed by about 44 countries at the African Union Summit in Rwanda in March 2018 and, more recently, an additional 5 countries including South Africa signed the Agreement at the recent AU Summit in Mauritania, constituting 49 signatories out of a possible 55.
Nigeria’s signing the AfCFTA would be a welcome “disruption” for numerous reasons. These include opening a new vista of legal practice – International Trade Law — to Nigerian Lawyers. Other complements for lawyers, professional service providers generally, as well as stakeholders in other sectors of the economy include, a trading bloc of almost 2 Billion Africans; trading volume of approximately USD2.5 Trillion and growing; investments in utilities and infrastructure, such as power, transportation, water resources and environment; investments in agriculture and bio-diversity; as well as telecommunications technology and biotechnology. Integration will also foster innovation, specialization, competitiveness and collaboration. As legal practitioners, we have a critical mass of renowned commercial lawyers, and dispute resolution lawyers both as legal counsel and arbitrators. Therefore, Nigeria already has the foundation for being a preferred seat for arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution.
Your question is also answered by the overall mission of the SBL, which includes providing first-rate continuing legal education for business lawyers in Nigeria.
Before we move on to other matters, be assured that I am also very much aware of certain concerns of participants in the market place about what an integrated market could portend. These include the potential for “dumping” artificially low-priced products, substandard products, migration and immigration, and even security. To these, my response is two-fold. First, the Agreement itself already contains certain checks and balances. Second, herein lies the exponential opportunities for expanding areas of law specialization and simultaneously broadening our client base.
The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has continued to push for a strong and effective competition regulation regime in Nigeria. It is currently in court against a well-known company over alleged exploitation of Nigerian consumers and what it refers to as “obnoxious and exploitative billing systems and pricing regimes”. Is the SBL in support of this action? If so, what sort of backing would your committee on Consumer Protection & Competition Law be providing to the CPC to drive this cause and win the fight against exploitation?
You, being a senior legal practitioner in your own right, already know that I ought not to comment on a matter that is sub judice and, indeed, I will not! That said, what the SBL is about is enhancing competencies, continuing legal education, and, very notably and importantly, mentoring young lawyers. One of the myriads of the dynamism of the law profession is that in a given dispute there is always at least two sides on an issue – a plaintiff and a defendant. So, within the Consumer Protection & Competition Law Committee of the Section, you have practitioners who may be pre-disposed to big business, others pro-consumers, and some indifferent who take issues as they come. Put another way, the SBL has a big tent for disparate viewpoints and it is for individual legal practitioners to decide how to deploy their expertise.
The elections for National Officers of the NBA have also come and gone and we are moving from a ‘BraveNewBar’ to a ‘Purified Bar’ – which is the mantra for the Paul Usoro, SAN (PU) – led administration. What sort of synergy would we see between the SBL and its parent body, towards moving the association forward?
The SBL is one of three Sections of the Nigerian Bar Association. Therefore, the Section is and remains in sync with the National Body under the leadership of our President, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN. Indeed, to give you some perspective and telegraph how aligned we are, Mr. President is a founding member of the SBL, is a pioneer Chairman of the Telecommunications Committee of the NBA-SBL, and has been a strong supporter of the Section since its founding. So, the entire members of Council are looking forward to working collaboratively with Mr. Usoro, SAN over the next two years.
The SBL’s collaborations with the Executive through the offices of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC); and the Legislature/Private Sector through the National Assembly, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), and UK Department for International Development (DFID), established the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable (NASSBER) which initiatives were directly under your purview, recorded a significant amount of successes. What is the next phase of these collaborations?
Thank you for the compliment, which I accept on behalf of members of the Section and, especially, the individual members of the Steering Committee on Ease of Doing Business and their respective law firms.
Indeed, the SBL worked very collaboratively with PEBEC and NASSBER on law reform and, in particular, in the area of easing doing business in Nigeria. I have to also put on record that it would not have mattered much how keen the SBL was and remains in working with the Office of The Presidency and, in particular, His Excellency, The Vice President and PEBEC Secretariat, and the leadership of The 8th Assembly of the National Assembly and, in particular, His Excellency the Senate President and The Rt. Honourable Speaker of The House of Representatives, if the Executive and Legislature were not already enthusiastically pre-disposed to collaborating with the NBA-SBL. Amongst some of the “firsts” that we recorded was the birthing of NASSBER – a formalized and integrated working relationship amongst the Legislature, private sector and the law profession. This collaboration is ongoing, and we will continue to work hard towards delivering even more palpable and transforming results to further enhance doing business in Nigeria.
While on this subject, I believe it is fitting to publicly applaud the lawyers and law firms that have worked on these initiatives. They have done so by making enormous personal sacrifices including providing all manner of resources, pro bono! They have also done so in a most collaborative and congenial manner. I really salute each and everyone of them and their respective firms for their invaluable contributions.
We say that the world has become a global village with businesspersons transacting seamlessly across borders on a daily basis. Yet in our jurisdiction, globalisation of legal services remains a highly contentious subject, as we continue to grapple with ‘best practices’ and issues of encroachment. Is this a conversation your administration is willing to have/drive and if so, to what end?
We are already part of this conversation and the discussion is ongoing. What I will add for now, is that it behooves members of the law profession to continue to develop themselves and, most importantly, become subject matter experts as opposed to generalists.
The welfare of the younger lawyer has always been a critical issue for the leadership of the Bar and the Section, and the last SBL administration, which you were a part of, paid particular attention to this. Should young lawyers hope for more under your leadership? What would you say to them on a final note?
Absolutely, the professional development of young lawyers will remain a fulcrum of the objectives of this Council. The Section has already made great strides in terms mentoring, continuing legal education and, equally important, broadening the Section’s reach to young lawyers across the country, and we intend to continue these initiatives.
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