Nigeria has experienced a mixed start to 2014: the news that it has surpassed South Africa to become Africa’s biggest economy following a rebasing of its GDP sits alongside stories of growing violence in the northern states due to insurgents. Despite the instability, many are optimistic for the future and expect to see even greater growth in the months to come.
Following a rebasing exercise in April 2014 in order to give the most up-to-date picture of the economy, Nigeria published a GDP total of $509.9 billion for 2013. By contrast, South Africa’s total GDP total is $370.3 billion, placing Nigeria’s economy firmly at the forefront of Africa. The ratings agency Moody’s responded by publishing a statement on the rebased GDP in which it estimates that the figure will rise to $4.5 trillion by 2050. If this projected growth holds up it should allow the country to continue its success story as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
This significant GDP growth is largely due to the introduction of new industry sectors, as the country’s leaders heed warnings of over-reliance on the oil sector. In the past this dependence has led to vulnerability, due to commodity price volatility. Last year we commented on the drastic decrease in the amount of oil that Nigeria exported to the US, one of its largest trading partners in this sector. That remains the case this year, but fortunately the GDP revisions have revealed the real diversity in Nigeria’s economy. The services sector has had a particularly significant impact. New industries now recognised include food and beverages, pharmaceutical products and arts and entertainment. That being said, unemployment still stands at 25 per cent and the rich-poor divide remains wide. Poverty levels have not improved and this must be a key area of focus in the coming years.
The telecommunications sector has seen massive growth and now accounts for 8.69 per cent of GDP. We took this phenomenon into account last year, with the expansion of our regulatory communications chapter to encompass those lawyers who work in the technology, media and telecommunications field. The number of leading lawyers we recognise as having active practices remains steady this year.
Despite this robust growth in non-oil sectors, for the most part Nigeria remains dependent on oil – and the combination of fluctuating prices and decreasing demand continues to create anxiety. In particular, the growing interest in shale oil has led to countries such as the US reducing imports. It may be necessary for Nigeria to look towards more renewable sources in the future, in an effort to keep in line with global trends in the energy sector. This year we have retitled our natural resources chapter (to “energy and natural resources”) highlight the growing importance of non-oil and gas energy fields. The chapter has also seen an increase in lawyers featured from 24 to 28, suggesting that this is indeed a sector of growth and opportunity at the top end of the profession.
Tension in the finance markets has also caused anxiety. Following the US Federal Reserve’s decision to cut back on its stimulus programme, the naira has been under increasing pressure. In December 2013 the Federal Reserve’s monthly bond purchases were cut from $85 billion to $75 billion, and then again to 65 billion in January 2014 in line with the slow improvement in the US economy. Consequently this has led to difficulties in Nigeria and other emerging markets, as prices of assets such as oil have dipped as foreign investors turn back to the US market. As a result, Nigeria’s Central Bank has been using the country’s forex reserves to prop up the currency and the reserves have recently fallen as low as $40 billion (the lowest they have been in 19 months according to commentators).
The currency is also feeling the burden of the country’s political woes. In May 2014 The Wall Street Journal reported that companies are lessening their investments in the jurisdiction following an increase in high-profile kidnappings and bombings, which has exposed serious weaknesses in the law and order system. To consolidate this point, it was recounted that the naira had fallen almost 2 per cent against the US dollar since Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls in mid-April, a story that gained significant media attention worldwide. Institutional strength remains low and companies such as Royal Dutch Shell have reportedly grown impatient with the government’s failing efforts to stop banditry around its pipelines and wells. Insecurity remains a destabilising factor and it is expected that tensions will rise even further in early 2015 as the election season approaches. It is hoped that this instability will not significantly damage otherwise relatively positive economic prospects.
The business environment continues to be marred by the ongoing problem of corruption, and this picture has not improved. Last year we reported that Nigeria ranked 139 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, and 133 out of 176 economies in the World Bank’s Doing Business report. This year, Nigeria has been ranked 144th out of 175 by Transparency International, and 147th out of 189 by the World Bank: a clear drop. This is a real problem that will need to be addressed if the country wishes to match its strong economic growth with global business success. The International Monetary Fund summed up its primary concerns in a recent report that stated, “Continued weaknesses in labour markets, access to electricity, cost of doing business and small and medium enterprises’ access to finance have prevented a transition to a more robust and inclusive growth plan.”
However, there are positive changes afoot. As part of the government’s plan for reform in the power sector, the privatisation of state-owned electricity assets took place in 2013. Given the current problems in electricity infrastructure, it is hoped that this move will lead to greater activity and growth in the field. In June 2013 the Bank of Industry reported that the federal government had approved an increase in the authorised share capital of the bank from 250 billion naira to 750 billion naira. It is expected that this will provide the necessary funding to support the country’s industrial sector which has thus far had inadequate capital. This bulks up the initiative launched a few months earlier in April of the alternative securities market. This specialised board will be open to small and medium-sized companies to access the capital market under less stringent rules. With these new developments, commentators anticipate better times ahead with stronger capital growth. These changes are also reflected in our research, with the capital markets chapter showing the greatest increase this year, from 10 to 17 practitioners.
The Nigerian Stock Exchange has marked 2014 as the year that the country begins its journey towards attaining Morgan Stanley Capital International’s emerging market status. Given its robust growth it is hoped that Nigeria will have the competitive edge in the international market and provide an attractive prospect for foreign investors.
There are a large number of multinationals doing business in Nigeria but this tendency is still not reflected in the legal marketplace, which remains highly regulated. Lawyers cannot practise Nigerian or any other law unless they have been called to the Nigerian bar and are Nigerian nationals. Local law firms are also banned from entering into partnerships with foreign law firms. For a number of years it has been reported that the Nigerian Bar Association has been considering the merits of liberalisation, but this is not expected to change any time soon. Therefore, as in previous years our chapters are filled with local lawyers and firms. Potential changes to the market are likely to come through consolidation of these local firms, in order to cope with the growing demands of an internationally recognised strong economy.
Arbitration remains a popular choice for dispute resolution in commercial cases, and the trend for upholding a party’s right to arbitrate has been affirmed by the higher courts. In 2013 the Nigerian Court of Appeal confirmed that Nigerian courts may not injunct arbitration proceedings, having taken a strict interpretation of section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act. It is anticipated that this pro-arbitration stance will continue for the foreseeable future. This year we recognise 26 outstanding experts.
Dorothy Udeme Ufot, SAN, FCIArb, Chartered Arbitrator, Dorothy Ufot & Co
The aviation industry in Nigeria has faced many recent challenges. A Dana Air plane crashed in 2012, followed in late 2013 by a crash involving an Associated Airlines plane, which claimed 16 lives. The industry also saw the controversial departure of aviation minister Stella Oduah in early 2014. Against this backdrop, our research picks out nine practitioners who stand out for their knowledge of this sector.
In February 2014, the Central Bank of Nigeria effected a new monetary policy which saw the cash reserve ratio rate increase to 75 and 15 per cent for public and private sector deposits respectively, withdrawing close to 1 trillion naira from the economy. The policy aims to curb spikes in the demand for dollars and reduce excessive cash flows in the system. Our research identifies 15 lawyers who possess the expertise and skills to advise clients on banking and financial law matters.
Despite investor wariness in recent years, the market has recovered well from the financial crisis under the regulating apex of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The All Share Index has, this year, exceeded its pre-meltdown peak. The Nigerian capital markets are now among the most promising in the emerging world. For this edition we have identified 17 expert lawyers: a significant increase on last year, exemplifying the recent growth of the market.
Due to its wealth of natural resources and recent establishment as Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria is experiencing a surge of investment in energy and infrastructure projects. African real estate equity funds are attracting major interest from European and US investors who sense opportunities in the real estate market – where a successful investment can bring returns as high as 35 per cent, according to Reuters. Our research identifies four individuals who stand out for their work in the sector.
As Nigeria’s economy continues to thrive, foreign investors and businesses are increasingly looking to capitalise on opportunities in the region. These incoming companies are bringing with them experienced foreign employees, creating additional work for the country’s immigration experts. In this chapter we feature six practitioners who each come highly recommended for their work in this area.
In recent years the Nigerian government has strengthened its tax collecting agencies, which saw total taxes collected rise to 5 trillion naira in 2012 (compared with 454 billion naira in 2002). The 2014 federal budget proposes policy actions that will improve the value chain on key automobile products, encourage the local production of rice and the local production and assembly of vehicles in Nigeria. In this chapter, we identify four leading lawyers.
This practice area continues to be one of the largest in the Nigerian legal market with 28 leaders recognised in this edition – understandable, since the country is Africa’s largest oil producer. However, Nigeria’s oil is disadvantaged by instability and supply disruptions, while the natural gas sector is constrained by a lack of infrastructure. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has, moreover, come across weighty legal issues as it looks to change the structure of these industries. All this has resulted in a significant workload for Nigeria’s leading energy lawyers.
Environmental issues surrounding oil extraction, deforestation, desertification and road expansions among others are some of the challenges facing Nigerian environment lawyers today. Three leading lawyers are selected for their “standout” practice in this area.
There have been calls for change to Nigerian rescue provisions among the business community in recent months, amid discussions between stakeholders over whether the country should adopt a unified insolvency law. Fourteen lawyers are singled out for their expertise in this field.
Intellectual property is still a hot topic in Nigeria, with both domestic and international companies increasingly concerned about protecting their trademarks and patents in the jurisdiction. Counterfeiting work also remains an active area, with those we spoke to serving clients both in Nigeria and across West Africa. There is continued hope among lawyers and clients of improvements to existing regulation in the near future, which would undoubtedly increase the confidence of international corporations in the country, resulting in more work for practitioners. This year we single out 19 individuals who stand out for their expertise in this area.
Commercial litigators reported an exceptionally busy year as increased investigations by regulators, a growing number of labour and employment disputes, and strong levels of disputes work in the energy sector put them in high demand. This year we select 25 practitioners who stand out for their specialist expertise in this sector.
Lawyers across the country face a challenge in advising on the subtleties and changing nature of the employer–employee relationship, and as foreign investment in energy and infrastructure projects increases, corporate entities looking to adapt to Nigerian employment law are seeking the expertise of established figures in the field. Our research identifies three leading specialists in the discipline.
Following the surge in M&A deals in 2012, Nigeria continues to record increased activity across a variety of sectors. As expected the power and energy field remains extremely vibrant, but a recent PwC report also highlights Nigeria as a centre for financial services M&A over the next few years. Our research recognises 16 practitioners who are leaders in the field.
This year, Nigeria’s fast-growing economy has become the largest in Africa (displacing South Africa), and the 24th-largest worldwide. The reform and privatisation of the power sector over the past few years has helped to drive this increase, and has also caused significant growth in project finance activity in this field. As investors become more confident in the Nigerian market, and other countries struggle to return their economies to pre-financial crash levels, it continues to be a top destination for project finance. This year we identify 19 top lawyers in the field.
The Nigerian maritime industry remains widely untapped and investment opportunities across the country’s major exporting industries have shown huge potential for growth. With predictions of more progressive activity in some of Nigeria’s major ports, the future for maritime lawyers looks increasingly promising. We list 10 practitioners experienced in handling the most complex maritime matters.
Since 2000, when Microsoft begun operating in Nigeria, there has been a surge in multinationals looking to expand into the country. In particular, the deregulation of the mobile phone market has seen a significant increase in the number of telecommunication companies. Nigeria is now home to IBM, Apple, Intel, MTN, Google and Samsung, to name just a few. However, well over half of the population remains rural, and the development of infrastructure and legislation that will inspire the growth of multinational media is a work in progress. The following 14 lawyers represent the standout legal expertise in these promising fields.
Established in 2004 by a four-way merger, AELEX has grown from strength to strength and continues to impress with its diverse legal practice and the long-standing experience of its lawyers. The firm attracts clients of the highest calibre including multinational companies, financial institutions, foreign embassies and multilateral agencies. The firm achieves a total of 18 listings across 14 practice areas.
Aluko & Oyebode is the leading firm in our research with more listings than any other firm. The dynamic firm continues to be strong in finance and also boasts growing practices in construction and dispute resolution, alongside a significant expansion into international work. In this year’s edition, Aluko & Oyebode garners 25 inclusions across 11 practice areas.
Established in 1991, Banwo & Ighodalo is one of the country’s leading full-service commercial firms, achieving 11 listings across five different practice areas.
Olaniwun Ajayi bosts 12 listings in this edition. One of the best-established and best-respected Nigerian firms, it has made even greater strides this year achieving an overall increase in total listings across six practice areas.
Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie is one of the largest and most successful commercial firms in the region, a status which is reflected in our research for this year’s edition. The firm can boast an exceptional 22 listings across nine practice areas, demonstrating its “impressive range of expertise”.
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Nominees have been selected based upon comprehensive, independent survey work with both general counsel and private practice lawyers worldwide. Only specialists who have met independent international research criteria are listed.