Jennifer Scott-Taggart considers the issues facing lawyers in the current climate.
Nigeria has been on the radar of international media over the past year as unrest and sporadic violence persists, particularly in the north of the country, and nationwide riots in the early part of the year caused widespread concern. At the same time, the country has continued to be the darling of economists and financial commentators who are busily occupied with interpreting its economic trends and venturing predictions for its emerging markets. Nigeria is notable on the continent for having the largest national population, and the second-largest economy, and for being the primary exporter of crude oil. GDP growth in Nigeria for 2011 stood at around 7.2 per cent: well above worldwide trends despite the national banking crisis of 2010 as well as the effects of double digit inflation. What is more, the Financial Times recently reported that foreign direct investment is estimated to have reached $6.5 billion last year, and by some forecasts could hit $9 billion by 2013.
January 2012 saw a swell of public protest against the government’s introduction of a strategy for removing the long-standing fuel subsidies that had kept petrol at an affordable price for a greater majority of Nigerians. Tens of thousands of Nigerians took to the streets in scenes spiked with tension and rising violence and national strikes caused the country to grind to a near total standstill over six days at a cost to the economy of $1.3 billion, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
It has long been a point of irony and frustration that the most oil-rich territory in Africa should need to rely on imported fuel to meet domestic need. This, coupled with corruption in the country’s import market, has led to a commensurate realisation of the need for a governmental grip as well as deregulation of the market to encourage private foreign investments. As a result, an increasing number of natural resources lawyers are garnering expertise in downstream processes and will likely be the drivers of continuing national reform in this area. Their services will be vital to the growing number of private investors looking to navigate the new and widening opportunities in this sector.
Power supply will also be a vital area of commercial activity and investment with international and corporate stakeholders. Problems with the electric grid have been a serious disincentive for corporations operating in Nigeria as they face either service disruption or expensive charges for private supply. Addressing this long-standing issue was a key pledge in President Jonathan’s election campaign and the government is expected to have completed privatisation of the state owned power generation and distribution companies by the end of this year. The World Bank, which is providing partial risk guarantees to investors, described Nigeria’s power sector reform as one of the most complex undertaken in Africa. As well as creating demand for project finance lawyers, it is anticipated that this reform will lead to a marked upturn in the levels of international commercial activity that will find a base in Nigeria and the legal market stands to see unprecedented demand for commercial legal services.
There is still a lot of activity around telecoms and postal services which have again seen the fastest growth outside the oil sector, driven by an increasing household demand. This has been met by an influx of capital from foreign direct investors and a commensurate increase in the demand for legal services relating to regulatory communications. Project finance lawyers are also seeing telecoms take up a greater proportion of their practice as it is increasingly regarded as a safe and lucrative bet for international investors.
Aviation lawyers are facing a changed landscape and responding to events which have thrown the sector into disarray. Dana Air remains grounded as a result of the crash that took place in June this year, killing an estimated 163 people. Air Nigeria has since suspended its domestic operations following strikes and financial issues. These represent significant blows to an industry that had done much to repair its reputation following a series of accidents in 2005 and 2006, and had since gained “category one” status from the US Federal Aviation Administration. There is renewed scrutiny of airline compliance and a panel created by the government to investigate air safety is expected to release findings imminently, which will likely have widespread implications for the industry and create a flurry of activity for aviation lawyers in Nigeria.
Intellectual property law is also a live area. With a population of over 1.5 billion, a growing proportion of which is affluent and middle class, as well as an expansive retail sector which in 2012 represented 23.39 per cent of GDP, there is an increasing interest among international brands to join those already established in Nigeria. Lawyers are aware that a hurdle to overcome in this respect relates to intellectual property rights and enforcement of trademark laws in Nigeria, with counterfeiting being a particularly problematic issue. Lawyers in Nigeria are tirelessly advocating for improved regulation which would be a boon to international corporations whether already established or thinking of making the move into Nigeria.
The legal system in Nigeria is constrained by the perception and allegations of corruption among certain of the judiciary and this continues to be a source of frustration for members of the profession. Nigerian lawyers and SANs are widely regarded as having made great strides in contributing to the application of the rule of law and due process and, as evidenced by the demand for their services from major corporations, the international legal community has taken note and confidence is growing.
Nigerian lawyers continue to cite a sluggish judicial system as a matter of real concern to international and corporate entities seeking to enforce their rights in the country. That said, in line with the expansion of the legal services sector, the court processes have quickened to an extent and, for example, it is likely to take around 457 days to enforce a relatively simple claim against a medium sized business in Nigeria, as compared to around 730 days in 2005 (World Data Bank). Compared to other worldwide jurisdictions, enforcement of judgment on a cause is the phase at which the process is most likely to stall, taking an average of 142 days, although it should be noted that this varies substantially across different regions.
While litigation remains the norm for resolving disputes that arise between Nigerian parties, where multinational organisations are involved the demand for extra-judicial resolution, and particularly standard arbitration clauses, continues to grow. The Nigerian legal market has been wise to this over the years, and many firms now boast dedicated ADR teams, while a number of seasoned commercial lawyers have built substantial experience of acting as counsel in arbitral proceedings. Further, there are several arbitral institutions across Nigeria, including the Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration in Lagos.
The lawyers listed in the chapters that follow include those most involved in driving reform, shaping precedent, and developing the procedural and legislative framework in relation to all of the areas herein. There has been a marked increase in competition among lawyers and firms, in particular where clients have multinational corporate personalities, which has had the effect of upping the standard of legal services. There is a great deal of expertise in Nigeria, and an emerging “magic circle” which will be best placed to maintain expansion should international law firms start to move in, an occurrence which is increasingly anticipated. This year we feature 208 lawyers operating across 15 key practice areas.
Twenty-six lawyers are selected for inclusion in this year’s edition, demonstrating the high standard of the Nigerian arbitration bar.
Dorothy Udeme Ufot SAN, FCIArb, Chartered Arbitrator of Dorothy Ufot & Co takes an in depth look at the growing use of Arbitration in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s aviation industry is facing a difficult financial reality and for its airlines to survive stakeholders are urging consolidation. While mergers and alliances have become popular options in the global industry, Nigeria is falling behind. Our research identifies nine practitioners possessing the necessary skills to assist the industry through this difficult period.
The last few years have been a turbulent time for Nigerian banks. After the economic downturn in 2008/9, the Central Bank of Nigeria introduced tough financial reforms aimed at addressing past weaknesses and unleashing the potential of the country’s banking sector. Despite these difficult years, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently stated that Nigeria’s reforms have had “considerable success” and the banking sector is set to support the country’s growing economy. This year we list 15 superb lawyers.
Capital markets lawyers in Nigeria reported a busy year, as investor confidence seems to be rising and international players are looking to break into a potentially lucrative market. We identify 10 lawyers across six leading firms in the jurisdiction who have been highlighted for their expertise.
It has been an interesting and challenging year for commercial litigtors as disputes arose in relation to the Nigerian government’s programme of privatisation. Litigators have found themselves in high demand as a result and this is reflected in our research, where 20 individuals are singled out for their skills and experience in this field.
International hotel brands are opening up in Nigeria to take advantage of the country’s growing tourism industry, while the real estate market continues to see new investment as investors turn away from traditional banking in search of a good return on their capital. Four individuals stand out in this sector for their impressive depth of knowledge.
The Nigerian market is of increasing interest for foreign companies and investors and as a result corporate immigration lawyers are in high demand as companies seek to bring in specialised expatriate workers. Seven individuals are singled out for their expertise.
Environmental law continues to develop at a fast pace in Nigeria and three lawyers stand out for their “superior knowledge” in this sector.
This year we feature 13 “top-notch” insolvency and restructuring lawyers. These outstanding individuals have exceptional experience in the area and have risen to the top of the field through demonstrating excellent legal understanding, intellectual creativity and dedication to their clients.
As the areas of trademarks and patent continue to expand, there is increasing demand from stakeholders for firmer intellectual property protection. Counterfeiting remains a problematic issue, and lawyers are relentlessly arguing for improved regulation of IP protection and enforcement. Such reforms would reassure international corporations of the opportunities for growth that exist in the region. Our research recognises 19 practitioners who are leaders in their field.
Nigeria saw a surge in M&A deals in 2012, with the total financial value of deals increasing by 379 per cent since 2011 (according to KPMG). Nigeria’s legal market has continued to rise to the challenge and, this year, we feature 15 outstanding practitioners in the field.
Management labour and employment is a burgeoning area in the jurisdiction, as precedent regarding the complexities of the employer-employee relationship continues to develop. We identify three lawyers from three firms who are established specialists in the discipline.
Nigeria is a country rich with natural resources; a recent Revenue Watch Institute report estimates that in terms of oil alone it is the world’s “10th largest producer”. Furthermore, the ongoing debate over the Petroleum Industry Bill concerning the legalities surrounding the countries’ resources will continue to make it one of the busiest practice areas in the Nigerian legal marketplace. From our research, we identify 24 leaders in this field.
The continued growth of the Nigerian economy has made it a hotbed for local and foreign investment. With Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics predicting further growth of 6.75 per cent in 2013 and 7.27 per cent in 2014, legal advice in project financing will continue to be sought after. The following 19 lawyers exemplify the quality of Nigeria’s legal marketplace in this area.
Shipping and maritime and its related industries play a key role in Nigeria’s economic standing and its major ports continue to be a hub of activity. Lawyers who specialising in this sector are in constant demand and in this chapter we single out eight leading practitioners.
In the midst of extensive technological change across the region, multinational media and telecommunications companies are facing critical legal issues in terms of new product protection, systems licensing and regulatory compliance. The following 14 lawyers, representing 10 firms, stand out for their market-leading expertise in this rapidly developing area.
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.