The 2015 Nigerian election has dominated the recent socio-political, economic and legal landscape. Despite fears of conflict, the race for the presidency passed more peacefully than in 2011, and was described by the World Bank as the “freest and fairest in the country’s election history”. The markets almost immediately responded positively to General Muhammadu Buhari’s victory, with the Nigerian stock market recording an unprecedented gain of almost a trillion naira following the peaceful conclusion of the elections.
Nigeria’s economy remains heavily dependent on its crude reserves, with oil and gas still accounting for 80 per cent of the county’s fiscal revenue and 95 per cent of its export receipts. The drop in global benchmark oil prices over the last few months has therefore seriously impacted government revenues, with the naira losing over a quarter of its value against major foreign currencies in the last few months. This price drop resulted in a significant slowdown in oil transactions and in some cases even put a stop to them. The World Bank recently revised its prediction for the country’s economic growth in 2015 down from 6.3 per cent to 5.5 per cent.
Despite this, the energy industry continues to provide a high level of activity for lawyers, with the second phase of the government’s ambitious power privatisation programme now resulting in international oil companies divesting their interests in Nigerian oil reserves. Total recently completed the divestment of its stake in onshore Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 to Aiteo Eastern E&P, a Nigerian company, for US$569 million. Since 2010, Total has divested its interests in 11 onshore blocks to Nigerian companies, in line with the government’s aim of developing Nigerian companies in the sector. However, there is a sense of “musical chairs” regarding these long-standing assets, with few new ones coming to the fore.
The Petroleum Industry Bill has been hovering over the oil sector since 2008, and the new government has made a clear pledge to pass the Bill swiftly. It is likely to significantly impact the work of lawyers in the natural resources sector; the Bill aims to restructure the regulatory and commercial institutions in the petroleum industry, change the fiscal dynamics and reform the operational mechanisms of the upstream, downstream and natural gas industries. Among the most extensive legislative changes will be the introduction of production-sharing agreements – private agreements between international oil companies and Nigeria’s National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) – which will vest a licence or exclusive authorisation in the NNPC to explore, exploit and produce hydrocarbons. However, the Bill is beset with controversies and its slow generation has caused potential investment companies to hesitate, unsure about both how and when it will affect them.
The increasing privatisation of the oil industry is a particularly positive step for Nigeria in the wake of the recent oil crisis, which gathered media attention worldwide. Wholesalers’ refusal to distribute fuel due to a row with the government over the difference between the subsidised pump price and the international market price had a serious impact across the country. The majority of Nigerian businesses and homes rely on diesel-powered generators due to poor electricity infrastructure, and the shortage particularly affected the country’s mobile phone companies, and banking and aviation sectors. The long-term effects of the crisis are still to be seen; however, the ability of one industry to cause a serious rate of standstill across multiple sectors, forcing the government into a US$1 billion payout, has the potential to seriously undermine the attractiveness of investment in Nigeria. Increased privatisation will offer Nigerian lawyers wider opportunities for tailoring their expertise to multiple oil companies.
In 2014 the Financial Times reported a US$750 million project financing agreement towards the construction of an independent power plant, hailed as the first of its kind and a sign of things to come in Nigeria’s power sector. As a result, activity in the project finance market has been growing and is predicted to continue for the coming years.
International companies selling off their assets have resulted in a recent increase in the number of expert lawyers leaving in-house practice and working for private law firms. Shell currently has 30-35 lawyers working in-house in Nigeria alone, yet due to divestment Nigerian lawyers have growing potential to advise a broader range of companies. With more local Nigerian oil companies coming into the field, there is an increasing client base from which local lawyers can solicit work. It is predicted that in the coming years in-house teams may become significantly smaller.
Nigerian lawyers are particularly well placed within Africa, having “more quality law firms than any other African jurisdiction, outside of South Africa.” As such there are increasing opportunities for Nigerian firms to foster specialisation and target international corporations as an attractive option for tackling cross-border work without the use of international firms.
One such potential area of specialisation is litigation concerning anti-corruption. Anti-corruption has been a strong part of the new government’s campaign message, and the Buhari administration is expected to spend significant time on anti-corruption efforts in an attempt to create a more investor-friendly business environment. It is anticipated that this will form a major focus of legislation in the subsequent months. Several draft bills are currently in circulation proposing to grant further powers to government agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, giving them the ability to investigate, prosecute and confiscate the proceeds of crime or corruption through both criminal justice and civil recovery channels. Litigation is a flourishing area of legal practice in Nigeria, and reflecting this there has been a significant increase in the number of leading professionals identified in the edition from 20 in 2013, to 26 this year.
Central to Buhari’s economic strategy is the policy to further diversify the economy away from its heavy reliance on oil by investing in non-oil and service sectors. The government has initiated steps to raise revenue through taxation. Despite being the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria has one of the lowest tax revenue to GDP ratios in the world. Measures include the introduction of luxury taxes and the ongoing process to review incentives such as pioneer status (which has been the subject of abuse), among others. As a result it is predicted that taxation law will continue to be an active area for lawyers.
In addition, renewed momentum has gathered behind non-traditional economic sectors such as entertainment, telecoms and retail. Real estate has enjoyed increased activity, with a demand for high-quality office space and shopping malls. This increasing investment activity provides opportunities for Nigerian law firms to target their expertise to international investors and global law firms looking for specific knowledge of Nigerian law.
The environmental sector saw a landmark case at the beginning of 2015 with the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell agreeing to pay US$84 million in a compensation settlement to the residents of the Bodo community in the Niger Delta for two oil spills. Despite hundreds of such oil spills happening each year in Nigeria, this deal is the first of its kind and ends a three-year legal battle. The deal was reached in the English court system, but is likely to have ramifications for other oil companies in Nigeria, and similar law suits are expected to ensue.
Aviation is continuing to be a growing area. With high-profile cases including British Airways v Atoyebi, which confirmed that the court will not award general damages where breach is alleged and proved, under Nigerian law for the assessment and award of damages for breach, specialist knowledge in the sector is highly sought after. This increased demand in expertise is reflected in our research, which demonstrates a steady rise in the number of lawyers identified as leaders in their field, from seven practitioners in 2011 to 10 practitioners this year.
Arbitration is another legal sector gathering momentum in Nigeria, which is mirrored by it being one of the largest chapters in this edition. The country is accommodating numerous international arbitration cases, with an increased demand for arbitration services and Nigerian arbitration practitioners becoming recognised internationally. As such the country is coming to play a leading role in arbitration in West Africa with one lawyer describing it as the current “hub of arbitration in Africa”. This is likely to continue, fuelled by the recent announcement from the chief judge of Anambra State in southern Nigeria, Justice Peter Umeadi, that arbitration courts are to be established in the state. Notorious delays in Nigerian courts in civil litigation mean it is likely that the majority of foreign investment into Nigeria will be encouraged to include arbitration clauses in contracts. The oil and gas, telecommunications, maritime, construction and infrastructure sectors are currently expected to benefit the most from the use of arbitration “because they involve huge capital investments and risk huge financial losses if trapped in protracted litigation”. The resolution of such disputes by arbitration often helps preserve business relationships, which in turn increase business opportunities for Nigeria.
Of vital importance over the coming months will be Nigeria’s attempts to neutralise the terrorist threat posed by Boko Haram. As well as the loss of life and territory, the destabilising impact of these terrorist activities on investor attraction “must not be understated”. The newly elected government has pledged to defeat the Islamist militant group which has subjected northern Nigeria to a series of attacks, capturing a large area and killing thousands of people in its drive to establish an Islamic state. It is hoped that the new governments’ efforts will make Nigeria a more attractive investment opportunity to international companies. In particular there will be a demand for investment in the infrastructure necessary to deliver services to those affected by the conflict in the long term, and consequentially a demand for the provision of legal services to the interested companies.
Arbitration in Nigeria has been gathering momentum over the last few years, with the country experiencing an increased demand for arbitration services. Despite the socio-political and security challenges facing the country, Nigeria is coming to play a leading role in arbitration in West Africa with Nigerian arbitration practitioners increasingly internationally recognised. Our research highlights 26 leading experts in the field.
Dorothy Udeme Ufot SAN of Dorothy Ufot & Co takes an in-depth look at the current and prospective status of arbitration in Nigeria.
Nigeria is home to a strong set of aviation lawyers specialising in corporate, commercial, finance, regulatory and contentious matters. One of the highest-profile cases in 2014 was that of British Airways v Atoyebi, which confirmed the position of Nigerian law on assessment of award of damages for breach: the court will not award general damages for breach of contract. Ten lawyers are selected for inclusion in this chapter.
According to Reuters, Nigeria’s banking index has been performing very strongly, with the top two lenders reporting higher profits in March 2015. This positive trend is expected to continue, and with PricewaterhouseCoopers predicting Nigeria to be one of the fastest-growing large economies over the period to 2050, strong financing activity looks set to remain. We select 15 banking and finance lawyers who are considered the “leading lights” in the field.
After strong double-digit gains in its equity markets and returning confidence among foreign investors over the past year, Nigeria’s capital markets have continued to perform strongly in 2015. With the stock market poised for continued growth, lawyers are likely to see further enquiries from domestic and international clients as new products and greater liquidity facilitate easier market access for global funds. Our research identifies 16 prominent individuals.
Babatunde Ajibade and Bukola Iji of SPA Ajibade & Co provide an overview of crucial developments in the Nigerian capital market.
Nigeria has seen another busy year in its construction and real estate sectors, as its wealth of natural resources continues to be a big pull for investors. Infrastructure and energy projects have been two of the most prosperous areas reported in the last year, with expectations that this trend will continue into 2016. In this field we list three “leading” practitioners.
There continues to be steady demand among international companies, particularly in the oil and gas sector, for bringing experienced employees into the country. We have listed six lawyers who offer clients expert counsel on Nigeria’s complex and occasionally awkward immigration laws.
The Nigerian economy is facing significant challenges as a result of the negative effect of falling oil prices, with the naira losing over a quarter of its value against major foreign currencies in the last few months. Despite being the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria has one of the lowest tax-revenue-to-GDP ratios in the world. The government has initiated steps to raise revenue through taxation as part of its efforts to productively diversify the economy away from oil. These include the introduction of luxury taxes and the ongoing process to review incentives such as pioneer status which has been the subject of abuse, among others. Four leading lawyers are identified for their outstanding work in this area.
Activity in the oil and gas markets has remained buoyant despite a dearth of new licensing rounds. International companies including Shell and Total have sold assets in Nigeria in the last year to local companies as they refocus their portfolio strategies, keeping many lawyers in the field active during the last 12 months. In this chapter we identify 27 exceptional energy and natural resources lawyers.
Environmental issues are gaining even greater prominence as the number of challenges the Ministry of Environment faces continue to increase rapidly. With drought, desertification, oil spillage, pollution control and poor implementation of the Great Green Wall project just a few of the problems Nigeria faces today, work in this sphere looks set to remain at a high level. We select four practitioners to feature in this chapter.
As the business community in Nigeria continues to lobby for changes to domestic rescue rules and key provisions in the Bankruptcy Act, discussions between stakeholders over whether the country should adopt a unified insolvency law are ongoing. We single out 11 sector-leading lawyers for their expertise in this field.
Etigwe Uwa of Streamsowers & Köhn looks at the current features of insolvency legislation in the country and argues for the need of comprehensive legislative reform.
Intellectual property continues to be a key issue in Nigeria, with both domestic and international companies keen to make sure that their brands and designs are protected. While an update of existing regulations has still not materialised, practitioners remain hopeful that this is on the horizon. Any resulting changes would increase confidence in the market, making it more attractive to companies and offering lawyers more work. In this chapter we recommend 20 outstanding practitioners.
The intricacies of Nigeria’s labour and employment laws are a difficult obstacle for foreign entities positioned in the market. As the country’s economy continues to grow and energy and natural research projects require foreign expertise it is essential to seek the counsel of established figures. We have selected three leading names in the field.
Historically, the Nigerian courts are renowned for being overburdened and slow. However, in the past few years significant efforts have been made to diminish delays, in particular through reforms to the procedural rules for Lagos State High Court in 2012. Judges can identify cases that will be suitable for mediation and can dismiss certain cases earlier, speeding up proceedings. Combined with this, Nigeria continues to experience strong economic growth and as such is an attractive investment option for foreign investors. Against this backdrop litigators have found themselves in high demand, reflected in our research where 26 leading practitioners are listed for their outstanding contribution to the field.
Babatunde Irukera of SimmonsCooper Partners provides a detailed review of the legal and procedural framework for commercial litigation in Nigeria, as well as key developments.
In May 2014 the SEC published new rules which introduced exemptions to the mandatory takeover offer regime. Furthermore, the NSE has made further rules to protect minority rights and entrench global best practice in Nigeria. This was a year with significant transactional activity in the banking, oil and gas, food and beverages, power, insurance and manufacturing sectors; in part this was due to regulatory directives while local and foreign direct investment also played a role.
Folake Elias Adebowale, Dare Agbelese and Dolapo Adesina of Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie take a look at the growth in Nigeria's M&A activity, exploring individual sectors, as well as the continuing evolution the country’s regulatory framework.
In May 2014 the Financial Times reported on a $750 million project financing agreement towards construction of an independent power plant; it was widely praised as the first deal of its kind in Nigeria and a sign of things to come in the country’s power sector. With the second phase of the government’s ambitious power privatisation programme currently under way, increasing levels of activity in the project finance market are anticipated for the years ahead. We list 20 specialists in this year’s edition.
Shipping is a distinct area of growth in Nigeria, with many ship-owners and charterers building stronger commercial relationships through P&I clubs. Nonetheless, Nigerian ports are generally considered to be below international standards and have a reputation for charging particularly high tariffs. The government recently directed the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency to take a stricter approach towards the Shipping Act’s implementation, and as a result lawyers have already seen an uptick in related compliance work. Our research highlights 11 key individuals.
The large and fast-growing telecoms market in Nigeria continues to draw substantial foreign investment. The far-reaching liberalisation of the market has meant that hundreds of companies can function under a unified licensing regime to provide a full range of telecom and value-added services. Mobile and broadband services are being established swiftly, and while there has been some consolidation among players in broadband sector, more than 100 ISPs are still active. In addition, the government committed itself earlier this year to increasing broadband penetration from around 8 per cent to 36 per cent by 2018. Against this backdrop our research has identified 15 outstanding practitioners.
Full-service firm Aélex was formed in 2004 as the result of a merger between four leading commercial law firms in nigeria. Today the firm has an “impressive standing in the legal market” and enjoys an “international reputation”. it represents a wide range of clients including financial institutions, airlines, shipping lines, trading and manufacturing conglomerates as well as embassies and multilateral agencies. in this edition the firm garners 18 listings across 13 practice areas.
Comprising over 70 lawyers and 150 staff members, Aluko & Oyebode is one of the foremost full-service law firms in Nigeria. The firm has offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt and its practitioners offer “world-class” advice in the full range of corporate and commercial legal services. In this year’s edition, the firm boasts 24 listings across 12 different practice areas.
Babalakin & Co was established in July 1988 and has become one of the leading commercial law firms in Nigeria. With over 60 lawyers working from offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, we are readily accessible to most corporate institutions, clients, government regulatory bodies and courtrooms generally.
The firm has a strong international reputation and a good depth of expertise and experience in corporate and finance law. Founded in 1991, the firm has grown to over 40 lawyers, and is renowned for its “impressive roster of clients”. In this edition the firm receives 12 listings, featuring prominently in the energy and natural resources, M&A, and capital markets chapters.
Olaniwun Ajayi has a strong reputation built over four decades of providing “top-quality” legal advice in Nigeria. It strives to offer clients “market leading advice” at the best prices it can, and is lauded for its “excellent value for money” by clients. The firm receives 13 listings across six practice areas, and performs particularly well in project finance with four practitioners recognised.
Punuka Attorneys & Solicitors is a fully integrated and multi-dimensional business law practice reputed for its quality service to clients both locally and internationally. We have a culture of excellence and are committed to achieving optimal results for our highly diversified clients. Across our core practices of dispute resolution, corporate and commercial law, energy and natural resources, government regulatory matters and banking, and capital markets and project finance, we bring our knowledge and specialist skills in these areas to bear on every job.
Since it was founded in 1983, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie has become one of the country’s “preeminent” full service law firms, boasting an “impressive roster of clients”. The firm performs especially well in M&A, project finance and energy and natural resources, and garners 25 listings in total.
It is not possible to buy entry into any Who's Who Legal publication
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.