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.
Our research into the Nigerian market encompasses feedback from across the country as well as sources worldwide. The recommendations we received allow us to identify 141 nominees who are recognised 211 times across the 15 areas of law we cover here.
A total of 25 lawyers from 22 different firms attest to the quality and diversity of the Nigerian arbitration bar in this section.
Ten lawyers from seven different firms lead the field in Nigeria for aviation law work.
The following 14 lawyers are the most highly regarded representatives of nigeria’s rapidly developing and complex banking market.
Practising in this field, we select 10 leading individuals who are highly rated by their peers and clients.
We identify 22 outstanding litigators who are recognised for their exceptional handling of commercial disputes.
Seven lawyers from seven firms emerge as Nigeria’s leading corporate immigration law specialists.
Five lawyers from as many firms lead the field in Nigeria’s sophisticated corporate tax law marketplace.
Three lawyers lead the field in Nigeria’s rapidly expanding environmental law market.
Featuring 14 lawyers from 10 different firms, this chapter demonstrates the strength and depth of the insolvency law marketplace in Nigeria.
In this growing area of law, 17 practitioners are recognised for their specialist expertise.
In this chapter we recognise 17 practitioners, each an eminent figure in the Nigerian M&A market.
Featuring 27 lawyers from 16 firms, this is the largest chapter in the current edition and lists the leading professionals in nigeria’s highly sophisticated natural resources marketplace.
One of the busiest sectors in nigeria, the demand for legal advice in project financing is high and the following 19 lawyers are seeing ever-increasing demand for their market-leading services.
We recognise 13 lawyers from nine different firms who are considered true leaders in this field.
Eight lawyers from as many firms emerge as the leading names for shipping law work in nigeria.
Since its formation, as result of a 2004 merger between O Adekoya & Co, Victor & Charles, Anga & Emuwa and Adegbite Adeniji & Co, AELEX has become one of Nigeria’s largest and most diverse law firms. The firm achieves 17 listings across 12 different practice areas in this edition, an increase of two listings on last year, which indicates that AELEX lawyers continue to demonstrate exceptional expertise in the various practice areas in which they specialise.
Aluko & Oyebode has dramatically increased its number of listings year-on-year in this edition, with 23 entries across 10 different chapters (compared to 18 entries across nine chapters last year), giving the firm the joint highest number of lawyer listings in this edition overall.
Ten Banwo & Ighodalo lawyers are acknowledged for their skills across five different practice areas, with the finance, corporate and natural resources sectors continuing to be its areas of greatest strength.
A long-standing and well-regarded firm, Olaniwun Ajayi has an impressive 11 listings in this edition, spanning six practice areas: banking, capital markets, commercial litigation, m&a, natural resources and project finance. these listings are divided among just four exceptional individuals at the firm who have blazed trails in the nigerian legal community within their respective practice areas.
Tying in first place for the largest lawyer presence this year, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie has earned an extraordinary 23 entries in this edition, up on an already impressive 20 listings in 2011.
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.