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AN ARBITRATION AGREEMENT IS A SEPARATE CONTRACT

Dictum

The Courts have always upheld the autonomy and independence of the arbitration clause in the contract. The arbitration agreement may be drawn up separately or may form part of the transaction between the parties. Where the arbitration clause is part of the contract, it is nevertheless regarded in law as a separate contract. In HEYMAN v. DARWIN LTD (1942) A.C 356 at pp. 373-4, the Court in the United Kingdom in considering the legal status of such a clause in a contract, observed: ” … an arbitration clause in a contract is quite distinct from the other clauses. The other clauses set out the obligations which the parties undertake towards each other, but the arbitration clause does not impose on one of the parties an obligation in favour of the other. It embodies the agreement of both parties that, if any dispute arises with regard to the obligations which the one party has undertaken to the other such dispute shall be settled by a Tribunal of their own Constitution.”

— H.M. Ogunwumiju, JSC. UBA v Triedent Consulting Ltd. (SC.CV/405/2013, July 07, 2023)

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P&ID DID NOT ENTER THE CONTRACT TO JUST GET A SETTLEMENT VIA ARBITRATION, WITH THE INTENTION OF NOT PERFORMING

490. Here, I am satisfied P&ID did intend to perform the GSPA when it entered into it, and that there were means by which it could have done so. Nigeria has characterised the GSPA as a sham and contended that P&ID as a BVI-registered company with no obvious assets, no relevant experience and few employees, had no genuine intention of performing the GSPA, and would never have been able to do so. However P&ID did not have to contemplate performing the GSPA itself with its assets, experience and employees. This is not, as it represented, because it could simply use the work on Project Alpha to perform the GSPA. It is rather because ICIL Group had shown in the past that they could contract in. 491. Whilst P&ID was prepared to bribe in the course of its business, I do not accept it was of the sophistication to conceive at the contract stage a plan to extract large sums of money from Nigeria by means of an arbitration or a corrupt settlement. Consistently, P&ID did not use the GSPA to move directly to arbitration at the first available opportunity. I have found it did not (as alleged by Nigeria) corrupt Mr Shasore SAN. And it appointed, in Sir Anthony Evans, an arbitrator of unquestioned experience, expertise and independence. 492. It is in these circumstances that I have reached the conclusion that the present is not a case in which, when the parties entered into the GSPA, P&ID’s intention was not to perform it but simply to use it as a device to get an award or settlement. However that is not the end of Nigeria’s section 68(2)(g) challenge.

— R. Knowles CBE. FRN v. Process & Industrial Developments Limited [2023] EWHC 2638 (Comm)

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CRIMINAL MATTERS & FRAUD ARE NOT ARBITRABLE

Disputes which are subject of an arbitration agreement must be arbitrable. Matters like criminal matters or where fraud is alleged and raised as a matter of public policy are not to be settled privately by arbitration. See B. J. EXPORT & CHEMICAL CO. LTD v. KADUNA PETRO-CHEMICAL CO. LTD. (Supra).

— H.M. Ogunwumiju, JSC. UBA v Triedent Consulting Ltd. (SC.CV/405/2013, July 07, 2023)

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SUBJECT MATTER OF ARBITRATION MUST BE WITHIN THE ORIGINAL CONTRACT

In BAKER MARINE (NIG) v. CHEVRON NIG. LTD (2006) 6 SC 21 at Pg. 31 &37; (2006) FWLR Pt. 326 Pg. 235 at 250, the issue in this Court was whether damages for the tort of conspiracy as opposed to that of breach of contract can be at large and that aggravated damages could be claimed and sustained by the arbitral award. This Court held that any award would be outside the arbitration agreement and the arbitrators are not allowed to re-write the arbitration agreement to include extraneous issues or parties outside the substantive contract between the parties.

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ISSUE OF JURISDICTION CAN ONLY BE RAISED AT THE ARBITRATION PANEL

The law therefore is that although in the regular Courts, the issue of jurisdiction can be raised at all stages of the proceedings of a case; from the trial to the final appellate, where a statute prescribed the stage at which the issue is to be raised in the course of the proceedings of a case, the issue cannot be validly and properly raised at any other stage other than the one stipulated in the statute. The general principle applies only where there was no statutory provision as to the particular or specific stage of the proceedings of a case at which the issue of jurisdiction is to be raised by a party.

– Garba, JCA. Dunlop v. Gaslink (2018)

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DECISIONS THAT EMPHASISE THAT A PARTY APPLYING FOR STAY MUST HAVE SUBMITTED TO AN ARBITRAL PANEL FIRST

✓ In O.S.H.C v. OGUNSOLA (2000) 14 NWLR Pt. 687 Pg. 431CA, the Respondent claimed the sum of N1,969,861.20 and Pleadings were filed and exchanged. Before the case went on trial, the Defendant/Appellant applied in limine to stay proceedings in the case pending a reference of the dispute to arbitration in accordance with the agreement signed by both parties. The application was refused and dismissed by the trial Court and the case was ordered to proceed to trial where judgment was given in favour of the Respondent. At the Court of Appeal, the Respondent argued that the issue of arbitration clause was not raised and was never sought by the Appellant throughout the proceedings. The Court held that there is consensus by both parties that they are bound by the terms of the contract agreement which they duly executed or signed. What was in dispute in that case and emphasized was whether or not there was a formal request (or application) before the lower Court for the proceedings to be stayed and for the dispute to be referred to arbitration. The Court of Appeal held that since the Appellant had acted timeously by making his request or application for stay of proceedings atthe lower Court pending arbitration, the learned trial judge should have ordered a stay of proceedings and referred the matter to a referee for arbitration. Judgment was awarded in favour of the Appellant. The Court also held that parties to a written contract are bound by the terms of the contract provided such terms are not illegal or contrary to public policy. The application was brought in that case under Section 5 of the Act.

✓ In “M. V.” PANORMOS BAY v. OLAM (NIG) PLC (2004) 5 NWLR Pt. 865 Pg. 1CA, the Appellant’s action was filed pursuant to Section 4(1) and 5(1) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act. The issue there was whether the trial Court was right to hold that there was valid, subsisting, binding and irrevocable arbitration agreement between the parties. Also, whether a finding by the trial Court that the Defendants who were the applicants and who had not taken any steps in the proceeding had enough grounds to have entitled the trial judge to order the parties therein to go for arbitration outside the jurisdiction of this Country having regards to Section 20 of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Decree and Section 5(2) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act. The Court held Per Galadima J.C.A (as he then was) thus: “I have held that Section 20 of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Decree (supra) is a statutory limitation to the enforcement of the purported arbitration agreement contained in the bills of lading herein. Therefore by reference to the clear provisions of the said Section 20 of the Decree, this Court could declare the arbitration agreement null and void. Alternatively, if however this position is unattainable in law, then a finding by the learned trial Judge that there is a valid, subsisting, binding and irrevocable arbitration agreement between the parties and that the defendant had not taken any steps in the proceedings could not in any case have entitled the trial judge to order the parties herein to go for arbitration outside the jurisdiction of this Country since Sections 2 and 4 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act are controlled and limited by Section 5(2) of the same Act.”

✓ In ONWARD ENTERPRISES LTD. v. M.V MATRIX (2010) 2 NWLR Pt. 843 Pg. 530 CA, the issue in that case was whether the trial Court exercised its discretion under Section 5 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act judicially and judiciously. When the Respondents in this case brought their application for stay of proceedings, they tendered certain documents which indicated that they had appointed their own arbitrator and had communicated same to the Appellant. The Court held that by appointing their arbitrator in compliance with Clause 40 of the charter-party agreement endorsed by both parties, the Respondents fulfilled their own obligation. The approach of the Respondents clearly indicated that they were ready and willing to do all things necessary for the proper conduct of the arbitration in line with Section 5(2) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.

✓ In M.V. LUPEX V. NOC & S. LTD (2003) 15 NWLR pt. 844 Pg. 469SC, the parties in this case agreed to refer their disputes to arbitration in London under the English law. The Tribunal in England had started hearing the dispute and parties had begun to present their respective cases before it. This Court overturned the judgments of the two Courts below which refused stay and ordered a stay of proceedings. On the issue of discretion, the Court held per Uthman Mohammed JSC thus: “Ephraim Akpata, JSC in the book “The Nigerian Arbitration Law” is apt on the issue of staying proceedings where parties have agreed to refer their dispute to arbitration in a contract. He expressed his opinion in the following exposition: “That the power to order a stay is discretionary is not in doubt. It is a power conferred by statute. It however behoves the Court to lean towards ordering a stay for two reasons; namely; a) The provision of Section 4(2) may make the Court’s refusal to order a stay ineffective as the arbitral proceedings “may nevertheless be commenced or continued” and an award made by the arbitral Tribunal may be binding on the party that has commenced an action in Court. b) The Court should not be seen to encourage the breach of a valid arbitration agreement particularly if it has international flavour. Arbitration which is a means by which contract disputes are settled by a private procedure agreed by the parties has become a prime method of settling international commercial disputes. A party generally cannot both approbate and reprobate a contract. A party to an arbitration agreement will in a sense be reprobating the agreement if he commences proceedings in Court in respect of any dispute within the purview of the agreement to submit to arbitration.”

✓ In SAKAMORI CONSTRUCTION (NIG) LTD v. LAGOS STATE WATER CORPORATION (2021) LPELR 56606(SC), the Appellant filed the matter in the Court of trial and applied for summary judgment on 15/07/2009. But the Respondent, for reasons best known to it, neither entered appearance nor reacted to the Appellant’s originating processes et al, inspite of the proper service evidently effected on it. The Appellant’s application for summary judgment in question was heard and ruling was reserved for delivery on 11/12/2009. It was at that point in time on 11/12/2009, that the Respondent deemed it expedient to wake up from slumber and file an application for stay of proceedings, thereby seeking to momentarily arrest the judgment of the trial Court. This Court held Per Ibrahim Mohammed Musa Saulawa, JSC thus: “In my considered view, the answer to that pertinent question is not far-fetched. This Court has had cause in a plethora of authorities to reiterate the fundamental principle, that any agreement to submit a dispute to arbitration, does not automatically oust the jurisdiction of the Court. Therefore, either party to such an agreement may, prior to when submission to arbitration or award is made, commence legal proceedings regarding any claim or cause of action contained in the submission. See HARRIS VS. REYNOLDS (1845) 7QB71, OBEMBE VS. WEMABOD ESTATES LTD (1977) LPELR-SC466/1975.”

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WRONG FACT FINDING CANNOT SET ASIDE AN ARBITRAL AWARD

In arbitration proceedings, the general principle is that facts finding by an Arbitrator is not a ground for setting aside an award on the ground that it is wrong nor on the ground that there is no evidence on which the facts could be found because that would be mere error of law.

– Garba, JCA. Dunlop v. Gaslink (2018)

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