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ARBITRATION AND LITIGATION ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE

Dictum

By the provisions of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, parties to a contract can include an arbitration clause which allows for disputes to be settled by arbitration instead of litigation. At the end of the arbitration process, the agreement reached (i.e the award) will be enforced by the Courts after registration in Court. Where parties opt to arbitrate over disputes, it does not automatically oust the jurisdiction bestowed on the Court by the 1999 CRFN. Section 2(2) of the Arbitration Act states follows: “Unless a contrary intention is expressed therein, an arbitration agreement shall be irrevocable except by agreement of parties or by leave of the Court or judge.” (emphasis mine) Although it is preferable in many cases to go to arbitration rather than go to Court, it should be noted that arbitration and litigation are not mutually exclusive. Indeed the Court often complements and supplements the functions and powers of the arbitrator. For example, by stay of Court proceedings in appropriate cases; by the issue of subpoena; by making appointments where the parties cannot agree or where a party defaults; for the enforcement of awards and for setting aside awards where necessary. In these cases, the Court intervenes to ensure the proper functioning of arbitration.

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

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ARBITRAL PROCEEDINGS LACK THE SOPHISTICATION OF REGULAR COURTS

In Celtel Nigeria BV v. Econet Wireless Limited (2014) LPELR-22430(CA) @ 60 explained, succinctly, the nature of arbitral proceedings before an Arbitration Tribunal as follows: “An Arbitral Tribunal is by nature an informal adjudicatory body lacking the sophistication and technical know-how of Judges of regular Courts. Arbitral Tribunals are also not bogged down in the procedural trappings of regular Courts. Arbitral proceedings are therefore treated with a broad, liberal/open mind leaning on the side of dynamism, commercial sense, latitude and common sense.”

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GENERAL PRINCIPLES APPLICABLE IN REGULAR COURTS ARE NOT APPLICABLE IN ARBITRATION PROCEEDINGS

In this context, the general principles of law laid down and applicable to and in proceedings of the regular Courts in the process of judicial adjudication of causes or matters before them do not ordinarily apply to such quasi judicial arbitral proceedings which the parties by their free and voluntary choice, opted to resort to in the settlement of their disputes rather than the judicial/adjudication of the regular Courts.

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

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WHAT IS AN ARBITRATION AGREEMENT?

Arbitration is a procedure for the settlement of disputes, under which the parties agree to be bound by the decision of an arbitrator whose decision is, in general, final and legally binding on both parties. The process derives its force principally from the agreement of the parties and, in addition, from the State as a supervisor and enforcer of the legal process. So where two or more persons agree that a dispute or potential dispute between them shall be decided in a legally binding way by one or more impartial persons of their choice, in a judicial manner, the agreement is called an arbitration agreement. Common law, lex non scripta and statute are the two sources of arbitration law in Nigeria. The statutory source did not codify arbitration law to the exclusion of common law. See B. J. EXPORT & CHEMICAL CO. LTD v. KADUNA PETRO-CHEMICAL CO. LTD. (2003) FWLR Pt. 165 Pg. 445 at 469 C.A.

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

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IMPORTANCE OF PUTTING GOOD REPRESENTATION IN ARBITRAL PROCEEDINGS BY PARTIES

587. Notwithstanding Nigeria’s allegations, I have not found Nigeria’s lawyers in the Arbitration to be corrupt. But the case has shown examples where legal representatives did not do their work to the standard needed, where experts failed to do their work, and where politicians and civil servants failed to ensure that Nigeria as a state participated properly in the Arbitration. The result was that the Tribunal did not have the assistance that it was entitled to expect, and which makes the arbitration process work. And Nigeria did not in the event properly consider, select and attempt admittedly difficult legal and factual arguments that the circumstances likely required. Even without the dishonest behaviour of P&ID, Nigeria was compromised. 588. But what is an arbitral tribunal to do? The Tribunal in the present case allowed time where it felt it could and applied pressure where it felt it should. Perhaps some encouragement to better engagement can be seen as well. Yet there was not a fair fight. And the Tribunal took a very traditional approach. But was the Tribunal stuck with what parties did or did not appear to bring forward? Could and should the Tribunal have been more direct and interventionist when it was so clear throughout the Arbitration that Nigeria’s lawyers were not getting instructions, or when at the quantum hearing Nigeria’s then Leading Counsel, Chief Ayorinde, was failing to put necessary points to experts to test their opinion and Nigeria’s own experts (for whatever reason) had not done the work required? Should the Tribunal have taken the initiative to encourage exploration of new bounds of contract law and the law of damages that may today be required where major long term contracts are involved?

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

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ARBITRAL AWARDS HAVE SAME FORCE AS A JUDGEMENT OF A COURT

Onwu v. Nka (1996) 7 NWLR (Pt.458) 1 at 17 paragraph E, where the Supreme Court, per Iguh JSC. had this to say: “The law is well settled that where disputes or matters in difference between two or more parties are by consent of the disputants submitted to a domestic forum inclusive of arbitrators or a body of persons who may be invested with judicial authority to hear and determine such disputes and matters for investigation in accordance with customary law and general usages, and a decision is duly given, it is as conclusive and unimpeachable (unless and until set aside on any of the recognized grounds) as the decision of any constituted court of the land, such a decision is consequently binding on the parties and the courts in appropriate cases will enforce it.”

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PARTIES ARE BOUND BY ARBITRAL AWARD

Once parties have consented to arbitration, they have also consented to accept the final award by the arbitrator.

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

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