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

Dictum

✓ 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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AN ARBITRATION AGREEMENT IS A SEPARATE CONTRACT

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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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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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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LITIGATION PREPONDERATES OVER ARBITRATION IN THIS INSTANCES

No doubt, there are some instances where even though parties have submitted to arbitration, suitability of litigation preponderates over arbitration. These are instances among others: 1. Where the issue for resolution is essentially a legal one. 2. Where the issue turns largely on the credibility of the evidence. 3. Where immediate enforcement of a right is required. 4. Where one of the parties is intransigent. 5. Where there are multiparty disputes arising from a transaction e.t.c. Thus an arbitration agreement cannot and does not completely oust the jurisdiction of the Court. U

BA 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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JURISDICTION CAN BE RAISED AT ANYTIME NOT APPLICABLE TO ARBITRATION

For instance, the general position of the law that the issue of jurisdiction of a Court can be raised at any stage of the proceedings of a case, even for the first time at the appellate stage, is not applicable to arbitral proceedings before an arbitral Tribunal because the Act, in Section 12(3) has provided the stage at which a challenge to the jurisdiction of the arbitral Tribunal is to or may be raised by a party.

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

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