By;Dorothy Ufot SAN 
Nigeria’s investment laws and policies are geared towards
liberalisation, deregulation and competition. Accordingly, all sectors
of the economy are open to both foreign and domestic investment. As a
result of this favourable climate and the country’s economic and
political stability, Nigeria has become increasingly attractive to
foreign investors. However, with increased investment comes increased
potential for disputes. This update examines the infrastructure
available in Nigeria for the arbitration of investment disputes.

Bilateral investment treaties
Nigeria has entered into bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with the following countries:

  • Egypt (not yet in force);
  • Finland (not yet in force);
  • France (August 1 1991);
  • Germany (not yet in force);
  • Korea (February 1 1999);
  • the Netherlands (February 1 1994);
  • Spain (not yet in force);
  • Switzerland (April 1 2003);
  • Turkey (not yet in force); and
  • the United Kingdom (December 11 1990).

All of these BITs explicitly afford the following protection to prospective foreign investors:

  • fair and equitable treatment;
  • standard protection against expropriation, which provides that
    expropriation must be in the public interest and be accompanied by
    prompt, adequate and effective compensation. It must further take place
    under “due process of law”;
  • most favoured nation treatment;
  • full protection and security for all investments within Nigeria;
  • a standard umbrella clause under which the state undertakes to
    observe any obligation it may have entered into with regard to
    investments of foreign nationals or other contracting parties;
  • the free transfer of payments without restrictions in a freely convertible currency at the prevailing market rate; and
  • the resolution of foreign investment disputes through arbitration.

Investment arbitration
Investment arbitration is essentially statute driven. The relevant
statute governing investment arbitration in Nigeria is the Nigerian
Investment Promotion Commission Act (Cap N117, Laws of the Federation of
Nigeria 2004). This statute, which was first enacted in 1995, deals
extensively with investment promotion in Nigeria, with specific
provision for the resolution of disputes arising between an investor and
any government of the Nigerian Federation or any agencies of
Section 26 of the acts provides for the resolution of investment disputes through arbitration as follows:

“1. Where a dispute arises between an
investor and any Government of the Federation in respect of an
enterprise, all efforts shall be made through mutual discussion to reach
an amicable settlement.
2. Any dispute between an investor and
any Government of the Federation in respect of an enterprise to which
this Act applies which is not amicably settled through mutual
discussions, may be submitted at the option of the aggrieved party to
arbitration as follows:-
a) in the case of a Nigerian investor,
in accordance with the rules of procedure for arbitration as specified
in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act; or
b) in the case of a foreign investor,
within the framework of any bilateral or multilateral agreement on
investment protection to which the Federal Government and the country of
which the investor is a national are parties; or
c) in accordance with any other
national or international machinery for the settlement of investment
disputes agreed on by the parties.
3. Where in respect of any dispute,
there is disagreement between the investor and the Federal Government as
to the method of dispute settlement to be adopted, the International
Centre for Settlement of Investment Dispute Rules shall apply.

All Nigerian BITs provide a right of recourse to international
arbitration. The BITs with France, Germany, Korea, the Netherlands and
the United Kingdom provide for exclusive ICSID arbitration. All other
BITs allow investors to pursue an arbitration claim through ICSID or ad hoc arbitration in accordance with the UNCITRAL rules or any other rules mutually agreed by the parties.
The Spain BIT allows for the use of the ICSID Additional Facility if a
contracting party is not an ICSID Convention country, while the Turkey
BIT makes express alternative reference to the International Chamber of
Commerce International Court of Arbitration.
As yet, no publicly available awards have been issued against Nigeria
under any of the BITs. Equally, the Nigerian courts have never been
called upon to enforce an investment treaty award against Nigeria.
However, the courts have demonstrated a pro-enforcement bias in the
sphere of commercial arbitration.
Two cases have so far been filed against Nigeria at ICSID in respect
of its investment treaties, but both were discontinued before the
conclusion of the arbitration proceedings:

  • Guadalupe Gas Products Corporation v Nigeria (ICSID) Case ARB/78/1 – discontinued on July 22 1980; and
  • Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Limited v Federal Republic of Nigeria (ICSID) Case ARB/07/18 – discontinued on August 1 2011.

Arbitration framework
Arbitration and Conciliation Act
The legal framework for arbitration in Nigeria is set out in the
Arbitration and Conciliation Act (Cap A18, Laws of the Federation of
Nigeria, 2004). The Arbitration and Conciliation Act is modelled on the
United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model
Law, and applies throughout the Nigerian Federation.
ICSID Convention
Nigeria ratified the International Centre for Settlement of Investment
Disputes (ICSID) Convention as far back as August 23 1965. The ICSID
Convention has been implemented in Nigeria through the International
Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (Enforcement of Awards) Act
(Cap 120, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004).
The ICSID Act provides for the enforcement of ICSID awards directly
at the Nigerian Supreme Court as the court of first instance.
New York Convention
Nigeria became a signatory to the New York Convention 1958 on March 17
1970, adopting both the reciprocal and commercial reservations. The
convention came into force in June 1970.
The New York Convention has been implemented in the Arbitration and
Conciliation Act. One of the act’s stated objectives is to make the
convention applicable to any award issued in Nigeria or any contracting
state arising out of international commercial arbitration. The
convention was implemented in Nigeria without modification and its full
text is set out in the second schedule of the act.
Section 54 of the act makes the New York Convention expressly applicable to Nigeria by providing that:

where the recognition and enforcement
of any award arising out of an international commercial arbitration are
sought, the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign
Awards (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Convention’) set out in the
second schedule to this decree shall apply to any award made in Nigeria
or any contracting state:
a) provided that such contracting
state has reciprocal legislation recognising the enforcement of arbitral
awards made in Nigeria in accordance with the provisions of the
b) that the Convention shall apply only to differences arising out of legal relationship which is Contractual.”

Section 51(1) of the act, on the recognition and enforcement of
awards, provides that: “an arbitral award shall, irrespective of the
country in which it is made, be recognised as binding and shall, upon
application in writing to the court, be enforced by the court.”
This provision received judicial backing from the Nigerian Court of
Appeal when the court, in upholding the recognition and enforcement of
an arbitral award issued in the United Kingdom in Tulip Nigeria Limited v Noleggioe Transport Maritime SAS ((2011) 4 NWLR (Part 1237) at p254), held as follows:

By the provision of section 51(1) of
the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, an arbitral award shall
irrespective of the country in which it is made, be recognised as
binding subject to the provisions of the Act, and shall upon application
in writing to the court, be enforced by the court.

The court further held in Tulip that “A foreign arbitral
award is now enforceable in Nigeria directly pursuant to the New York
Convention to which Nigeria is a signatory”; and that “An action shall
not be brought after the expiration of six years from the date on which
the cause of action accrued in an action to enforce an arbitral award”.
Court support for arbitration
The Nigerian courts are arbitration friendly and maintain a
pro-enforcement bias in relation to the enforcement of arbitration
agreements and arbitral awards. In Onward Enterprises LTD v MV Matrix (2010) 2 NWLR (part 1179) 530, the Court of Appeal held that:

once an arbitration clause is
retained in a contract which is valid and the dispute is within the
contemplation of the clause, the court will give regard to the contract
by enforcing the arbitration clause. It is therefore the general policy
of the court to hold parties to the bargain which they freely entered.

In the more recent case of Continental Sale Limited v R Shipping Inc
(2013) 4 NWLR (part 1343) 67, the appellant – a Nigerian party – denied
being given proper notice of the appointment of an arbitrator or of the
commencement of arbitration proceedings, despite its acknowledgment of a
notice of arbitration sent to it by email (for more details please see “Appeal court rules on serving arbitration notice by email“).
In upholding the high court decision registering the UK arbitral award
in Nigeria, preparatory to enforcement, the Court of Appeal held as

1. The spurious argument that service of notice was not in writing cannot fly.
2. Email is a form of communication
that is set down in writing. It is not oral. The fact that it is
electronic is immaterial. It is not in thin air. It can be downloaded
and is as real as a hard copy of the letter or mail in your hand.
3. Since the intention of the email
messages and the correspondence from the Respondent, the Solicitor and
the Arbitrator to the Appellant was to achieve the result of
communicating the fact that the arbitration proceedings had been
initiated at various stages of the process, there has been effective
service of the whole arbitration process on the Appellant.

Arbitration infrastructure
The following arbitration institutions operate in Nigeria:

  • the Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration, Lagos;
  • the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Nigeria Branch;
  • the Society for Construction Industry Arbitration;
  • the Maritime Arbitrators Association of Nigeria;
  • the Arbitration Commission of the ICC Nigerian National Committee; and
  • the Lagos Court of Arbitration.

The Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration in Lagos
shares the same pedigree as the regional centres in Cairo and Kuala
Lumpur. It is purpose built, with internationally comparable facilities
and hearing rooms. The centre is centrally located in one of Nigeria’s
prime business districts, with close proximity to the international
airport and choice hotels and restaurants.
Arbitration proceedings also frequently take place at the Hilton Hotel in Abuja, Nigeria’s administrative capital.
Nigeria also boasts the following qualified arbitration practitioners:

  • 12 chartered arbitrators;
  • 89 fellows;
  • 290 members; and
  • 1,235 associates.

It is also home to many other available personnel required for the
conduct of international arbitration, such as experienced counsel,
registrars, secretaries and recorders.
However, despite the abundant availability of resources in Africa and
the existence of major arbitrations involving African states,
particularly in the oil and gas and energy sectors, African arbitrators
and counsel are seldom appointed to participate in these proceedings.
Instead, both foreign and African parties invariably instruct foreign
counsel, who in turn appoint foreign arbitrators. When counsel are
appointed from Africa, they are appointed often only to advise on local
Challenges of arbitrating in Nigeria
The challenges of arbitrating in Nigeria include the following:

  • the risk of anti-arbitration injunctions being issued;
  • perceptions of corruption;
  • the obsolete Federal Arbitration Law; and
  • the length of time that it takes for arbitration and enforcement
    cases to reach the Supreme Court for final determination of the rights
    of the parties.

Tips for successful arbitration
Arbitration clauses should be thoroughly negotiated and properly
drafted in precise and unambiguous terms, in order to avoid intervention
by the courts. Prospective foreign investors should also appoint
knowledgeable counsel during the negotiation stage of the agreement. In
the event of a dispute arising, prospective foreign investors should
make an informed selection of arbitrators, because once these have been
appointed they cannot generally be replaced.
The arbitration proceedings should further be conducted
expeditiously, bearing in mind the limitation period for the
commencement of an enforcement action, which is six years from the date
of accrual of the cause of action in a simple contract. The Supreme
Court has ruled that this time begins to run from accrual of the cause
of action resulting in the arbitration proceedings, and not from the
date of the award. Accordingly, time is of the essence for the
commencement of enforcement proceedings.
The Supreme Court has also held that the timeframe for instituting an
action to set aside an arbitral award is 90 days from the date of the
award. However, arbitration awards are not lightly set aside. As Nigeria
is a signatory to the New York Convention, recognition and enforcement
of arbitral awards may be refused only on the grounds recognised under
the New York Convention.
Nigeria has signed and implemented the New York and Washington
Conventions on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral
awards, has signed bilateral and multilateral investment treaties
offering full protection to foreign investors – including recourse to
international and/or investment arbitration – and has in place the
necessary personnel and infrastructure for the successful conduct of
arbitration, including arbitration-friendly courts. Despite this,
however, few international arbitrations take place in Nigeria.
With the increased potential for disputes arising from increased
foreign investment in the country, Nigeria should rightly become an
equally attractive destination for international arbitration, and now is
the time to make this happen.
There is thus an urgent need to address this issue and build capacity
for the resolution of investment disputes both within Nigeria and
across the wider region, if the continent is also to benefit from the
results of increased foreign direct investment inflow into Africa.

For further information on this topic please contact Dorothy Ufot SAN at Dorothy Ufot & Co by telephone (+234 1 463 1723) or email (