…as CJN directs Judges to shun suits with arbitration clause
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Acting President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, SAN, on Monday, decried what he termed “crawling” judicial process in the country.
Osibanjo who spoke at the opening ceremony of 3rd Annual Judges Workshop on Petroleum, Gas and Power Sectors, taking place as the National Judicial Institute, NJI, in Abuja, tasked the judiciary to implement measures that would speed up justice delivery in Nigeria.
The Acting President who was represented at the event by the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu, described the present slow judicial process in the country as a nightmare for investors.
He said: “We need to evolve measures that will speed up the judicial decisions. We also need these decisions not to be too complicated for investors to easily understand”.
He said there was need for clarity in decisions of different courts, especially on commercial disputes, a system he said would engender credibility and reduce forum shopping by litigants.
“We need to ensure sanctity of international arbitration. Also, judges should be trained in petroleum and energy sector so that they would to be fully equipped to handle the emerging trends in the sector”, he added.
While emphasising that petroleum and the power sectors provide 80 per cent of Nigeria’s revenue and over 80 percent of foreign direct investment, Osinbajo, expressed worries that as critical as the sectors are, “if the country is not positioned to supply the necessary power supply essential for driving the economy, the country will not make much progress”.
Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, who declared the workshop open, warned Judges across the federation not to allow technicalities to stand in the way of justice.
He said it was the only way the judiciary could sustain public confidence in its ability to do justice.
Justice Onnoghen said the workshop was to enlighten judges on global best practices in confronting challenges that may arise in the power and petroleum sectors.
The CJN however noted that conflicting judgements were a necessary part of the judiciary, saying it helps to strengthen the system.
“Conflicting decisions unfortunately, are necessary because when you approach a court in Lagos, your facts are stated and the facts of that case are also different in a court in Port Harcourt.
“So, the judge takes a decision based on the facts before him and the law, and that is why we have the Court of Appeal who will look at the law and decide.”
More so, the CJN directed Judges not to entertain any case instituted to enforce a contract, or claim damages arising from a breach thereof, in which the parties have, by consent, included an arbitration clause and without first ensuring that the clause is invoked and enforced.
He said: “It has come to my notice that some courts assume jurisdiction in matters of Breach of Contract arising from contracts with Arbitration Clauses.
“It goes without saying that no investor, whether domestic or international would want his investment tied down in seemingly endless litigation, especially where there is an Arbitration Clause in the contract.
“In such cases the use of arbitration must be employed. The courts must insist on enforcement of the arbitration clause by declining jurisdiction and award substantial costs against parties engaged in the practice.
“May I draw the attention of heads of courts that the time saving nature of an arbitration proceeding encourages heightened commercial and economic activities as well as foreign investment and therefore needs the support and encouragement of the judiciary”.