‘Speed of our administration of justice is driving investments away’
Babasola Alokolaro is the Managing Partner at The New Practice (TNP). He studied law at Warwick and graduated in 1997. Subsequently, he got LLM in International Commercial & Business Law from the University of East Anglia, Norwich in 1998.
Before starting TNP with his partners, he worked at Chief Rotimi Williams’ Chambers and Aluko & Oyebode. He also had a stint in public service between 2007 and 2011, where he served as the first General Counsel to the Governor of Lagos State.
Alokolaro is a Council member of Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL), doubling as the Vice Chairman of the Mergers, Acquisitions & Corporate Re-organisations Committee. He is also the chairman of the NBA-SBL’s 13th Annual Business Law Conference Fundraising Committee.
The speed with which commercial disputes are resolved goes a long way to determine how foreign investments are attracted to such an environment. Also, the pace and quality of the administration of justice system in a country help a lot in building confidence and making it arbitration-friendly. Babasola Alokolaro, the managing partner of The New Practice (TNT), Lagos shares exactly those views in this interview with Assistant Editor, Law and Foreign Affairs, JOSEPH ONYEKWERE. In his opinion, the slow pace of the country’s justice administration is driving investments away and the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law is set to address those issues and many more in its yearly conference between June 26 and 28, 2019.
How do you think Nigeria’s administration of justice system affects local businesses and foreign investments today and how in your opinion can we get the best out of the system?
I doubt anyone will contest the fact that the pace of our administration of justice system is sub-optimal. We are far from where we should be or where we would all like it to be. You see, no business, whether foreign or home-grown wants to be involved in commercial disputes. When this happens, the last thing business owners and drivers want is a “go-slow” process or a system that fails or refuses to understand time is money. Business people want commercial disputes resolved as quickly as possible. It is common sense. To be honest, the speed of our administration of justice is driving investments away from Nigeria. Investment agreements increasingly resort to foreign dispute resolution mechanisms, not even local arbitration in Nigeria – this is costing our economy a lot of money. You can only imagine the impact localising dispute resolution could have on our economy, but the bulk of it is going to London. I think the best (not the easiest) way to improve our system is the constant training and retooling of the judiciary, a complete but systemic system reset, entrenching effective and efficient case management in our commercial courts and promoting the use of local arbitration by limiting the right of appeal against decisions enforcing arbitral awards. These will ultimately aid in decongesting our courts, improve the understanding of the judiciary and practitioners and show the world we are truly open for business.
What do you consider the essentials of a 21st century legal practice?
Innovation, innovation and innovation! If you don’t adapt to the times, you will be left behind. Our practice is a continually evolving one. A few years ago, telecommunications was in, now we are in the tech age – look at how much we do with our phones on a daily basis. There’s a whole new generation out there and the way business is done and will be done will keep changing. Unfortunately, the law always has to play catch-up to keep abreast with these changes – that is a responsibility we mustn’t ignore.
Additionally, it is critical for us to train and equip the next generation with the skill sets and basics we learnt as professionals. A good work environment promoting creativity and learning is also essential.
What in your opinion is the future of the legal profession? And what is your ultimate desire for the legal sector in Nigeria?
This profession will continue to guide business and with innovation, the outlook cannot be brighter. My ultimate desire is to have a more efficient administration of justice system in Nigeria, leveraging technology to provide fit for purpose legal services essential to life and business in the 21st century.
A new government has just come into place, what sort of agenda would top business lawyers within the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) be setting for this administration?
Mr. President’s assent to the Companies and Allied Matters bill will remain a matter of top priority. We are also hoping that this administration will consolidate on the initial traction it gained in its bid to improve the “ease of doing business” by doing a lot more to make Nigeria an investor–friendly nation. Improving on the state of the nation’s infrastructure is also critical.
You are involved in the preparations for the forth-coming NBA-SBL annual conference. Are there plans to cater for young lawyers who are unable to fund themselves to the conference? If so, what are some of these plans?
Hand on heart, I’m proud to say the NBA-SBL conference is one of the best international conferences delivered in Nigeria. Even though the conference registration costs are already highly subsidised, we are sponsoring approximately 100 young lawyers this year. Interestingly, we put out a social media challenge for young lawyers recently. We challenged them to post a one minute video (stating what the theme of the conference meant to them) using the hash tags: #MySBLGIEChallenge and #NBASBL2019. In addition to the sponsorship package (including transportation and accommodation arrangements for those living outside Lagos), we are giving to the shortlisted candidates, the winner, Amazing Ikpala (Abuja branch) the opportunity to be on one of the conference panels.
Are participants at the NBA-SBL conferences largely the same every year or would you say the audience is driven either by the theme, the sub-topics or the selected panel at each conference?
We have a primary constituency of participants that turn up every year, made up of Nigeria’s business lawyers, regional business lawyers and foreign counsel. Participation at the annual conference also improves every year, with an increasing number of delegates from the private and public sector, as well as foreign delegates from the field of law and otherwise. The increasing participation is largely driven by an improved faculty year on year, and the conference Planning Committee’s creativity in bringing up contemporary burgeoning business issues that set the themes and topics of our conferences.
As chairman of the fund raising committee for the 13th annual business law conference, what sort of partnerships are you looking to form, to ensure the right stakeholders are in the room?
Going by the theme of this year’s conference, we are looking to crystalize our ongoing partnerships with various regulators that affect the spheres within which we all operate. We are also looking to do the same with the new government in Lagos State and its governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu.
Can you tell us how you engage your partners in both public and private sectors after the conference to ensure that the conversations held at the conference lead to policy changes?
Our partner engagements with all stakeholders in the private and public sectors are crucial to ensuring commercial activity thrives in Nigeria. Our role as catalysts to business requires our constant engagement with regulators who affect our respective clients’ businesses. This is with a view to sharing industry knowledge and skills, and engendering international best practices towards attracting investment into the country. For example, we met with the new Lagos State Governor last month (when he was still governor-elect) and beyond asking and seeking what the business community can gain from his government, we offered to share our knowledge and expertise with Lagos State public servants in the different ministries, departments and agencies who have a say and impact on commercial activity in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre. We are open to doing this across all the commercial zones in the country, to aid growth, investment and employment.
How do you hope this conference would address issues surrounding the assent to Companies And Allied Matters (CAM) bill, as we are hopeful that a gathering of this magnitude would do?
As I mentioned earlier, the business community is looking forward to the President’s assent to the Companies and Allied Matters Bill. This conference will re-echo the views of the business community and offer valuable insights on why Mr. President should do the necessary.
How are NBA-SBL partners and sponsors involved in the process of ensuring a successful conference?
Our partners and sponsors have been amazing. Despite the present economic climate, we have received tremendous support from our foreign colleagues, as well as law firms and businesses operating in Nigeria. As I mentioned earlier, our conferences are highly subsidised, so, beyond the financial support we receive, industry knowledge, expertise and mentorship are also some of the intangibles our stakeholders endow to the SBL.
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