The Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) has deployed series of measures, with the latest being the Dispute Resolution Center (NDRC), to aggressively position the country’s Free Trade Zones.
Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, Managing Director of NEPZA said such deployment was necessary in Nigeria’s Free Trade Zones as haven for unlimited investments.
Adesugba made the remark in his welcome address at the inauguration of the center through Webinar today in Abuja.
Adesugba, also the Chief Executive Officer of the Authority, stated that the NEPZA DRC was an offshoot of a reform and well-thought-out strategic plan to ensure the country’s Special Economic Zone scheme became a global brand free from long drawn conflicts and disputes.
The NEPZA boss explained that the established of the center was aimed at adopting an internationally-tailored arbitration framework to amicably resolve disputes within the free trade zone landscape in the most cost-effective manner.
He stated that the center was a novelty and state-of-the-art spot domiciled at the Headquarters of the Authority, noting that the managers and facilitators of the centers were legal professionals drawn from different spheres.
Adesugba further explained that the center drew its strength from other International Alternative Dispute Resolution frameworks including that of the Singapore Convention on Mediation, New York Convention on Arbitration and the country’s Arbitration and Mediation Act 2023.
“We are more interested in the wellbeing of our investors and rather than allow them waste time in long drawn legal battles, we will encourage them through this innovation to explore our more seamless, cost-effective way of resolving their commercial disputes.
“Employees within the free trade zone ecosystem should also be encouraged to approach the center as well to resolve their cases against their employers.
“Our intension is to create a cozy and business friendly environment good enough for global investment competitiveness,’’ Adesugba said.
Chief Ameka Obegolu (SAN), the First-Deputy President of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) while delivering his keynote address, expressed satisfaction on the uncommon reforms of the managing director since his appointment in 2020, adding that the NEPZA ADR Center was a remarkable legal tool to resolve disputes among free zone investors.
Obegolu, however said: “disputes is inevitable in any commercially viable entity, hence the need for a dispute resolution mechanism that will accommodate the concerns of investors.
NEPZA has taken a step in the right direction by setting up a Dispute Resolution Center to address challenges associated investment disputes.’’
He said the fundamental objective of establishing the Free Zones is to boost the national economy by attracting FDIs, employment generation, export-oriented manufacturing, adding that the right steps must be taken at all time to jealously guard the business ecosystem.
Prince Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN), former Attorney-General of the Federal (AGF) described the development as apt, adding that it would build investors’ confidence in the ability of NEPZA to manage their affairs optimally.
Kayode, said deliberate steps must be taken to popularize the center, adding
that it was time the Authority displayed knowledge and expertise in resolving commercial disputes that could stiffen investments into the free zones.
The meeting was highly enriched by the insights and presentations of the panellists that included Dr Agada Elechi, President Institute of Chartered Mediation and Conciliation (ICMC) and Dr Amy Jadesinmi, MD/CEO LADOL.
Others were Mr Sina Adegbite, Secretary-General, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA); and Dr Chiwendu Madumere, Senior Legal Practitioner & Consultant (NDRC).
Jadesimi, stated that foreign investors had negative perception about investing in the country, but however pointed that such negative perception had always changed when they entered the business environment.
She explained that lack of information and knowledge of the alternative dispute mechanism in Nigeria had often provided preference of litigation over ADR, according to her, the development will enhance a more predictable business environment for investors.
Madumere, said the center had both Mediation and Arbitration mechanisms to address investment disputes that may arise among investors.
“The beautiful thing about the Disputes Resolution Mechanism is in the fact that disputes can even be avoided before it occurs.
“Disputes arising from SEZs can be classified and settled as international business disputes which can be resolved either under the Singapore Convention on Mediation or New York Convention on Arbitration.
Elechi stated that: “the provisions of the Arbitration and Mediation Act 2023, ensure that outcomes from the center are viewed as binding judgments of the court.’’
He also said that it was important that the center collaborated with other centers in Nigeria and abroad to be able to provide an all-inclusive partnership in order to gain the required recognition.
“Aside the other four major ADR mechanisms, the Good-Faith Negotiations and Adjudication and Expert Determination principles should be included to give a widen scope to resolving conflicts,’’ Elechi said.
It was recommended among others that the use of the center should be part of the pre-licensed conditions for Free Zone Enterprises and the use of technology should be leveraged in providing disputes resolution services.