The regulatory framework for the Oil and Gas Sector remains fraught with the need for modernization in order to address emerging trends and threats that face the sector writes Onu Okorie

ALL the presentations during the opening ceremony of the recent workshop on oil and gas for judges organised by the petroleum technology development fund PTDF in Abuja indicate that capacity development is the way to go if Nigerian must achieve its aims in that sector. The Executive Secretary PTDF, Dr. Bello Aliyu Gusau explained that the Organisation is an agency of the Federal Government established by law to build capacity in the oil and gas industry on a continuous basis. And the focus in discharging this mandate is on both human and institutional capacity building including scholarships, short-term trainings, upgrading educational and training institutions and many other related activities. In that regards he stated that there are two major reasons that made the programme imperative. First, the oil and gas industry is by and large constituted by a network of legal relationships. This could be between the Nigerian State and International Oil Companies, between different partnering companies, between host communities and producing companies or even between suppliers and consumers of the products of the industry. “As you very well know, adjudications on these relationships, more often than not, end up before your lordships. It is therefore imperative for judicial officers to keep abreast of the emerging challenges regarding these relationships.” He stated. Secondly he argued that the Nigerian oil and gas industry is presently undergoing very major and fundamental changes, including the introduction of series of new legislations that would govern the operations of the industry. Already, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill has passed the Senate and is being processed in the House of Representatives. In addition, the Fiscal Framework Legislation and Host Communities Participation Bills are getting accelerated treatments in the National Assembly. According to him, “All these coming legislations will eventually come before your Lordships for possible interpretation and adjudication.” “It is for these reasons that we reached out to the National Judicial Institute (NJI) for partnership in putting this programme together. I must at this juncture express our gratitude to the Administrator of the Institute, Justice Rosaline Irorefe Bozimo and her team for the way and manner they responded to our proposal.” In his contribution, Hon. Justice R.P.I Bozimo, said that the programme is one of the numerous exciting times for the National Judicial Institute in particular and the Nigerian Judiciary in general because of the growth in capacity building we have continued to record in recent years. According to him, the National Judicial Institute is statutorily mandated to organize courses, workshops and conferences in order to ensure the continuous judicial education for Judicial Officers as the world is ever evolving and the Nigerian Judiciary cannot afford to be left behind. “In line with the foregoing, this Workshop adopts a timely theme to wit: “Enhancing the Quality of Judicial Services in the Petroleum Sector”, which indicates the hindsight of the organisers aimed at enhancing Judicial Service within the Oil and Gas sector.” He also said that the Oil and Gas Sector contributes the largest share of revenue to Nigeria’s economy. Despite our Government’s pivot towards diversification of the economy, this sector remains an ever present necessity to Nigerians as the country’s major source of revenue revolves around it. The regulatory framework for the Oil and Gas Sector remains fraught with the need for modernization in order to address emerging trends and threats that face the sector. Consequently, our Judges need to be better acquainted with these developments in the Oil and Gas Sector in order to better perform their adjudicatory duties; noting that as society evolves, we must also continue to be dynamic in order to adequately address the conflicts that will inevitably arise. “I daresay that while the Nigerian oil and gas sector has grown exponentially in recent years, rapid growth has led to increasingly complex and dynamic transactions, inevitably resulting in disputes.” “It goes without saying therefore that Judges are now required to possess adequate knowledge and skills to efficiently adjudicate on the cases that may come before them. This has ultimately informed the need for this Workshop to be held so as to expose Judicial Officers to changes within legal and technical aspects of the oil and gas sector.” He points out that the impact of oil spillage and environmental degradation is indeed a recurring decimal in the oil producing regions of Nigeria. In addition, legal issues pertaining to remittance of royalties as well as tax regulation in the oil and gas sector are continuously shrouded in controversy; which requires the attention of all stakeholders to address. This Workshop, therefore, affords interested parties the opportunity to dialogue on such burning issues related to the sector. OUR Judges must be proactive by not allowing technicalities stand in the way of substantive justice, especially with regard to oil and gas disputes which accrue huge financial costs for the litigating parties.” “In order to sustain public confidence in the Judiciary both locally and internationally, it is my considered view that the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution will engender timely disposition of cases. I therefore encourage you to imbibe this process.” “It is my firm belief that this Workshop will bring to the front-burner some salient issues on the oil and gas sector and the means of resolving same without any loss of precious time; thereby assisting Judicial Officers in the adjudication and resolution of lingering disputes in the sector.” Speaking also in his keynote address the chief justice of nigeria, hon. justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, said that the workshop seeks to highlight matters that are germane and critical to the ongoing reforms being experienced in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. “With the theme of this workshop is “enhancing the quality of judicial services in the petroleum sector”. Indeed these reforms are epitomised by the willingness of the government to promote transparency on issues dealing with oil and gas matters.” he said. “In addition, the recent passage of the Petroleum Industry (Governance) Bill is an indication that the government is steering the oil and gas sector in the right direction.” He said that the Workshop is organised with the objective of keeping our Judges abreast with the role of the Judiciary in ensuring mastery of the dealings in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. Indeed, the adjudicatory duty of a Judge can only be performed optimally when he remains up to date with the emerging developments and trends in jurisprudence pertaining to the oil and gas sector. The recent innovations in the oil and gas industry will introduce new legal regimes that will impact the quality of justice delivery. As such, it is necessary to acquaint stakeholders in the sector, as well as our Judges, with the rudiments of the sector in order to better prepare them for the inevitable disputes that may arise. I believe that this forum will be extremely beneficial to you in the performance of your duties and by extension the society at large. “It is pertinent to note that the image of the Judiciary is determined by what we do as Judicial Officers in the performance of our duties.” “Therefore, our responsibilities as Judicial Officers, must endear the hearts of the populace and litigants alike. Hence, you must be knowledgeable in the law and be in charge of your courts to ensure speedy resolution of disputes which in turn serves as an Economic Development Mechanism, as investors and other major players in the industry will remain confident that their investments are safe.” He urged Judicial Officers to encourage the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods, such as Arbitration and Mediation, which will engender the expeditious resolution of cases. “My Lords, I must not fail to emphasize that you must have recourse to the arbitration clauses contained in Oil and Gas Agreements and ensure that parties respect these clauses before exploring the option of litigation on the matter.” He argued that it is on record that timely intervention of the courts at critical points in this country has certainly contributed in no small measure to the peace and stability in the country today. I make bold to say, without any fear of contradiction, that the Nigerian Judiciary is a key partner in ensuring stability in the oil and gas sector by interpretation of the relevant laws in the industry. According to him, “My Lords, it is my expectation that participants will be enlightened on global best practices and measures adopted by regulators in resolving disputes arising in this sphere of the economy.” The Petroleum Technology Development Fund has been vested statutorily with special intervention powers and tools for the purpose of encouraging research and development in the oil and gas sector. He said that on its own part, the Judiciary has been, and will continue to live up to its constitutional mandate by correctly applying the law and proactively supporting the regulators in their bid to ensure growth and stability in the oil and gas sector in line with the Rule of Law.

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