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Strengthening Nigeria’s maritime industry, laws

The experts, therefore, argue that the development of the maritime industry and admiralty laws are key ingredients in efforts to engender the country’s development.  In…

The experts, therefore, argue that the development of the maritime industry and admiralty laws are key ingredients in efforts to engender the country’s development.  In the light of this, Nigeria has evolved a proactive approach toward developing a sustainable and purposeful maritime industry. Observers note that Nigeria has always been collaborating with other countries in plans to develop its maritime sector and make the sector adaptable to emerging global challenges.

They, nonetheless, stress the need to restructure and strengthen the country’s judicial system to solve the problems faced by litigants and maritime lawyers in prosecuting maritime disputes in Nigerian courts. This is because, in spite of various legislations that confer jurisdiction on federal high courts, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in respect of admiralty matters, the problem of slow dispensation of justice in such matters still persists.

Such problems have also elicited the concern of the Nigerian judiciary, as the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, recently re-echoed the need to foster the growth of the maritime sector via the standardisation of the maritime laws. At the 11th Maritime Seminar organised for judges in Abuja, Katsina-Alu, nonetheless, expressed happiness over the growth of maritime law, adding that it had witnessed a gradual transformation into a specialised area of law.

Represented by Justice Dahiru Musdapher of the Supreme Court, Katsina-Alu expressed the hope that the seminar would aid the development of jurisprudence in admiralty laws, in particular, and the judiciary in general. “The seminar series have helped in expanding and updating the knowledge of the judicial officers in this special area of the law.

“This makes adjudication of admiralty matters brought before the courts, both at the trial stage and appellate level, much less cumbersome,’’ he said. Katsina-Alu stressed that the maritime industry was a cornerstone of transportation in international commerce, underscoring the wisdom in making efforts to address the problems facing the industry.

The Administrator of National Judicial Institute (NJI), retired Justice Umaru Eri, said the workshop was organized because of the need to duly sensitise judicial officers to their expectations in dispensing justice.

He emphasized the need for judicial officers to be up-to-date in their knowledge of law and in the awareness of emerging developments in the dynamic field of maritime law. According to Eri, admiralty law and maritime practice play pivotal roles in the development of the national economy and in fostering international trade.

“Since the law is not static, new problems arise daily as a result of changes brought about by legislation, judgments which overrule previous decisions, as well as improvements in technology and globalisation.

“It is, therefore, imperative that judicial officers should remain vibrant and up-to-date in their knowledge of law,’’ Eri said.

The NJI chief also noted that the collaboration had made it possible for Nigerian universities to offer courses in admiralty or shipping laws, as part of their curricula at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. “In order to ensure positive impact of the maritime seminar series on the development of the economy, there should be a greater emphasis on practical rather than theoretical issues,’’ he, however, said.

Besides, Eri advocated the need for judges of the state courts to participate in the maritime seminar series, instead of restricting the seminar’s coverage to only judges of the Federal High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. “Since judges from the state’s superior courts are also appointed to the appellate courts, it is, therefore, imperative to sensitise all judicial officers on issues relating to maritime laws,’’ he said.

Eri pledged that the NJI would continue to support and participate in the organization of the annual maritime seminar series. The NJI chief also welcomed the idea of launching the Cargo Defence Fund (CDF) by the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), adding that the Fund would be helpful to Nigerian exporters and importers, while pursuing their claims and legal redress.

“The courts and the Nigerian Shippers Council can, therefore, be seen to be working in tandem to offer succour to those with legitimate claims,’’ he said.

He particularly urged the workshop’s participants to discuss and brainstorm on topical issues relating to the development of maritime laws and industry practices.

The Chairperson of the NSC, Mrs Marian Ali, said that no society could thrive in the absence of justice, adding that the growth of a society partly hinged on its judiciary. She reiterated that no country could thrive on a weak judicial system, calling on all stakeholders to brace to the challenge of having a viable and sustainable judicial system in Nigeria.

“As no nation can thrive on a weak judicial system, the judiciary must, in turn, be ready to make justice accessible, affordable and available to all sections of the society,’’ she said.

Ali, nonetheless, called on the judiciary to facilitate an equitable representation of Nigerian women in all aspects of national life. “Where at least 30 per cent of the workforce is represented by women, the women should also be allowed to exhibit and exercise their fundamental human rights,’’ she said.

Mrs Doyin Rhodes-Vivour, the President of Maritime Arbitrators of Nigeria, argued that part of the focus of the maritime industry in Nigeria should be on the promotion of domestic and international arbitration.

She said that courts, arbitrators and maritime institutions were obliged to work concertedly to position Nigeria as a neutral and favourable forum for arbitration on maritime issues nationally and internationally.

She, nonetheless, stressed the need for the Federal Government to share a similar vision by providing a secured legal environment with first-class infrastructure.

Rhodes-Vivour emphasized that such government efforts would reposition Nigeria to become an attractive place for international arbitration activities.

“Nigerian legislation is supportive of arbitration. Nigerian courts have shown a tendency to set a high bar for interfering with the findings of an arbitration tribunal,’’ she said.

He said that such synergy would be beneficial in government’s efforts to rid the creeks of undesirable elements. (NANFeatures)

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