Written by Anita Omonuwa Ogbalu, MCIArB
Nigeria is gradually growing into a hub for commercial arbitration in the West African region. The evolving preference for arbitration over the country’s traditional court system is because the latter tends to be protracted, with frustrating adjournments. To put this in perspective, it is typical for a civil claim to last an average of 8 – 14 years in proceedings from a trial court to the Supreme Court. An example of this protraction was observed in Amadi v NNPC where an interlocutory appeal bothering on jurisdiction lasted for 13 years.
In view of the above, parties are beginning to appreciate arbitration as a viable alternative means of resolving disputes, with its antecedent benefits. Hence, it is crucial to examine whether some of the perceived benefits of arbitration, such as the privacy and confidentiality of the process, are optimally available in the Nigerian arbitration space. This author holds the view that whilst the privacy of the proceedings is honoured as a direct consequence of the arbitration agreement, the perception that a confidentiality obligation exists by default is sadly inaccurate.
This article discusses the concept of confidentiality by taking a birds-eye view of various jurisdictions but with a primary focus on Nigeria. Further, this article provides tips parties can adopt when drafting arbitration agreements where Nigeria is the arbitral seat in order to guarantee the confidentiality of the proceedings.