CAN WE MEET YOU?
My name is Afolabi Caxton-Martins. I am a founding partner of the firm of Adepetun, Caxton-Martins, Agbor & Segun, also known as ACAS-Law. I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1984 and ACAS-Law was founded in 1991. I come from a family of lawyers that influenced me. My late father was a former Chief Magistrate of Lagos State and his brother was late Justice Caxton-Martins of the High Court of Lagos State. Also, two of my sisters are lawyers.
WHAT ARE YOUR PRACTICE AREAS?
I style myself as a corporate lawyer with a disputes background. Today most of my work involves advising clients on cross-border joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, infrastructure projects particularly in the ports and terminals and telecoms space. In terms of my foreign investment work, I also advise on the related anti-corruption compliance. I mentioned earlier that I have a disputes background. I am a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and keep myself busy acting as counsel on interesting arbitral disputes.
WHAT BIRTHED ACAS LAW?
In 1991, after almost seven years of pupilage, I felt it was time to move on and made a conscious decision to establish a partnership. I had a very clear vision of the type of practice I wanted and with good fortune, I was introduced to Sola Adepetun. We formed ACAS-law after discussing a possible collaboration for less than one hour. At the time Sola practiced as Sola Adepetun & Co. and his focus was banking and finance. We wanted a firm that could offer a diverse range of legal services with international standards, a modern full service corporate and commercial practice with capacity for large high value transactions, clearly distinguishable from a sole practice.
WHAT FACTORS INFLUENCED YOUR CURRENT PRACTICE AREAS OF LAW?
I enjoy challenging work. The more complex the transaction the greater the excitement. I find infrastructure projects particularly rewarding because of the nature of the work and the challenges it throws up in our peculiar environment and because of the public benefit a successful project has the potential to bring. With respect to my arbitration practice, I started out as a barrister and have always enjoyed advocacy. I halted my court work when we set up the firm and had monthly salaries to pay. The long delays in court ate significantly into my business development time so I stopped taking court cases and looked more to arbitration.
AS AN EXPERIENCED ARBITRATOR, WHAT ARE THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF ARBITRATION TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT?
I think being a pro-arbitration country has contributed significantly to foreign direct investment in Nigeria. Sophisticated international businessmen need to be convinced that there is a legal framework for the industry to which their investment relates and that they will have access to justice in a reasonably timely manner with a level playing field. Unfortunately, it is well known that our courts are congested and that it takes years to resolve a dispute. Also, Nigeria’s notoriety for corruption has made resolving disputes in a Nigerian court unattractive. International dispute resolution with a foreign seat is the standard. I should mention that the investment protection laws in place are also an incentive.
On the flip side, one of the drawbacks has been the enforcement of arbitral awards. I hope that the good work that has been done to get Nigeria to be more pro-arbitration and to build up its arbitral institutions will not be eroded by the incessant challenges to international and domestic arbitral awards by the loser. The New York Convention to which Nigeria is a party sets limited grounds for setting aside an award, but it seems that it is almost automatic that an application to recognise and enforce an award will be challenged including by a government counterparty. Still, Nigeria is a hugely attractive market that cannot be ignored and investors seeking to do business here will seek to mitigate their risks as best as they can and dispute resolution through arbitration has helped to convince them to proceed.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO SUCCESSFULLY AND EFFECTIVELY COMBINE THE PRACTICE OF LAW, SHIPPING, FOREIGN INVESTMENT, INFRASTRUCTURE, CONSIDERING THE SERMON OF SPECIALIZATION?
‘Laughs’ well don’t believe everything you read online about me. – just the good things. No seriously, I certainly do not hold myself out as a shipping lawyer. We have a very active shipping group led by Mrs. Funke Agbor (SAN). So, any questions relating to Admiralty law and shipping in general should be directed to her. Although I do have basic knowledge of Admiralty law, enough to cross sell our services in that area. However, if instructed, it would not be me advising on cargo claims or the arrest or release of a vessel or on the drafting a ship mortgage. We have experts with deep sectoral knowledge for that.
WHAT IS THE GROWTH OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY TO THE NIGERIAN INDUSTRY? HOW WELL HAVE YOU FARED AND WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PROMOTE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IN TERMS OF OUR DAY TO DAY BUSINESS ACTIVITIES?
Well, to be honest, I’m not sure that we fared very well. I think a large majority of people do not fully appreciate the value of their Intellectual property and the need to protect it. Perhaps what is needed is more effort to instill the importance of its benefits in our national consciousness through a national policy. There are various bill at different stages in parliament designed to provide us with a holistic and comprehensive set of IP laws which are modern and up to date. I think it is much more urgent now for us to progress the growth of IP as there is a new generation of entrepreneurs across the sectors who will be drivers and will help greatly to rebuild the economy. These young creatives must be protected.
AS AN EXPERIENCED LEGAL PRACTITIONER IN ARBITRATION, WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF ARBITRATION IN NIGERIA AND WHAT OPPORTUNITies AWAIT YOUNG LAWYERS IN THIS INDUSTRY?
It is evident that the courts are congested and not as efficient as they could be. Therefore, the need to continue to encourage alternative forms of dispute resolution seems the obvious and sensible thing to do. I think arbitration in the broad sense is very much a growth area including for low-value disputes. I would recommend any young lawyer that has an interest in disputes to take the courses and develop knowledge and skill in the practice.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON DISPUTE RESOLUTION?
The Covid-19 pandemic resulting in the shutdown of our administration of justice system has exposed its shortcomings but at the same time has prompted a serious debate on the importance of a policy and regulations that govern virtual court hearings. Leading lawyers and judges are now promoting remote court hearings and discussing the initiatives taken by countries such as the United Kingdom, India, Kenya, and Uganda to reopen under the Covid-19 lockdown conditions. And against the backdrop of this positive discourse, the Supreme Court has ruled that two virtual court proceedings held during the lockdown were not unconstitutional. I believe that the impact and certainly one of the legacies of Covid-19 will be that in the “new normal” online dispute resolution for a variety of disputes increase and will be considered a cheaper, faster, more informal, and decisive way to resolve disputes.
Diverse law team
- Mary Martins
Founding Partner, Diverse Law
- Philips Adekemi
Founding Partner, Diverse Law
- Chubiyojo Akagu
Vice President, Legal Personality Committee
- Oluwadamilola Fadeyibi
Head of Research, Legal Personality Committee
- Adedamola Adetula
Editor-In -Chief, Legal Personality Committee