As NBA-SBL Eastern Zone unveils legal opportunities

By Adewale Kupoluyi

A plethora of business opportunities have been opened for legal practitioners at the just-concluded Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) inaugural edition of the NBA-SBL Eastern Zonal Conference, held at the Base Events Centre, Independence Layout, Enugu, Enugu State, themed “Unlocking Prosperity: Exploring the Legal and Entrepreneurial Business Opportunities in the Eastern Zone of Nigeria”.

This piece of information was given at the end of the one-day conference in a communique jointly signed by the NBA-SBL Eastern Zone Committee Chairman, Dr. Jude Ezegwui and Chairman, Conference Planning Committee, Nnaemeka Egonu, which stated that the conference had brought together seasoned business lawyers, corporate bodies, captains of industries, institutions, business organisations and other stakeholders in the Nigerian economy from different fields and jurisdictions with a view to unlocking economic progress and prosperity, exposing members to current trends in business law by facilitating networking opportunities.

The conference exposed participants to broader entrepreneurial knowledge and the laws guiding new trends in business evolving institutions. The conference had in attendance, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, OON, SAN, represented by the General Secretary of the Association, Mr. Adesina Adegbite; Hon. Justice Raymond Ozoemena, the Chief Judge of Enugu State; Hon. G. C. Nnamani, President, Customary Court of Appeal, Enugu State; Sir David Serena-Dokubo Spiff, Ada IX, Paramount Ruler of Spiff Town, Brass, Bayelsa State; and other notable dignitaries and conferees. The conference was declared open by the Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Peter Ndubuisi Mbah, who was represented by the Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ossai, Esq.

The communique added that there were five sessions, six panelists, five chair of sessions and four coordinators in attendance. The sessions deliberated on taxation, electricity/power, energy, corporate governance and intellectual property. After an exhaustive and well-articulated sessions, the conference brought forth a series of significant concerns and insightful observations and recommendations. The conference observed that most lawyers are challenged by the fact that taxation involves the computation and calculation of figures, and this is wrongly perceived to be meant for accountants or economists. However, every commercial relationship has tax implications that are regulated by laws. Hence, in readiness to unlock the prosperity inherent in this area of practice, lawyers are called upon to develop interest and skills for other promising practice areas like taxation.

The conference revealed that taxation in Nigeria offers diverse opportunities for legal practitioners. These opportunities arise from the protection of group interest and the prevalent regulatory framework evident in the various tax legislation. It resolved that, there is a major role to be played by lawyers in tax practice and it involves the understanding of the implications of tax assessment and administration, particularly as it affects taxpayers, urging lawyers to maximise the underlying opportunities in this field of practice. “Conference recognises citizens’ rights to electricity and equitable access/legal safeguards, and resolved that to explore the underlining prosperity in the electricity sector in the Eastern Zone, lawyers are to position themselves for opportunities by understanding the prevalent needs of the local market while projecting themselves as experts in the sector”, the communique said.

On the legal framework for sustainable electricity and opportunities for lawyers, the conference resolved that the unbundling of the electricity sector, under the new legal regime, had paved way for the state to control power and resolved that, lawyers can explore, through the instrumentality of the electricity window available to states, and act as consultants on the subject of electricity. The conference notes that, in the energy sector, legal practitioners should explore opportunities in the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021. Hence, lawyers are encouraged to acquire theoretical knowledge in the oil and gas industry, leverage on technological advancement, invest time to understand the actors and players in the industry while creating relationship with relevant stakeholders in the industry.

The group observed that there is pressure in the sector and this has opened doors for more investment opportunities and activities in the industry, thus; legal practitioners should leverage on this and embark on extensive capacity building. It was observed that there is heavy reliance on one source of energy, fossil fuel, which is not sufficient enough. Therefore, policies and incentives should be put in place to encourage more investors as well as harness and utilise other forms of energy. Furthermore, it was resolved that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly integrated into the lives and business of legal practitioners. Ultimately, it is shaping the future of legal practice. Conference notes that, AI will not replace lawyers, but lawyers, who utilise AI, will have a competitive edge over their colleagues.

The discourse also acknowledged lawyer-client relationships, and advised lawyers to implement water-tight strategies for the protection of their intellectual property rights and to also prevent counterfeiting. It identified the threshold in corporate governance and transitioning from litigation to an in-house role. It was disclosed that the lawyer with readiness to undergo this transition, must be acquainted with the corporate/regulatory bodies by maintaining a high level of perfection, and be ready to work behind the scenes without expecting immediate gratification. The lawyers further called for collaboration between legal colleagues, who are versatile and skilled in a specific practice area with those, who are not, thus allowing for shadowing to deepen practical knowledge.

At the end, the communique recommended that lawyers should rise to the occasion to see that the challenges being faced in the corporate business institutions are tackled. Secondly, to explore the opportunities inherent in the Eastern Zone, legal practice should be structured in a partnership arrangement to enhance continuity and clients’ satisfaction. Thirdly, the provision of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners on advertisement should be amended to be in line with modern trends in other jurisdictions that permit the advertisement of legal practice. The NBA-SBL should create an avenue where lawyers, who are proficient in diverse fields of practice, should be easily identified by would-be clients, irrespective of their locations. The body should equally create a medium for major stakeholders and international businesses to set up branches in Nigeria with the aims of expanding their operations and to create opportunities for the local industry.

Lastly, the conference resolved that legal practitioners should engage in capacity building in order to exploit the emerging markets in the zone. The conference further called on lawyers to continue to explore the legal and entrepreneurial business opportunities, not only in the Eastern Zone, but throughout the country. Since its establishment about 20 years ago, the NBA-SBL has served as the virile converging point for decision-makers in both the public and private sectors, policy formulators, regulators and industry practitioners to find solutions to the myriad of challenges limiting businesses. The section has, at the highest decision level, a council that is currently chaired by Dr. Adeoye Adefulu and other experienced members, using sector-focused committees that cover existing, and new areas of commercial law practice in Nigeria.

Dr. Kupoluyi is the Chairman, Media, Technology and Publicity Sub-Committee, NBA-SBL Eastern Zonal Conference