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Goldsmiths Solicitors – Legal Recap for the Year 2023

posted 4 months ago

Introduction

2023 was election year in Nigeria. It therefore was no surprise that we saw a lot of activities in the legal space in Nigeria, not least in the enactment of new laws, handing down of judicial decisions and the like. In our 2023 legal recap, we have highlighted some of the major legal, regulatory, and judicial changes that occurred.  This recap is divided into four parts representing four quarters of the year. In each quarter, we deal with all the major legal changes that occurred therein.

1st Quarter (January – March 2023)

A remarkable and significant part of the first quarter was the signing into law of the Business Facilitation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2023 and the Copyright Act 2023. The courts also handed down judgements on important issues surrounding which court should be the court of first instance for investments matters and the power of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) on tax collections.

  • On 20 January 2023, the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos declared in the suit between Wheatbaker Investment and Properties Limited v. EFCC and FIRS, that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) lacked the statutory power to assume the power for the assessment, collection and enforcement of payment of taxes in Nigeria. The court held the appropriate agency with the power to do so is the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS).
  • The Supreme Court in the case between Mufutau Ajayi v. SEC and Ors., declared that the Investment and Securities Tribunal (IST) is the court of first instance for the resolution of capital market issues and not the Federal High Court.
  • On 13 February 2023, former President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Business Facilitation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022. The Business Facilitation Bill was aimed at ensuring the ease of doing business in Nigeria.
  • On 7 March 2023, the CBN issued the Operational Guidelines for Open Banking in Nigeria. It provides a framework that defines the principles for data sharing across the banking and payments system to promote innovations and broaden the range of financial products and services available to bank customers.
  • The former President, Muhammadu Buhari signed the Fifth Alteration to the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 Bills into law. One of the significant changes made by this was for the financial independence of States House of Assembly and States Judiciary. Another of the bills which is the Fifth Alteration (Bill) No.33, allows states to generate, transmit and distribute electricity.
  • On 17 March 2023, former President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Copyright Act 2023 which repealed the extant Copyright Act. The new Copyright Act aims to bring Nigerian copyright in tandem with 21st century developments and protect the rights of authors among other innovative provisions.

2nd Quarter (April – June 2023)

The second quarter saw the enactment of laws and the issuance of key financial regulations and guidelines by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Some of the laws enacted in this quarter include the Data Protection Act and the Electricity Act. The government also issued and launched national policies such as the National Dairy Policy to ensure the stability and sustainability of the sector. The courts also handed down some important judgements. Below are some of the highlights of the 2nd quarter:

  • On 5 April 2023, former President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the National Council for Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a body established by the Startup Act 2022 and tasked with the responsibility of implementing the provisions of the Nigerian Startup Act, 2022.
  • On 18 April 2023, the Federal High Court delivered judgement in Emmanuel Ekpenyong v. National Assembly & Ors which nullified sections 839, 842. 843, 844, 845, 846,847, 848 and 851 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020 for being inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 particularly sections 36 (1), 38 and 40. The court held that the power granted to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to administer incorporated trustees under the above-mentioned sections of the CAMA infringed on the applicant’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to peaceful assembly.
  • On 3 May 2023, the CBN issued the Guidelines for the Regulation of Representative Offices of Foreign Banks in Nigeria. The guidelines provide for the permissible and non-permissible activities of approved representative Offices of Foreign Banks in Nigeria and the licensing requirements.
  • On 10 May 2023, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja decided in the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda v. National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), that the NBC lacked the power to impose fines on broadcast stations. The court also set aside the fines imposed on 45 broadcast stations on 1 March 2019.
  • On 16 May 2023, the Federal Government launched the National Agricultural Seed Policy 2022. The policy revised the 2015 policy and it is aimed at ensuring that farmers have access to improved quality seeds among other important objectives.
  • On 28 May 2023, the Federal Government announced the introduction of the Brown Card which is the legal instrument to confer permanent residency on non-Nigerians and also enabling them to live and work in Nigeria.
  • On 29 May 2023, Nigeria sworn in a new president, Bola Tinubu, who on 8 June 2023 signed the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) (No. 37) Bill, 2023 raising the retirement age for High Court judges from 65 years to 70 years.
  • On 9 June 2023, President Bola Tinubu signed the Electricity Act 2023 into law which repealed the Electric Sector Reform Act, 2005. The Act now recognizes the power of federating states to regulate their electricity markets by issuing licenses to private investors to operate mini-grids and power plants within the states.
  • On 12 June 2023, the president, Bola Tinubu signed the Student Loan Act 2023 which sets the conditions to provide financial support to indigent students in the form of interest-free loans.
  • On 12 June 2023, the president, Bola Tinubu signed the Data Protection Act 2023. The Act established the Nigerian Data Protection Bureau, the regulatory authority responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Act. It also provides the legal basis for the processing of data, cross-border transfer of data, general obligations of data controllers and processors, rights of data subjects and penalties for violations among other salient provisions.
  • On 14 June 2023, the CBN announced the operational changes to the foreign exchange market in Nigeria. The CBN by the announcement abolished segmentation, collapsed all segments into the Investors and Exporters (I&E) window, re-introduced the “willing buyer, willing seller” model at the I&E window. The RT200 Rebate Scheme and the Naira4Dollar Remittance Scheme were also stopped with effect from 30 June 2023.
  • On 27 June 2023, the CBN issued the Guidelines on Contactless Payments in Nigeria. The guidelines provide the minimum standards and requirements for the operation of contactless payments in Nigeria and also specify the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders such as issuers, payment and card schemes, merchants, etc.

3rd Quarter (July – September 2023)

This quarter saw a lot of policy and regulatory activities by the regulators in Nigeria. The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) directed all international shipping lines to settle their tax liabilities no later than 31 December 2023 or risk legal actions. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority also directed compliance with the regulations requiring mandatory valid insurance covers for airlines and allied service providers. The President, Bola Tinubu, also signed executive orders some of which changed the commencement date for some tax laws. Below are some of the highlights of the 3rd quarter:

  • The President, Bola Tinubu signed four Executive Orders. Some of the Executive Orders include the Finance Act (Effective Date Variation) Order 2023 which deferred the commencement date of the changes contained in the Finance Act 2023 from May 2023 to 1 September 2023 in line with the National Tax Policy; and the Customs, Excise Tariff (Variation) Amendment Order, 2023 which deferred the commencement date from 27 March 2023 to 1 August 2023.
  • On 12 July 2023, the Federal Government disclosed its intention to amend the Cybercrime Act 2015 to address the threats posed by Artificial Intelligence and other emerging technologies.
  • The Court of Appeal delivered judgement in Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) v. Darlington Ugo Ehikim to dismiss the appeal filed the FRSC. The Court of Appeal upheld the judgement of the Federal High Court that ruled that the FRSC can only operate on federal roads and do not have the right to operate on state and local government roads.
  • On 25 July 2023, CAC announced that it shall discontinue manual submissions for winding up and dissolution, receivership, company voluntary arrangements, administration and netting with effect from 7 August 2023.
  • On 31 July 2023, CAC disclosed its plan to strike off the names of 100,000 companies from its register for failure to file annual returns for a period of 10 years. Further to this disclosure, on the same day, CAC published the names of the 94,581 companies to be struck off its register.
  • On 2 August 2023, the Court of Appeal in the case of Minister of Interior & Ors v. Eti-Osa Local Government & Ors, set aside the judgement of the Federal High Court which stopped the Federal Government from further registering marriages within some Local Government Councils. The Court of Appeal held that both the Federal Government and Local Government Councils have the legal authority to celebrate, contract and register marriages.
  • On 11 August 2023, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) directed all airlines and allied service providers in the aviation industry to comply with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig. CARs) 2022 which became effective from 10 July 2023. The regulations require airlines and allied service provides not to operate unless they have adequate and valid insurance cover.
  • On 21 August 2023, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) directed international shipping companies operating within Nigeria’s territorial waters to settle any pending tax liabilities by 31 December 2023 failing which the FIRS may commence legal actions against non-complying international shipping companies.
  • On 20 September 2023, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced that manual applications for Microfinance Bank licence would end by 31 December 2023. The CBN also unveiled a new platform for the submission of Microfinance Bank licence applications known as the CBN Licensing, Approval and Other Requests Portal (CBN LARP).

4th Quarter (October – December 2023)

This quarter was remarkable especially as Nigeria won the case against Process and Industrial Development Limited (P&ID) at the Business and Property Court in London effectively putting an end to a long running legal case which had the potential of enforcing an $11 billion arbitration award against Nigeria. There were also important decisions handed down by the local courts. One such case is the decision of the Federal High Court which declared portions of the tax appeal rules as unconstitutional for constraining the right of appeal of a taxable person. The regulators also issued guidelines and regulations that apply to various sectors. Below are some of the highlights of the 4th quarter:

  • On 4 October 2023, the Nigerian Minister of Interior, disclosed that the Federal Government has started taking steps to review Nigerian visa on arrival and passport policies.
  • On 7 October 2023, the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) issued and presented the first Wholesale Gas Supply Licence pursuant to section 142 of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 to Ohuru Trading Limited.
  • The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) issued the Conditions for Offering Closed user group (CUG) Services in the Nigerian Telecom Industry to regulate the provision of CUG services in Nigeria. The conditions were scheduled to come into operation on 1 November 2023 and would remain valid until reviewed by NCC.
  • On 10 October 2023, the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) launched the National Health Insurance Act Operational Guidelines 2023 which clarifies the roles, responsibilities and obligations of various stakeholders and facilitates the implementation of health insurance in Nigeria.
  • On 23 October 2023, Nigeria won the long running dispute in the Business and Property Court in London in the suit against Process & Industrial Developments Limited (P&ID) in a judgement delivered by Justice Robert Knowles. The court also stopped the enforcement of the $11 billion arbitration award by P&ID on the ground that the process that led to the award of the contract to P&ID was manifestly fraudulent.
  • On 1 November 2023, Enugu state government stated that courier operators in the state must obtain the requisite licence to operate no later than 1 December 2023. The directive would see courier operators keep and maintain pickups and delivery records and see their riders abide with strict regulations.
  • On 2 November 2023, CAC issued the Public Notice on the Full Application of Penalties for Failure to File Annual Returns by Companies and Recovery of Penalties Against Company Directors and Officers. By the public notice, CAC advised companies to file their annual returns as CAC shall commence the enforcement of the strict penalties prescribed by the Company Regulations 2021 by 1 January 2024.
  • On 9 November 2023, in the case of Joseph Bodunrin Daudu SAN v. Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning & 2 Ors, the Federal High Court nullified certain sections of the Tax Appeal Tribunal (Procedure) Rules 2021, the Federal High Court of Nigeria (Federal Inland Revenue Service) Practice Directions 2021, and the Federal High Court of Nigeria (Tax Appeals) Rules 2022 which require the payment of fifty percent of disputed assessed tax before appeal as unconstitutional by constraining the constitutional guaranteed right of appeal.
  • On 14 November 2023, in the case of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria v. Incorporated Trustees of Freight Forwarders Transport Association & Ors, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State declared that the Corporate Affairs Commission does not have the power to register trade unions.
  • On 5 December 2023, CAC announced that it shall begin the implementation of the N100,000 million minimum paid-up capital for the incorporation of companies with foreign participation in Nigeria. It also directed existing companies with foreign participation with less than N100,000 million minimum paid-up capital to increase it to meet the threshold within 6 months beginning from 5 December 2023 failing which they shall be met with compulsory winding up proceedings at the instance of CAC. The CAC subsequently noted that reference should have been to “issued capital” and not “paid-up capital” and stated that it shall issue an amended notice to reflect minimum issued capital.

Conclusion

2023 has been an interesting year in the Nigerian legal and regulatory landscape. The regulators were actively issuing important rules and regulations to address and provide guidance on financial, corporate, tax, insurance matters, etc. New laws such as the Electricity Act, Data Protection Act and Copyright Act were also enacted. The courts handed down important decisions which put a finality to some of the assumed powers of certain government agencies such as the FIRS and CAC. Importantly, Nigeria won the case against Process and Industrial Developments Limited (P&ID) for the enforcement of the $11 billion arbitration award in London in what was described as a manifestly corrupt contract.

We use this opportunity to wish all our clients a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year 2024. Thank you all for your support.

Please note that the contents of this Article are for general guidance on the Subject Matter. It is NOT legal advice.

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