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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

AELEX

01 March 2017

Advising major oil clients in Nigeria

People in Who’s Who Legal 1
Pending cases as counsel 2
Value of pending counsel work US$162 million
Treaty cases 0
Current arbitrator appointments 2 (of which 1 is as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator  1

One of the largest law firms in West Africa, AELEX began in 2004 when four commercial firms in the region merged. One of those firms was a disputes boutique led by Olufunke Adekoya SAN, one of the first women to be appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who gained a reputation for her advocacy skills before Nigeria’s high and appellate courts.

Adekoya, who is based in Lagos, now leads AELEX’s international arbitration practice. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, a vice president of the ICC International Court of Arbitration and, as of April 2015, a member of the governing board of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration. Adekoya is also vice chair of the LCIA’s African Users’ Council and a member of the board of the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration.

Disputes partners Adedapo Tunde-Olowu and Olanipekun Orewale are also members of the Chartered Institute.

Network

Headquartered in Lagos, the firm has two other Nigerian offices in Port Harcourt and Abuja, and another in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.

Who uses it?

Energy, construction and financial services companies make up the bulk of the firm’s clients, particularly in the upstream and downstream oil and gas sector. Well-known names include Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, Eni and Brazil’s Petrobras.

Track record

As co-counsel with Clifford Chance, the firm helped a Shell-led consortium win a partial award worth US$1.4 billion against Nigeria’s state oil company NNPC in 2013. The dispute is reported to be worth more than US$3 billion. But the proceedings have been delayed after Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service obtained a local court injunction preventing the consortium from taking further steps in the arbitration. The consortium is now seeking to have the partial award enforced in the New York.

In 2015, AELEX also prevailed in a dispute between a Norwegian energy company and its Nigerian and foreign partners.

Recent events

The firm continues to act in two related arbitrations between a South African energy company and its Nigerian counterpart over the alleged breach of farm-out and farm-in agreements.

In August 2016, a Nigerian appeal court rejected AELEX’s petition to reinstate an award in favour of their client that had been found to deal with tax matters that were non-arbitrable. The appeal court not only confirmed the right of local tax authorities to intervene to set aside an award, but upheld a first-time challenge to arbitration proceedings on the grounds that the notice of arbitration was signed by a law firm rather than an individual lawyer. 

Adekoya’s arbitrator practice remains busy. She was a party-appointed arbitrator in a dispute between a UK-based port pre-inspection provider and the Nigerian federal government over a terminated contract; and  as sole arbitrator in a US$8 million dispute between a transport haulage firm and an international drinks conglomerate.

She is also hearing a dispute between an Ivorian energy company and a Nigerian company arising out of a sale and purchase agreement.

Client comment

An oil and gas client praised AELEX’s “attention to detail”, singling out Adekoya and Tunde-Olowu for their “exceptional and prompt service.”

Ashurst partner Tim Reid worked alongside AELEX in a US$1 billion arbitration for a multinational oil company that ended in the client’s favour. He calls Adekoya “a considerable advocate who is widely respected for her very sound advice” and describes Otolowu as “her trusted and able lieutenant”.