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Legal services follow business opportunities. Where there is business, lawyers will have work. This is why in States like Texas, USA (which has oil) lawyers develop themselves in oil and gas are more than lawyers in New York, who specialize more in corporate law. Why is this not so in Bayelsa State? Answering this question and forging a path to resolving this problem was the essence of the 1st Energy and Environmental Law Conference hosted by the Energy and Environmental Law Committee (EELC) of the Nigerian Bar Association, Yenagoa Branch (NBA) in partnership with the Bayelsa State Government (BYSG) and the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) on 21 March 2013 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. The goal of the conference was to identify the problems preventing the lawyers in Bayelsa and the environment from benefitting from oil and gas operations and to determine a road path to building capacity in Oil, Gas, Power and Environmental Law amongst lawyers in Bayelsa. The EELC’s goal is for Bayelsa State to provide specialized legal services in these areas from the next 5 years.

The panelists at the Conference were representatives from NCDMB, NIMASA, Brass LNG, NERC, Century Group, Mr. Soji Awogbade, HRH Barrister David Serena Dokubo Spiff, Environmental Rights Action. The NBA President was represented by Mr. G.I Abibo SAN. The Bayelsa State Governor, His Excellency Hon. Seriake Dickson, was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Professor E. Allison- Oguru.

The Keynote delivered by HRH Barrister David Serena Dokubo Spiff set the tone for the discussions by pointing out that opportunities abound for lawyers in Bayelsa if only they will prepare for them. The panelists described their operations and identified various ways the lawyers could reap. Brass LNG for example described the project plans, Century Group pointed out how it employs lawyers in its operations. The ERA legal adviser, Prince Chima Williams emphasized the level of environmental degradation in the State and clarified that lawyers in the State must understand the environmental laws and international standards to compel adherence to them by the operators in the State.

The regulators, based on their enabling Acts, took us through the ways they collaborate with lawyers and their investments from which lawyers can benefit. The NCDMB for example, told us of its statutory fund from which it is permitted to develop capacity in the oil and gas sector. It is based on this Fund that the NCDMB has committed to the NBA, Yenagoa Capacity Building Product (CBP). The CBP is the EELC’s goal towards developing a specialized services sector in Bayelsa in 5 years time. It spells out the initial focal topics in the oil, gas, power sectors for training. It provides that there shall be training in each of these sectors every quarter of a year. The NERC, NCDMB, NIMASA and Bayelsa State Government, as partners with the EELC on its CBP, executed the CBP at the Conference.

As Mr. Soji Awogbade pointed out, lawyers in Bayelsa have to consciously develop themselves to work in the oil, gas and power sectors. They have to hang out where those operating in the sectors hang. They also must stop focusing on the IOCs and plan to grow with small operators. Most of all lawyers in Bayelsa must tighten their belts for it is one thing becoming an expert, it is another thing sustaining working with these companies, for they have to work within the oil companies’ schedule (which is a very fast timeline) not the lawyers’ own schedule.

Mr. Toye Akinbode, columnist & journalist in Thisday Law, reported in Thisday Law (Tuesday 26 March 2013) that lawyers in Bayelsa may be a bit late in trying to sit on the table of operators in these sectors, especially, because the need for Nigeria’s exports in oil and gas abroad might reduce. I believe that since the gas and electricity sectors are just opening up, Nigerian legal experts in these sectors will be needed. Now is the right time to train young lawyers and increase their participation in these sectors towards them being able to be the experts that will assist in interpreting the relevant laws and agreements when disputes arise in the future. Further with industrial development generally in the country, environmental degradation will rise. More legal environmental experts will be needed.

As Chairperson of the EELC, I look forward to working with our partners in implementing the CBP. The first training is to hold in Quarter 2 of 2013 and it is to be sponsored by the NCDMB.

Have a good 2nd Quarter.

Tonbofa Ashimi

Edward Ekiyor and Co. is a Nigerian law firm that has developed expertise in the Energy and Natural Resources Sectors, Finance, Corporate and Commercial matters and in resolving disputes.

 

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