Arbitration is a tool and a voluntary method for alternative dispute resolution in Nigeria. It provides a framework for a fair and efficient settlement of a commercial dispute by arbitration and conciliation. The principal legislation that governs arbitration in Nigeria is the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1988 (Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 Cap 18. An Arbitrator is a professional appointed by parties to act as an arbitrator in the resolution of a dispute in the event of a dispute that arises. A person so appointed to be an Arbitrator must be independent and impartial in the dispute resolution proceedings. The Act provides powers to the arbitrator in order to decide an award. These powers are highlighted below.
In determining the mandatory powers of arbitrators, it is important to state that there are no explicit provisions for the powers of an arbitrator; the powers are implied by the provisions of the sections of the Act. The mandatory powers and obligations of Arbitrators are as follows;
- Section 12 of the Act provides that arbitrators and the arbitral tribunal have the power and are competent to determine on questions pertaining to their own jurisdiction and on any objections with respect to the existence or validity of an arbitration agreement.
- Section 15 (3) provides that Arbitrators and Arbitral Tribunal have the power to determine the admissibility, relevance, materiality, and weight of evidence submitted by the parties.
- Where a law contains no provisions in respect to a matter related to a particular arbitral proceeding, arbitrators have the power to conduct the arbitral proceedings in a manner it considers appropriate to ensure fair hearing as provided by Section 15(2).
- From the provisions of Section 14 of the Act, it can be inferred that Arbitrators have the power to ensure that parties are accorded equal treatment and that each party is given a full opportunity in presenting his case.
- Arbitrators are empowered by law to issue interim orders of protection where considered necessary. Section 13 of the Act provides that unless otherwise agreed by the parties, the arbitral tribunal may before or during an arbitral proceeding at the request of a party, order any party to take such interim measure of protection as the arbitral tribunal may consider necessary in respect of the subject matter and require any party to provide appropriate security in connection with any measure taken.
- Arbitrators have the power to determine the language or languages to be used during the hearing of an arbitral proceeding, minding the circumstances of the case, where parties fail to determine the language to be used in their agreement as provided by Section 18 of the Act.
- Section 20 of the Act provides that an arbitrator or arbitral tribunal has the power to decide whether the arbitral proceedings shall be conducted by holding an oral hearing for the presentation of evidence or on the bases of documents or the materials or by both holding oral hearings and on the basis of documents or other materials, except where parties have an agreement on the nature of proceedings.
- The arbitrator has the mandatory power to administer the oath to parties or take the affirmation of the parties, and witnesses appearing where applicable unless otherwise agreed by parties to the proceedings as provided by Section 20 (5) of the Act.
- The arbitrator has the power to appoint one or more experts where he finds it necessary and expedient in a case to report to it on specific issues to be determined. Such power extends to giving the expert any relevant information or documents or to produce access to any documents, goods, or property for inspection to aid in resolving the dispute as provided by Section 22(1) of the Act.
- Finally, the most important and mandatory power of an arbitrator is the power to make awards in a case as provided by Section 24 of the Act.
The powers of an arbitrator are important in conducting free and fair arbitral proceedings in the resolution of commercial disputes.