This content is from: Local Insights

Registering foreign judgments in Nigeria

Nonye Uwazie
The recognition and enforcement of judgments rendered by courts of other jurisdictions is an important tool of international trade integration. International trade participants are of the view that such domestic recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments provides oil in the wheels of trade. Recognition is a precondition for enforcement of foreign judgments with the criteria for such recognition stipulated in domestic legislation.

In Nigeria, the requirement for recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments is contained in the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act, Cap 152, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990. Parties wishing to enforce foreign judgments in Nigeria must, as a first step, apply to have the judgment registered in the appropriate court. The time limit for such registration recently came up for resolution before the Nigerian Supreme Court in VAB Petroleum Inc v Mr. Mike Momah (2013) LPELR-SC. 99/2004.

VAB Petroleum had sought to register a United Kingdom default judgment shortly after a successful appeal against its enforcement in Nigeria; that appeal had lasted several years. The Supreme Court found that VAB Petroleum had failed to make the application within the time stipulated by the Act. To arrive at that decision, the Supreme Court gave copious interpretations of sections 3 and 4 as well as section 10 of the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act.

Very simply, section 3 permits the Minister of Justice to make orders extending recognition to judgments of superior courts of foreign countries, where he is assured of reciprocity regarding enforcement in those foreign countries. Section 4 permits creditors who obtained judgment from such foreign countries where the Minister's orders extend to apply to register the judgment within six years from the date of judgment. Where the judgment has been subject of an appeal, section 4 permits the judgment creditors to make the application within six years from the conclusion of appeals.

Both sections (3 and 4) are, however, made subject to section 10, which stipulates that foreign judgment given before the commencement of the order of the Minister may be registered within 12 months from the date of the judgment, or within such longer period as may be allowed by a superior court in Nigeria.

The Supreme Court opined in the case under review that unless the Minister's orders exists, which is permissible only where he is assured of reciprocity, a party does not have the luxury of waiting six years after the date of judgment or after exhausting all appeals before applying to register the judgment. Relying on its earlier decision in Macaulay v R.Z.B. Austria (2003) 18 NWLR (Pt. 852) 282 at pp. 298H – 299 A-B, the Supreme Court held that the draftsman in section 10 of the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act made clear and strict provisions. Foreign judgments made outside of the Minister's orders are only registrable within 12 months except where an extension has been granted by the court registering the judgment for enforcement.

Thus, the Supreme Court found that VAB Petroleum had exceeded the time limited stipulated under section 10 of the Act and would not be permitted to register the foreign judgment. The court arrived at this decision despite the fact that the judgment had been the subject of several appeals and VAB Petroleum had only sought to register after all appeals had been exhausted.

It is clear that the Supreme Court arrived at that decision because nothing in section 10 of the Act supports suspension of registration pending appeal where the Minister has not made the order stipulated in section 3. As absurd as that may sound, it is the law in Nigeria. Parties would do well to act within time in such cases to avoid being caught by the statute.

Nonye Uwazie

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