Over the years, many have advocated alternative dispute resolution as the solution to the myriad problems besieging the judicial sector in Nigeria and the gospel of ADR has been spreading to various communities with Nigeria. Indeed, it has been said to be the way forward in making justice accessible to all.
In line with this gospel, the ADR society in Oyo state has stated that to improve access to justice in Nigeria, the practice of dispute resolution by negotiation and mediation should be enforced and has called for a change in culture and orientation about ADR
The ADR society through its chairman, David Kole Ojo, asserted this in a paper titled, Improving access to justice in Nigeria: a case for effective enforcement regime in the practice of dispute resolution by Negotiation and Mediation, adding that it is not encouraging that when people think of dispute in Nigeria, they immediately think of a courthouse, a judge (in a wig), and the painful process of litigation.
According to him, resolving conflict isn’t confined to the court house and there is a need to find a way to resolve the issues by talking to one another, describing it as the oldest methods of dealing with conflict.
Mediation, according to him, can be found in some form in almost every culture. “From the community arbitrations of our traditional Baales and Obas in Nigeria to the community mediations in India, ADR principles are familiar to most. So why is it viewed as such a radical, suspicious and new method of dealing with conflicts in the business world?
“Most forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), occurring within a legal framework, include elements of psychology and soft skills which make them effective. Including these skills in the education system could lead to a shift in how we view and approach disputes as a society. It reinforces prevention strategies and a less, or non-adversarial culture. Rather, it promotes one focused on conciliation and communication.
“In the UK it is practically impossible now to rush to court without first exploring settlement by ADR first. The Rules of the Courts have been reviewed over time and provides for stiff penalty and other sanctions against any party that resists or disrupts out of court settlement attempts,” he stated.
According to him, since the establishment of the Lagos Multi Door Court (LMDC) over a decade ago, more States in Nigeria have introduced mediation laws bringing mediation to the fore as a viable option for resolving commercial disputes and as a less formal process that requires both parties to work and agree on a solution together, there will inevitably be cases where this proves near impossible.
He reiterated that there are instances where dispute has escalated to a point where dialogue is almost unworkable but ultimately relies on the willingness of the parties to give mediation a shot, adding that there is also a huge reliance on the mediator who has a crucial role in building a trust between himself and both parties, as well as managing the process effectively.
He explained that there is a need for change in dispute resolution culture especially in the commercial sector, adding that as parties look for greater efficiency, more options, and often greater control of their disputes, the legal sector must adapt to meet its clients’ needs.
“In international disputes, domestic courts have long fallen out of favour and commercial courts have proven expensive and time consuming. This makes ADR more attractive, one of the biggest reasons international arbitration is a thriving business is that it is an adjudicative process. Once an award has been issued, this is final and may be enforced through the New York Convention.
“Some fear that processes such as mediation may not be able to offer the same kind of finality and security. However, there have been efforts underway across the globe to further regulate and strengthen the mediation framework. For example, the recent Mediation Bill passed in Singapore. And last year, the 47th Session of United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) called upon its Working Group II to create an instrument for the enforcement of international commercial settlement agreements resulting from conciliation/mediation,” Ojo stated.
He concluded that cultural change is not only affected by what we teach but also by creating an appropriate legal framework. “We need a national commitment from the Bar and the Bench and the Businesses to ADR for any cultural shift to dispute resolution to begin.”