Posted: 20/May/2021

Fascinated by the way and manner disputes were amicably resolved by African people through mediation and arbitration during the colonial era, the British authorities took away certain lessons which they fine-tuned and then integrated into their legal system as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Meanwhile, in place of unending adjudicatory system, many other western countries have also embraced our contribution to modern jurisprudence which Mr Femi Falana, SAN, once said should be described as “African Dispute Resolution” mechanism. What is interesting, however, is that it is a system we have since abandoned on the continent.

In response to the remark by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo that the “crawling” judicial process poses a nightmare for investors in the country, former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, advocated that ADR could help to hasten the disposition of cases. Another former CJN, Mahmud Mohammed had made the use of ADR one of his major pre-occupations. He promoted the idea of evaluating judges based on the number of cases decided through ADR in addition to the number of cases determined through the formal legal system. So, it is not as if the idea is new. The main challenge is that it has not been institutionalised. In view of the challenges that are inherent in the current form of adjudication, we urge the stakeholders in the justice sector to embrace the idea.
The efficacy of the ADR should not come as a surprise to anyone ‎who has had a bitter experience while trying to get the courts to determine their case. Going through the court system in Nigeria is not only time consuming but very expensive. Corruption within the judicial system has also almost rendered useless the basic tenets of rule of law as courts of coordinate jurisdiction render different opinions on similar facts. With that, they make a mockery of the pillar upon which the British legal system was built.

Today, many Nigerians are turning to ADR because it can resolve disputes much faster when compared to litigation just as it does not have to follow stringent procedure. Those who rely on ADR to resolve their disagreements are likely to spend less money compared to those who choose the adversarial court system. ADR is also convenient to use as it allows parties and their witnesses to take their time. It may dispense with oral hearings and rely only on documents. Apart from being convenient, it is also very flexible; much unlike litigation which is rigid.

Besides the foregoing, a major advantage of ADR is that it is most suitable for our environment. Being conciliatory in nature, parties are not likely to become enemies after their disagreement has been resolved. When three arbitrators render an opinion on a dispute, their decision is likely to be correct and should ordinarily enjoy more acceptability compared to the decision of a judge. Again, because ADR takes advantage of modern technology in resolving disputes, it is more precise, efficient, and fast. Today, judges take note in longhand and spend longer time in determining cases to the detriment of investors who want their cases resolved quickly.

However, despite the foregoing, many people remain sceptical of the efficacy of ADR hence the preference for taking matters to court. Enforcement is perhaps the biggest challenge. Since it is not yet institutionalised, there is always the possibility that those who get unfavourable verdicts in arbitration could resort to the regular court thus making the entire exercise a waste of time. Yet, all factors considered, we subscribe to the growing position that under our current circumstance, mediation and arbitration may help in the amicable resolution of judicial conflicts in the country.