There is need to settle many of our disputes outside the courtroom
The plea by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, that Nigerians should be more disposed to alternative dispute resolution instruments to free the courts from unnecessary cases is not new. Perhaps more interesting is that it was the fascination by the manner disputes were amicably resolved by African people through mediation and arbitration during the colonial era that made the British authorities to integrate the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) into their legal system. This is therefore the time for a reconsideration of the idea that served African people well in the past and could be the gamechanger in justice administration in the country.
Indeed, Ariwoola is merely re-echoing what his predecessors have said without making any efforts to institutionalise the idea. For instance, while responding to a remark by former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo that the ‘crawling’ judicial process posed a nightmare for investors in the country, then CJN, Walter Onnoghen, also 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 novel. The main challenge is to address whatever impediments there may be in its implementation and get Nigerians to embrace the idea.
The efficacy of the ADR should not come as a surprise to anyone in our country who has had a bitter experience while trying to get the courts to determine their case. In a milieu where a case could take up to 30 years to conclude, going through the court system in Nigeria is not only time consuming but also very expensive. Besides, corruption within the judicial system has 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 operational British legal system was built. 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 flexible; much unlike litigation which is very rigid.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for 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 than 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 spend a long time in determining cases to the detriment of the rule of law in the country.
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 our country.