There is hardly any doubt that the administration of justice in Nigeria craves for serious reform in order to cope with the challenges dictated by 21st Century changes and developments e.g. the advent of the internet, the mobile phone, increase in terrorist acts and crimes hitherto unimagined e.g. the senseless and brutal kidnapping and or killing of fellow human beings.
Unarguably, one of the reasons that make Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) popular, is because parties may be given the option of selecting who will settle their dispute.
It is a dispute resolution mechanism, in which disagreeing parties come to an agreement without litigation.
In order to popularise Alternative Dispute Resolution, the National Industrial Court(NIC), says it is set to establish ADR centres, in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The President of theNIC, Justice Babatunde Adejumo, said the centre would be saddled with the responsibility of mediating, arbitrating and settling cases.
He said that the 1999 Constitution empowered the National Industrial Court to establish within its premises, ADR centre to aid in the speedy disposal of cases.
“The common denominator of all ADR processes is that they are faster, cheaper, less adversarial and capable of achieving better outcomes for disputants than they could achieve through the process of litigation,’’ he observed.
Adejumo argued that unnecessary and frequent delays in judicial proceedings had adverse effects on the administration of justice in Nigeria.
“This situation is brought about by the congestion of cases in the courts, arising from among other factors, unnecessary adjournments, leading to excessive delay in deciding an otherwise simple case.
“Available records indicate that there are more than 2,000 cases filed in the NIC across the country in 2013, with Lagos and Port Harcourt recording the highest number, ’’he said.
Adejumo said that since the court had exclusive jurisdiction over trade and labour disputes, it had witnessed influx of cases in recent times.
“Since it no longer shares jurisdiction with the Federal and State High Courts, it is bound to witness an upsurge in the number of cases which if not properly managed, would stifle the smooth and speedy resolution of disputes that would come before it.
“The provision allowing the court to open more doors for dispute resolution within its legal framework is therefore a welcome development.
“The idea in effect is that the perennial conflicts between labour and management could not be resolved without putting in place an effective, quick, result-oriented, private and technical means of settling them,’’ he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, an Abuja based lawyer, Mr. Ayodele Akinbuwa, said ADR refers to a range of mechanisms designed to assist disputing parties resolve their disputes without formal judicial proceedings.
“They are those mechanisms that are used to resolve disputes faster, fairer, and without destroying on-going relationships.
“An ADR mechanism is an initiative by litigants and their representatives to use innovative ways of resolving disputes, other than the typical adversarial process of litigation.
“Its options are generally considered to be effective in preserving established relationships while the dispute is being sorted out,’’ he said.
Mrs. Seun Lawal of National Open University, also said that parties prefer ADR, as it “ puts them in the driving seat by giving them the power to design the proceedings in a way to suit their needs.’’
She stressed that any settlement reached under negotiation, mediation and conciliation are “voluntary and not binding, while award rendered in an arbitration proceedings are binding.’’
Mrs.Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour, a chartered arbitrator, said that ADR mechanism is the traditional way of resolving disputes peacefully, especially at the grassroots.
According to her, the mediator’s authority is hinged on his standing and the respect accorded him in the community.
“In the Nigerian traditional societies, mediation is used as a tool for preserving cultural norms and values
“Mediation prevents disputes from festering, maintains peace and preserves traditional values, such as the elder is always right, the younger has no alternative but to accept the words of the elder,’’ she said.
Rhodes-Vivour said that with the modern court system in place, “mediation or ADR mechanism is still recognised in the Nigerian legal system.
“In the pre-colonial times and before the advent of the regular courts, Nigerians certainly had a simple and less expensive way of adjudicating disputes.
“They referred them to elders or a body set up for that purpose; the practice has over the years become strongly embedded in the system that they survived till today.”
She agreed with other stakeholders that mediation or ADR should be promoted and encouraged, especially at the grassroots.
The justice machinery, reputed to be the last hope of the common man, is squeaking under the weight of a heavy caseload and myriads of problems. The criminal justice system has endured prolonged delay in the administration of justice, congestion of courts, inadequate infrastructure and lack of access to justice by the poor, a majority of who cannot afford the services of lawyers, the congestion of prisons with the daily influx of accused persons or suspects awaiting trial, arrest of suspects’ relatives in place of suspects, the use of torture by the police to extort extra judicial confessions and allegations of corruption against judicial officers.
In addition, many of our laws are outdated and out of tune with modern trends. Some of them are nothing but mere relics of colonial legislation that ought to have been reformed long time ago. Most of the laws brim with anachronistic provisions that take no cognizance of the changes and developments that have occurred over the years.
Efficient justice delivery is central to the nation’s economic growth and development, and the socio-economic wellbeing of its citizens. It is not an overstatement to say that our budding democracy depends heavily on the just resolution of our individual and collective differences through an efficient and robust judicial system.
The incontrovertible assumption behind legal and judicial reform is that it concerns the rich and the poor, the high and low alike; all and sundry must be guaranteed access to a court system for settlement of disputes quickly and fairly.
The law is the mechanism for reducing the level of grievance in a society. Unless there is confidence in the system itself, both in its rules and the officials that apply them, anxiety and bitterness will ensue. Justice in any society must assure the weak of the possibility of winning against the strong, even against the state itself.
In the final analysis, however, there is no doubt that the Nigerian judiciary has a key role to play. No combat against crime, corruption and other social vices plaguing the country can either be credible or complete unless at the end of the day there is in place an independent, effective, and robust judicial system to count on.
A properly administered judicial system capable of guaranteeing individual rights and freedoms, protecting victims from the arbitrary exercise of power, and punishing criminal offenders; is an essential catalyst for good governance and uplifting of the socio-economic wellbeing of Nigeria and her citizens.