Due to the increase in lawsuits and heavy workload of the court system, there is more pressure for a modernised, speedy, fair and organised dispute settlement mechanism within the country. Mediation as a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Nigeria is gradually becoming a viable option in resolving commercial, civil and family disputes within the shortest possible period when compared with litigation and arbitration.
In Nigeria today, mediation tends to take the form of private mediation or court-annexed mediation. Private mediation involves the parties seeking the assistance of an independent third party who offers his or her services on a commercial basis, e.g. the Lagos Court of Arbitration. Court-annexed mediation involves matters which have already been filed in Court, but with directives from Court that parties should settle the dispute through mediation and in such instance, directs parties to go to mediation, and whatever mediation settlement agreement is reached by parties is entered as the judgment of the Court. This is in line with Section 24 of the High Court Laws of Lagos State which provides that in any action in the High Court, the courts may promote reconciliation among the parties thereto and encourage and facilitate the amicable settlement thereof.
For Court-annexed mediation, the Multi-Door Courthouses across the country are clear examples of this. There are also the Mediation Centres set up by the government, where disputing parties can request for mediators as well as conduct mediation proceedings. Such Centres also support the training of mediators. In Lagos, for instance, the Citizens’ Mediation Centre (CMC) provides a non-adversarial forum for the mediation and settlement of disputes between parties who voluntarily agree to mediation.
Mediation rules are incorporated in Practice Directions of Multi-Door Courthouses. Since June 2004, the Chief Judge of Lagos state has issued Practice Directions for the functioning of the Multi-Door Court House. However, it should be noted that the general trend in private mediation has been to have a flexible mediation process without any specific rules. Mediation settlement agreements reached by parties at the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse are enforceable under the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse Law (LMDC Law). Under Section 19 of the LMDC Law, any settlement agreement duly signed by parties shall be enforceable as a contract by the parties and when such agreement is further endorsed by an ADR Judge or any other person as directed by the Chief Judge, it shall be deemed to be enforceable as a consent judgment of the High Court of Lagos State. In addition to this, under Order 39 Rule 4(3) of the High Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules 2012, a decision reached at the LMDC may by leave of a Judge be enforced in the same manner as a judgment or an order of the Court. The only challenge to this enforcement procedure is that its applicability is restricted to Lagos State alone and not the other parts of Nigeria.
With the popularity of Mediation as a form of ADR, it is without doubt that Nigeria is equipping itself to grapple with the escalating commercial disputes resulting from the growth in business activities and increase in international trade and investment.
Senior Associate, SPA Ajibade & Co. [Legal Practitioners, Arbitrators and Notaries].