Mediation has finally received its long overdue international recognition alongside its popular close relative, Arbitration which has enjoyed the spotlight for the greater part of the last 30 years. On the back of recent happenings, the United Kingdom (UK) signing the “Singapore Convention on Mediation” into law and Nigeria passing the Arbitration and Mediation Bill (now “the Act”) into law on the 29th of May 2023, this has brought a lot of excitement and relief for many practitioners of mediation.
Why all the excitement you ask? Well, as a certified practising mediator, this development pays hommage to our African historical practice of settling disputes by elders of communities. It is particularly exciting that mediation is now backed up by law in Nigeria, as its assent addresses one of the main concerns – the enforceability of mediated agreements.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE ARBITRATION AND MEDIATION ACT 2023
The Act recognises mediation for the first time and express provisions are now in place guiding its practice. One of the highlights of the Act is that mediation sessions can now take place electronically, as well as through similar means of digital transmission. Another key provision is that settlement agreements reached through mediation now have legal weight and can be enforced in court either as a contract, consent judgment or consent award. Additionally, the Act ensures that the provisions of the Singapore Convention for the enforcement of international mediation settlement agreements are applicable in Nigeria, as long as the specified conditions are fulfilled.
For the benefit of knowledge building, Mediation is the practice of dispute resolution whereby a neutral third party, known as the mediator, assists by facilitating dispute resolution between the parties. A mediator’s role requires objectivity, good communication, negotiation, and problem-solving skills to enable the parties to reach a voluntary and amicable agreement.
The drive for mediation continues to gain momentum since the creation of the first African Multi-Door courthouse; the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) in June 2002. The LMDC is the foremost centre for mediation in West Africa, training thousands of mediators, as well as settling various disputes and decongesting the courts. One publicised example includes the entertainment dispute involving Tuface and his former band members (now defunct group, Plantashun Boiz) which was resolved by mediation at the centre. The LMDC offers Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services including conciliation, mediation and arbitration. The principal objective of the LMDC is to offer high-quality access to justice through efficient, timely and user-friendly ADR channels. The LMDC primarily handles civil disputes which include Contract, Land, Property, Employment, Defamation and Libel, Landlord and Tenant, Matrimonial Causes, Telecoms, Maritime, Aviation, Energy, Banking, Insurance, Probate and Estate matters and other types of disputes. Mediation is becoming increasingly popular as a mode of dispute resolution in Sports, Entertainment & Technology.
The process of practising mediation through the Multi-Door Courthouse guarantees that upon settlement, an ADR judge will endorse the settlement agreement, making it binding and enforceable on both parties as a High Court judgment. Any subsequent breach of the agreement will therefore be treated as contempt of court. Notwithstanding, parties are entitled to withdraw from mediation if it is not going well as it is a party-driven process and requires consenting parties. States which have established a Multi-Door Courthouses include Kano, Ogun, Oyo, Edo, Enugu, Ondo, Akwa Ibom, Katsina and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
If you are interested in becoming a successful mediator, the starting point is to contact your nearest multidoor courthouse and register for the formal training program which is usually followed by an induction if you are successful.
10 reasons why you should consider Mediation
- Mediation provides a voluntary and consensual mode of resolving disputes. Unlike other methods such as arbitration or litigation, decisions are not imposed on the parties.
- Mediation preserves relationships between parties. It encourages open dialogue, mutual respect, and teamwork—all of which are important, particularly in long-term interpersonal or professional relationships.
- Mediation is less formal than arbitration and the court system. This makes it endearing to parties.
- Mediation is cheaper compared with Arbitration which requires parties to cover not just the costs of the arbitrators’ fees but also administrative costs.
- Mediation can be much faster compared to other forms of dispute resolution because the parties have more control over the flow of the discussions. It is not uncommon for a dispute to be resolved in just two mediation sessions.
- Mediation is flexible which makes it a great choice for parties, as they are allowed to consider different choices and design agreements that best suit their needs.
- Mediation is party-driven and mediators act more as a facilitator than as a decision maker. However, there are different styles of mediation, including evaluative but the preferred style type is the facilitative style whereby the mediator assists parties reach a common ground and resolution.
- Mediation relieves the burden on the court system and promotes efficient access to justice.
- Mediation does not preclude the parties’ rights to other forms of dispute resolution, which means if it no longer works for the parties, they can opt-out.
- Mediation guarantees anonymity, as parties are able to maintain their privacy and this prevents the release of sensitive information to the public.
Mediation has historically been perceived as a distant and less attractive option for dispute resolution. However, there has been a notable shift recently as mediation gains popularity, particularly due to its accessibility and the relatively straightforward process of becoming a mediator. The enactment of the Act brings forth tremendous opportunities for the enhancement of mediation practices in Nigeria and one can only hope that its implementation will promote a more efficient resolution of disputes.