The Evolution of ADR also known as “Appropriate” Dispute Resolution


By Amina Nwakaego Nwabuezeh 

Dispute Resolution Officer, Abuja Chamber of Commerce Dispute Resolution Centre

So, for ADR experts, we now prefer to have the “A” in ADR as “Appropriate” dispute resolution i.e we look for the right process to resolve the particular dispute or conflict.

Since not every dispute or conflict should be handled in the same way, we now talk of “process pluralism.” Much of our choice about what is “appropriate” depends on factors like who we are having a conflict with (a friend, family member, stranger, the government, an organization, a number of parties, organizations or countries) and what the dispute is about (scarce resources, like land, property, money, or something we want to do that is new rather than routine. Deciding what dispute resolution process to use is often a complicated choice and requires knowing what each process offers (e.g., a contract, a legally enforceable judgment, a treaty, a promise, or a contingent agreement. 

Although “A”DR on record is officially dated from the late 1970’s as a social and legal reform movement in the United States from the 1976 Pound Conference on the Causes of Public Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice, which called for more efficient and different forms of dispute resolution for different kinds of matters.In reality ADR is really as old as civilization and has several different motivating concerns: efficiency, flexibility and tailoring of outcomes, party empowerment, legitimacy and participation of the parties and sometimes, with privacy, avoidance of precedents for others. 

In fact, many forms of dispute resolution processes are thousands of years old, dating from Confucian principles of promoting harmony and community, rather than individual, “justice. 

In China and then later other Asian countries and African community dispute resolution processes called “moots” (or in some countries Ubuntu or gacaca), which are mediation like processes in which community elders listen to narratives of the dispute from the parties and either help negotiate a solution with the parties, or, more like arbitration, decide or command some remedy, with the goal of preserving community peace. The goals of such older forms of dispute resolution are to prevent further conflict and escalation of the dispute beyond the parties, to restore the community to peaceful co-existence. 

In the West (Continental Europe and in England), the middle ages saw the movement from “trial by ordeal” “putting disputing parties on a horse to joust or dropping them into a fire or body of water to see if God would “protect” them and declare the innocent or non-wrongdoer” to trial by evidence. 

Over the years, ADR has evolved and has recorded success all over the world. The success of Alternative Dispute Resolution in Nigeria cannot be estimated in the past few years. This success started long before the conventional justice system, where our traditional rulers and Heads of Families resolved disputes using methods similar to mediation and arbitration as mentioned above. However, in recent times, with the advent of the conventional “ADR”, Lagos State took the lead in initiating and implementing ADR processes in Nigeria and has been replicated across the country. 

When the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) opened in 2002, it was Africa’s first court-connected Alternative Dispute Resolution center. Adapted from a concept first articulated by a Harvard law professor, but embracing indigenous dispute resolution practices, the LMDC was both innovative and rooted in Nigeria’s past. 

By diversifying the dispute resolution options available to Nigerians, the LMDC has eroded a long-standing national bias towards litigation. Fourteen Nigerian states and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) in October 2003 established its own Multi-Door Court, have replicated the model showcasing the efficacy of dispute resolution mechanisms that resonate with local culture and practice. 

Similarly, at the highest level of the judiciary, the Honorable Chief Justice of the Federation, Honorable Justice Walter S. N. Onnoghen, (as he then was) pledged to establish a dedicated mediation center at the Supreme Court in Abuja. This was to ensure that even parties in litigation at its most advanced stage can resolve their disputes amicably while on-site. 

In the same vein, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria which is responsible for the hearing of employment disputes and grievances brought by trade unions has established ADR centres at its divisions in Abuja, Kano, Gombe, Enugu, Calabar and Ibadan. 

The Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry established its Dispute Resolution Centre (DRC-ACCI) in 2017 to help its members and the general public in amicable settlement of disputes or conflicts. Cases are consistently resolved more quickly, cheaply and amicably. You cannot say the same of those heard in Nigeria’s congested courts. It offers an appealing alternative to litigation. 

Commercial disputes occur on a daily basis. The Nigerian situation is however spectacular being a highly litigious society. In Lagos State alone, over 30,000 new civil cases are filed each year. 

With the introduction of the various ADR Mechanisms, this ugly trend has been reversed as parties can get a final determination of their disputes within days and still maintain a cordial relationship, a possibility which is alien to litigation. 

All these have gone on to reveal the impact of Alternative Dispute Resolution in Nigeria over the years.



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