Morenike Ojo is a Mediator and Senior Associate at Professor A.B. Kasunmu’s Chambers. A firm with Litigation and ADR as it’s core areas of Practice. In this interview with ‘Tosin Ajose Popoola, she permitted an invasion of her space as she took us through her journey to the field of Mediation, the effect of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Mediation as a Dispute Resolution Mechanism and the Lessons learnt from this Pandemic.
DNL L&S: How did you become a Mediator?
Morenike: Having been in Litigation for over a period of time, I realized that as lawyers, our clients repose so much confidence in our ability to help with the resolution of their disputes. Also realizing that Litigation is not the only means of dispute resolution especially considering all its lapses, I decided to enquire about Mediation as another means of dispute resolution.
In the process of my enquiries, I visited some of the Citizens’ Mediation Centers located in various parts of Lagos State. I went in to observe the proceedings going on there and I was quite impressed, after asking few questions about their procedure.
At that point, I knew I wanted to be a Mediator and I started looking for opportunities to learn more about it. Providentially, that same year, the CIARB Young Members Forum had a seminar on Mediation and that was where I got to know about the training at the Lagos Multi Door Courthouse. I enrolled for the training and became an Accredited Mediator.
DNL L&S: With your experience in Core Litigation vis-à-vis Probate, Land and Chieftaincy Matters, what set those areas apart from Mediation?
Morenike: These areas of law in Nigeria, mostly depend on Litigation as means of dispute resolution and as a result, we have our Courts filled with loads of such matters. Also due to the overflowing dockets of the courts with such cases, delays have become inevitable which is not the case with Mediation.
DNL L&S: What distinguishes Mediation from other forms of ADR?
Morenike: There are many distinguishing factors between Mediation and other forms of ADR. Unlike other forms, Mediation is fully party driven in that parties determine the outcome of their disputes by themselves with the assistance of a Mediator who helps to facilitate the process of dispute resolution between the parties.
Also, Mediation is less formal, highly confidential, faster, cheaper and helps in the preservation of the relationship between parties.
DNL L&S: What does the average Nigerian find fascinating about Mediation? What’s the key selling point?
Morenike: Well, I feel more awareness for mediation still needs to be created because the average Nigerian still considers Litigation as the best means of dispute resolution. Although some jurisdictions are doing very well in creating the awareness.
For instance, in Lagos State and some few other states in the federation, the Judiciary has done a lot in terms of awareness creation through the establishment of Multidoor Court House which works hand in hand with the Courts, the introduction of Settlement Week that holds at least 3 (three) times in a year in different Court Divisions in Lagos State and the establishment of Citizens Mediation Centers in various Local Government Areas of Lagos State.
One fascinating and key selling point that I think exist is the speedy resolution of disputes that Mediation affords the parties who are willing to explore it as an option.
I also believe that Mediation will gain more prominence most especially with the recognition of Mediation at the International scene through the Singapore Convention on Mediation which has been adopted and will come in to force this year to which Nigeria is also a signatory.
DNL L& S: What’s the success rate?
Morenike: I would not want to put a figure to it in order not to quote wrongly. However, using Lagos State as a case study, the success rate of Mediation led to the State Judiciary working hand in hand with the Lagos Multi Door Court House. Under the Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019, some civil matters are sent to the Lagos Multi Door Court House for screening before they are being assigned to a Judge. The screening process entails the bringing of parties together to explore out of Court settlement options which includes Mediation.
This would have been impossible if Mediation has not been seen to be successful.
DNL L& S: Usually in the Nigerian setting, parties would only embrace Mediation, where it is a condition precedent for accessing the Court, over the years have you seen more people genuinely embracing Mediation without such an agenda?
Morenike: Yes, this is because in recent times, we’ve witnessed an increase in the number of matters where parties approach the Lagos Multi Door Court House and other ADR Institutions themselves to request for their disputes to be resolved via Mediation. Individuals and Corporate Entities are beginning to include Mediation in the Dispute Resolution Clause of their respective Contractual Agreements.
DNL L&S: How effective are our Laws? Are they serving the purpose? Would you call for an amendment? If you would call for an amendment, what areas?
Morenike: I believe that our Laws have over time recognized the place of Mediation as a means of dispute resolution but it still boils down to the creation of awareness amongst the citizenry for the Laws to be fully effective.
DNL L& S: As a mediator, we know that you have fully taken advantage of Technology and Social Media to enhance your visibility, can you say same of Mediation? Has Mediation utilized the benefits of technology to solve disputes in a friendly and cost effective manner which it’s generally known for? Has it been made attractive vide use of Technology and Social Media?
Morenike: Interestingly, there are many platforms now on Social Media that have been created to enhance the visibility of Mediation. However, the recent pandemic has made the lack of the use of Technology to the benefit of Mediation obvious. Although there are few platforms for Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), the existence of these few platforms are still unknown to many. So in essence, I wouldn’t t state that the use of Technology to resolve disputes have been fully utilized.
DNL L&S: We’ve all heard the proponents of Mediation, they’ve told us over and over again, how Mediation is cost effective. In practice, do you consider this true or a diplomatic way of encouraging Mediation? Is it really economical?
Morenike: I can affirm to the fact that Mediation as a means of dispute resolution is very cost effective and this is not a diplomatic response at all. When you consider the time spent (which is as valuable as money itself) and the cost implication of having your dispute resolved via Mediation as opposed to other forms of dispute resolution, you will agree that it is indeed cost effective.
DNL L&S: With the outbreak of Covid-19, do you think the Industry i.e. ADR and her Practitioners were prepared?
Morenike: To answer in the affirmative will be far from the truth.
DNL L&S: What should have been done? What can be done? How can we prepare for the future?
Morenike: Firstly, more awareness ought to have been created on the use of Online Dispute Resolution which could have helped a great deal with the current lockdown situation all over the world. It is interesting to know that some jurisdictions where the Online Dispute Resolution is fully in place, resolution of disputes in these time will be a walkover for them.
he best way to prepare is to ensure that the proper structures are put in place to enhance the use and awareness of Online Dispute Resolution going forward.
DNL L&S: As a Mediator, do you honestly find our laws both Domestic and International elastic enough to solve dispute in the face of Covid-19 outbreak or any future occurrence which may limit physical human interactions?
Morenike: It is quite obvious that we all didn’t see this coming and we were definitely not prepared for this kind of occurrence. However, I believe this period is a wake up call to all stakeholders and I am certain that the necessary enactments will be made going forward.
DNL L&S: What major lesson has the Industry and her Practitioners learnt from Covid-19?
Morenike: One important lesson to be learnt is that technological disruption have come to stay and the earlier we embrace it and adapt to its constant innovations the better for us.