Mr. Fola Alade is by all standards a seasoned mediator, he is the founder of Fotefa Academy, a bespoke Mediation Training Academy. He strongly believes that mediation is the best form of ADR for the Nigerian environment, in this interview with Oluwatosin Ajose Popoola, he shared some of his thoughts on ADR.
DNL L & S: Please tell us about yourself?
Mr. Alade: My name is Fola Alade. I am a Notary Public and a Commercial and Dispute Resolution Lawyer based in Lagos. I am also the Founder/ Principal Partner of FOTEFA PARTNERS LP (MEDIATION ADVOCATES & MEDIATORS), a full- service commercial law firm in Nigeria. The law firm offers a wide range of expert legal services to a highly diversified and global client base. Prior to running my law firm, I worked with Abdullahi Ibrahim & Co., a top tier law firm with the highest number of Senior Advocates in Nigeria.
I am a Certified Mediation Advocate with the Standing Conference of Mediation Advocates (U.K), a trained Mediator on the Panel of Neutrals of the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC), Lagos Court of Arbitration (LCA) and Lagos Chamber of Commerce and International Arbitration Centre (LACIAC), a trained Negotiator from the Lagos Business School (LBS), a Certified Emotional Intelligence Specialist with another certification in Hypnotherapy and Neurological Redesign Course, a Facilitator and a Certified Trainer(International Award in Delivering Training[IADT] UK) with the London Professional Training Centre.
I am the Founder/Principal of Fotefa Mediation Academy, a bespoke Mediation Training Academy where I train on the business and practice of Mediation. I am also the Executive Director of the Incorporated Attorney-Mediators Association (ATMA) in Nigeria and a Consultant/Facilitator/Trainer with the Standing Conference of Mediation Advocates (SCMA Nigeria), Betaworka Cosmopolitan Partners Limited, Au Courant Legal Research Firm and the Resource HQ Ltd where I train on Negotiation, Mediation, Mediation Advocacy, Negotiation, Workplace Conflict and Emotional Intelligence.
My hobbies are reading (I am a bit of a knowledge junkie) and binge watching movies (Netflix and Chill). My favorite quote is by the Greek philosopher, Socrates and it goes thus “the only thing I know is that I know nothing“. This quote keeps me in that constant state of learning and acquiring more information not only about my area of expertise but on personal development.
DNL L & S: You’ve undergone series of training as an ADR Practitioner, from the Lagos Court of Arbitration to the Lagos Chamber of Commerce & International Arbitration Center, among a host of others, what led to this journey? Tell us about your experience at the centers please.
Mr. Alade: Most of the trainings I had at the institutions mentioned above had to do with gaining a better understanding of the business and practice of ADR with specific reference to Mediation. It is important I state this distinction to avoid any ambiguity as I have a bespoke approach to Mediation as an area of specialization. Most of the cases I handle for now are with the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse and I dare say it has been interesting and mind opening to the effect that a lot of issues can be resolved if parties are willing to have a sit down to address the issues in contention rather than the litigation approach a lot of parties are used to.
DNL L & S: Now, in terms of cost, access, structure and laws, which of the forms of ADR do you find fascinating and more applicable to the Nigerian environment?
Mr. Alade: Of all the alternative dispute resolution mechanisms we have, I find Mediation to be the most fascinating and best suited for the Nigerian environment for the following reasons;
In terms of cost, it is usually less expensive than litigation which goes all the way to judgment. The absence of a trial not necessarily wanted by both parties has its advantages; reduced costs, no full trial preparation, the litigation is not so protracted and the absence of findings of fact that might subsequently be used by one of the parties.
I would make reference to sections of the Lagos Multi Door Court House Laws to lend more credence to the structure and laws and why in my opinion I find it more suitable for the Nigerian environment;
- Section 15(5) of the LAGOS MULTI-DOOR COURTHOUSE (LMDC) 2007 provides that, any Settlement Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding duly signed by disputing parties shall upon being filed at the LMDC, be presented to an ADR judge or any other person as directed by the Chief Judge, for enforcement as the consent judgment of the High Court of Justice, Lagos State.
- Another interesting extension of the enforcement provisions of the LAGOS MULTI-DOOR COURTHOUSE (LMDC) 2007 Law is Section 4(1) (b) which allows Terms of Settlement and Memorandum of Understanding reached by other ADR Organizations be filed at the LMDC and endorsed by the ADR Judge to become the consent judgment of the High Court Of Lagos State.
- Section 16 of the LAGOS MULTI-DOOR COURTHOUSE (LMDC) 2007 specifies amongst others that it is the responsibility of the Judge of the High Court of Lagos to control and manage effectively proceedings in court and issue orders which would encourage the adoption of ADR methods in dispute resolution, including the mandatory referral of parties to explore settlement at the LMDC whenever one of the parties to an action is willing to do so.
- In a similar vein, Section 32 of the TENANCY LAW 2012 provides that in proceedings under the Law, the court shall promote reconciliation, mediation and amicable settlement between parties. By virtue of this provision, the High Court or Magistrate Court may refer tenancy proceedings or any part of it to mediation at the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) or to the Citizens Mediation Centre (CMC).
DNL L & S: Apart from the Statutory provisions which gives mediation a ‘good flavour’ why do you consider mediation, the most fascinating and more applicable to the Nigerian environment?
Mr. Alade: I consider it the most fascinating, because it provides an easy, cost-effective and timely means of dispute resolution for parties. It also helps to maintain business relationships. Imagine being a business owner, and having to recover some millions of naira in debt. With Mediation, you can work out a solution with the opponent party for a flexible payment plan, reduce this into a binding agreement all within 2 months at the latest. This is against what would be obtainable in the congested courts where you can spend years recovering the same amount.
DNL L & S: You have equally acquired some other skills such as Emotional Intelligence and you also undergone the Hypnotherapy and Neurological Redesign program, what value has these programs added to your practice as a Legal Practitioner on one hand and an ADR Practitioner on the other hand?
Mr. Alade: Becoming an Emotional Intelligence Certified Specialist has been one of the most rewarding programs I’ve taken in my career as a Lawyer and ADR Practitioner. As a lawyer, it has helped me to understand the personality of each client that comes my way, and how best to relate and interact with them to help solve their legal problems. As an ADR Practitioner it has helped me to not only understand my client but also the opponent party: their wants, interests, and how to juxtapose it with that of my client to ensure that both parties agree on terms of settlement that speaks to the problem and projects solutions to those problems.
DNL L & S: What problem is Hypnotherapy and Neurological Redesign capable of resolving in ADR as a whole and mediation in particular? How about Emotional Intelligence?
Mr. Alade: Emotional intelligence, Hypnotherapy and Neurological Redesign help to solve problems of ego-centrism, unwillingness to participate in proceedings, stubborn parties who try to frustrate proceedings, uncooperative lawyers who represent parties, and so on. These skills help an ADR practitioner to easily remove deadlocks when they arise.
DNL L & S: Without a doubt, you have carved a niche for yourself in mediation despite your knowledge and training in ADR as a whole, why have you embraced mediation above other forms of ADR?
Mr. Alade: I have a very interesting relationship with mediation from the very first time I heard the word, and mistook it for “meditation” (laughs). In fact, I just finished a series of LinkedIn articles on the story of my journey into mediation and why I embraced it over all other forms of dispute resolution. The simple truth is, I have seen the benefits of mediation first hand. Unlike a lot of practitioners, I don’t see mediation as a profession or a practice but a way of life. I eat, drink and live Mediation.
Imagine what it’s like to see hostile parties who wouldn’t even acknowledge the presence of each other, go in and come out discussing amongst themselves, sometimes even smiling! Mediation gives power to the parties, to express themselves and have their grievances heard in their own words. A good mediator upon getting to the root of the matter, then helps parties to facilitate conversations towards a mutual solution. Mediation assures you of a fair and win-win settlement which most other ADR methods cannot give.
DNL L & S: We all know that Arbitration is a deeply regulated form of ADR with Rules, Conventions etc. Apart from these Rules, the award reached at the end of an Arbitration is as good as a Court’s judgement hence most Organizations would prefer Arbitration over any other form of ADR, what does this approach say of Mediation in view of its party driven nature?
Mr. Alade: Settlements reached at Mediation are also endorsed by the court as consent judgement. This means that the parties are bound by whatever they themselves agree, and such agreement has the full backing of the law. Whereas awards can be contested in court and set aside, hardly will a mediation settlement be contested. Rather an action may be brought for the other party to fulfil his/her obligation as in any ordinary contractual dispute.
DNL L & S: What’s Mediation’s greatest selling point?
Mr. Alade: Mediation’s greatest selling point is the ease and convenience it gives people who cannot resolve their issues by themselves and in most cases the restoration of that business relationship. There’s this saying where I come from, that people who go to court rarely come back as friends. It’s not the case in mediation, most times they do. An understanding of the fact that you do not necessarily need lawyers, or the four walls of a courtroom to resolve your debt recovery disputes, landlord and tenant disputes, disputes relating to child custody etc. will encourage amicable dispute resolution among people.
DNL L & S: In view of our background as a Nation and peculiar business environment characterized by the failure of the average Nigerian be it person or entity to comply with the Judgment of a Court, do you then consider that the terms reached in a Mediation exercise will be strictly complied with? At the point of enforcement, will it not amount to an exercise in futility?
Mr. Alade: Usually the parties comply with the terms of settlement because they reached those terms by themselves. Nothing about mediation will make it amount to an exercise in futility because there are likely to have been some underlying issues that would have been solved even if later, one party has to go to court to enforce the settlement agreement.
DNL L & S: What distinguishes Mediation from other forms of ADR? Is this form of ADR capable of solving all manners of dispute ranging from family to commercial? How has it fared?
Mr. Alade: Mediation is different from other forms of ADR based on certain features. For instance, it is different from Negotiation because it involves a neutral third party. It is different from Arbitration because the third party facilitator does not make any “award” as in Arbitration, rather he helps the disputants to reach a negotiated agreement by which they are bound. Mediation is different from Conciliation because the third party neutral does not suggest any solution to the disputants. Mediation can be used for all kinds of disputes including contractual issues, debt recovery matters, landlord-tenant disputes, complex commercial disputes, child custody issues etc.
So far, Mediation has fared very well and has grown within the last 10 years. According to the then Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem SAN, the Lagos state government, registered 33,670 matters between January and August in 2018 at the Citizens Mediation Centre. Out of this number 18,982 were mediated and solved. You can imagine what the figures will be now!
However, many people are still unaware of it and its benefits. Oftentimes we find that most mediation cases were court-referred meaning that people are still trouping into the courts for each and every issue they have. We need to get to that point where people will voluntarily choose Mediation because they believe in its effectiveness.
DNL L & S: This Pandemic has brought the world to her knees affecting the economy, health sector, education, and the business community, despite the effect of this Pandemic some sectors rendering essential services apparently are the top gainers of this Pandemic, do you think mediation as a dispute resolution mechanism have been successfully introduced to these sectors to ensure that the practitioners are not affected economically in a time such as this?
Mr. Alade: Yes, mediation has been well introduced and has been much advocated for in resolving the issues arising from the current pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in the country. Almost every day there are new webinars wherein business owners and business leaders are advised on the best legal practices for their business, and with regards to dispute resolution, ADR is often projected as the best option. More still needs to be said though, and I intend to roll out some content in this regard in the following weeks on my Instagram page @dmediationlawyerist. The saying by one of my mentors readily come to mind in lending more credence to my assertion and it goes thus “ Diagnosis is to Medicine as to what Mediation is to Conflict resolution”. It takes you to the very root of the issues in contention. Once you are able to “diagnose” the cause of a dispute, it is easier to work towards an amicable resolution.
DNL L & S: Has the ADR Industry positioned herself rightly?
Mr. Alade: Yes, I can say that the industry has positioned herself rightly. ADR practitioners are well prepared to help their clients solve whatever disputes arise from the effects of the current pandemic.
DNL L & S: We have heard that a High Court Judge The Ikeja Judicial Division delivered a Judgment in Charge No: ID/9006C/2019 on the 4th of May, 2020 vide A Video App; Zoom in Lagos State delivered a judgment vide Zoom, bearing in mind your litigation background, what are your thoughts please?
Mr. Alade: I am very pleased that the Lagos State judiciary as always, has embraced such a progressive approach. To be honest, the future is technology and I must say that, we ought to have gotten to this level a long time ago. The pandemic has forced us to embrace and fully utilize technology in making things easier for litigants. In the post-COVID 19 era, it is important to make justice accessible to people regardless of location and physical presence. Justice is the end goal of litigation, every other thing is as to form and not substance. It is my opinion that all technicalities can be relaxed or waived provided that it is in the interest of justice.
DNL L & S: Still on the virtual mode of dispensing justice in this time, is mediation adopting any of these virtual modes in its service delivery? Can a mediation session be commenced and concluded virtually?
Mr. Alade: Oh yes mediation is! As a matter of fact, Mediation can be commenced and concluded virtually. Already, in more developed countries there are avenues for online mediation, broadly referred to as Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). Recently the Association of Attorney-Mediators (ATMA) had an extensive webinar on the concept and practice of online dispute resolution with particular reference to mediation. In fact, the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse is scheduled to begin ODR from May 25, 2020 and plans are in the offing to have members of our association (The Incorporated Trustees of Attorney Mediators Association) in which I am the Executive Director be trained and certified in Online Dispute Resolution.
DNL L & S: We all know how difficult it is for a fairly young practitioner to get arbitration briefs, the training and certifications notwithstanding, as a matter of fact few weeks ago, an arbitrator told us that the hierarchical nature of the Nigerian environment is equally true of the Arbitration industry and this has limited young arbitrators from getting briefs, he recommended volunteering among others, is this perception true for an average mediator? What does it take to get mediation briefs apart from the trainings and certifications?
Mr. Alade: Arbitration is a highly specialized and somewhat technical form of alternative dispute resolution. Look at it this way, before a big company can make you an arbitrator in their matter, they will look at your years of experience. This is why it seems like Arbitration is dominated by some people. On the other hand, all Mediation requires of you, are the right set of skills. My advice to any newbie in Mediation is two words, “strategic positioning”. You can begin with volunteering at the Citizens Mediation Centre or Lagos Multi-door Courthouse (LMDC), for instance during settlement weeks.
It’s important to attend Mediation related events, seminars and conferences. You should also consider becoming a member of Mediation institutions and associations. This will deepen your knowledge of the industry and help you to connect and network with other mediators. Whatever relationship you form with mediators in your network should be well maintained. Even within Mediation, you can choose an area as your niche, for instance, you can focus on only debt recovery mediation or only landlord-tenant mediation.
DNL L & S: You have over a decade experience in the legal profession, what would you say to a younger colleague?
Mr. Alade: My advice to a younger colleague would be;
- Never stop learning! Strive to always be better and in fact, to be the best in your field.
- Specialization is the new name of the game. Find an area in law and carve a niche for yourself there.
- Be a person of value and good character.
- Always think of yourself as a solution provider.
DNL L & S: Please leave us with your thoughts on the lessons you have learnt personally from this Pandemic.
- Prioritizing health and well-being
- That humans are fragile and we need to better prepare for catastrophe. Not just with plans and such, but also forge better relationships among countries so we can fight these global problems together.
- What happens in one country affects the entire world.
- Oil is worthless in a society without consumption.
- Incarcerated or being locked up is not as easy as it sounds.
Oluwatosin Ajose Popoola, ‘Tosin is a lawyer, content creator and blogger, she is passionate about law and its numerous instruments. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.