I learned about the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse as part of my curriculum in Nigerian Law School between 2007 and 2008. For the first time, I was introduced to alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation. Years later, I would establish a career in mediation.
Having seen how effective mediation is in resolving disputes at minimal cost, and in increasing access to justice where I currently practice, I did some research on the status of mediation practice in Nigeria. I was impressed with what I found in Lagos State.
From an article on Medium which is an interview granted by Director Adeyinka Aroyewun and Deputy Director Achere Cole of the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse, I gathered as follows:
Nigerians face an estimated 25 million new legal problems each year. Only two out of ten will engage with formal institutions.
The average court case in Nigeria takes four to ten years to conclude, but cases before the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse are disposed of between three to five months.
Fourteen Nigerian states have since duplicated the model, and many other countries in the region have piloted similar initiatives.
In Lagos today, any suitable case will be automatically routed to the multi-door courthouse for an assessment and if not suitable for alternative dispute resolution, will be tracked to the formal court process.
The program faced some initial challenges including having to train the mediators and enlightening lawyers who were not thrilled about an alternative to litigation that will lead to a perceived decrease in revenue. The public and legal practitioners had to be educated of the benefits of meditation before the program became widely accepted.
Despite the initial challenges, the multi-door courthouse has helped facilitate the resolution of about 14,000 cases.
A case between a former Vice President and a Managing Director of a Bank that had been in court for seventeen years was resolved in just one day through the help of the mediation program.
Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse’s website shows the Muti-Door Courthouse team includes neutrals, case managers, lawyers and clerks. There is also an opportunity to apply to work with the agency by submitting an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Besides the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse discussed above, Lagos State Ministry of Justice also runs a Citizens Mediation Center, a separate mediation program. According to the Ministry of Justice’s website, from January to December 2015, a total number of 34, 511 new cases were received; 20, 966 were mediated; 19, 464 matters were resolved; 3, 622 matters were adjourned while 1, 351 matters were unresolved and the center collected N752, 974, 217 on behalf of parties. The center’s website also list more than ten locations in Lagos including Lekki and Ikotun where the programs are located.
With these models established by Lagos State, justice is now more accessible than ever in the state. Where before, a wronged party may hesitate from going to court because of litigation’s propensity to drag out for years, now, with mediation services provided by the government, citizens can now seek redress through mediation channels which are often cheaper and faster. States and jurisdictions who have yet to adopt mediation programs must look to the Lagos State model to reap the benefits it offers in terms of job creation, reducing backlog of court cases, improving consumer confidence, and its improvement of access to justice.
Also, for legal practitioners, there has never been a better time to practice law in Nigeria. Where previously the Nigeria Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners prohibited contingency fee remuneration and lawyers had no incentive to timely resolve cases as billable hours increased in proportion to how long cases drag on, the new Rules of Professional Conduct permitting Nigerian lawyers to charge contingency fees should encourage lawyers to take up cases they would have previously declined because of a client’s inability to pay. And given that with the mediation programs discussed above, cases can now be resolved more quickly without affecting an attorney’s remuneration, lawyers should be excited at the prospect of generating more businesses with quicker results and without the delay, cost and uncertainty of litigation. Cases not worth the hassle of litigation may now be quickly filed with the mediation programs.
In subsequent posts, I will write about how lawyers can take advantage of these changes in Nigeria legal landscape to improve their practices, increase their revenue, and ensure that justice is accessible to people who need it most. A lot of money is left on the table when eight out of ten legal problems are left unaddressed.
If you love this post, you may also love my previous post on how to mediate cases arising from COVID-19 disputes.
Anne Mmeje is a lawyer, licensed in Nigeria and California. She currently works as a mediator in California and having seen the usefulness of alternative dispute resolution methods, spreads the word . To contact her, email email@example.com.