Mr. Charles Adeyemi Candide-Johnson (SAN) is the President of the Lagos Court of Arbitration (LCA). In this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, he speaks on the LCA’s specific roles in justice administration, alternative dispute resolution (ADR), killer herdsmen and sundry issues
Of what specific use is Lagos Court of Arbitration (LCA) to justice administration?
LCA is a private-sector-driven, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) institution which is poised to become the preferred natural, neutral arbitral and ADR institution on the African continent. It was established to institutionalise ADR in Lagos and offer an organized and reliable alternative to the traditional court system. The goal of the LCA is to provide an effective and efficient dispute resolution service which is a necessary and inevitable requirement for economic growth and development.
Although formed as a public sector initiative through the LCA Arbitration Law 2009, the LCA is, in fact, independent of regulation, direction or control by any branch of government. This unique structure and positioning allow the LCA to be a viable hub for ADR services such as arbitration and mediation and vanguard for ADR for the region. LCA is housed at the International Centre for Arbitration and ADR at Lekki, Lagos. This state of the art dispute resolution center is the first purpose-built on the continent of Africa. It has multiple hearing and event rooms as well as ancillary facilities for hosting international proceedings. It is a center for ADR and also the engine for dispute resolution in the region because of the development of mechanisms and tailored procedures for commercial dispute resolution as well as events advocating, training and promoting same throughout each year.
Why do you think people prefer litigation to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism?
Preference suggests a conscious and informed choice between the two. I am not sure that any such preference has been expressed. The idea that dispute resolution means a courtroom litigation has been embedded in over 100 years of Nigerian history and even sophisticated commercial parties may not appreciate that legally valid choices exist which are simpler, more accessible and at least as effective. There are multiple reasons why ADR is a better commercial solution; including the fact that it is closest to our own traditional systems for dispute resolution. Informing the choice that people will make is a challenge of communication and of advocacy and it is part of the mission of Lagos Court of Arbitration.
Do you also share a belief that litigation is more rewarding than the ADR?
I don’t even understand the idea of that thesis. The job of a lawyer in dispute resolution is to take instructions; organize and analyze factual information; advise on the effect of law on the approximation of rights in that fact scenario and then to present the case in the best possible light before a tribunal that is skilled, independent and impartial. The job is the same for litigation as for ADR. However, if the system is efficient, the weakness of the lawyers becomes quickly obvious. What is often different in a place like this is that lazy, incompetent or even corrupt lawyers have found profit in exploiting inefficiencies in the court system and taking advantage of an unproductive obsession with form and technicality over substance in our courts. This hides laziness and incompetence which is a disservice to the use of legal services and in addition, it allows them to cast blame on the system of justice itself. This has been extremely damaging to commerce and to economic growth. ADR systems on the other hand, are deliberately organized for efficiency, simplicity and effectiveness and I think that this pace may be too fast for certain type of lawyers.
What is the possibility of having political/post-election cases being resolved through arbitration?
The simple answer is yes. It is also a subject which I addressed at a conference by the Nigeria Conflict Management Group in 2011. Part of what I said is still relevant: “An election includes verification and registration of voters, registration of parties and candidates, management of voting and ballot counting, as well as the action choice of the electorate and disputes may arise at any stage of this process. Although they can be formulated as legal issues, fundamentally these disputes are not about law. They are about economic, social, ethnic and other form of political conflict whose resolution is being pursued through the electoral process. The resort to litigation falsely assumes that this legal process leads to timely and effective resolution of these disputes, if not the deep-seated and underlying conflicts that they symptomize. While adversarial adjudication is the conventional first choice, evidence indicates that it is an ill-suited tool. The indulgence of the disputants consuming desire for victory over their adversary often ensures that even the victorious party often finds that the price paid for judicial redress is too high. A proper resolution of conflict requires the removal of misunderstanding and, if possible, the source of disagreement and returning the parties to their pre-dispute relationship or situation. Such a resolution ought to remove or assuage hurts and offences and even the egos of the disputants so that neither is motivated to disturb peace and order.
What would you say would change in justice delivery system if ADR is made mandatory in all states of the federation before litigation?
The highest ambition of any system of dispute resolution is voluntary adherence by the parties. Even the losing party must have confidence in the outcome. This is to be addressed by designing processes that are simple, accessible, fair, efficient and effective. The administrators of the processes must also inspire confidence in their independence and impartiality. It is not necessarily helpful to impose a regime if it inspires no confidence. It is not the habit that makes the monk. I prefer to prove the effectiveness of the system and let the people come to it by choice.
Reactions have continued to trail the recent suspension of the Abia State Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Uzokwe by the state House of Assembly. Can lawmakers remove Chief Judges at will?
I am not sure that they have that power without a recommendation of the National Judicial Council but it is not something into which I have looked at with any interest. I would say, however, that public confidence which may be expressed by the people’s representatives is a critical foundation of justice and the rule of law and that if any incumbent so misconducts himself that that confidence is destroyed, he has become unfit to sit in the judicial office. It may be the process of making that finding ought to be itself more effective and the result more relentless.
Nigeria now has 68 political parties. Do we really need multi- political parties? What impact would you say these parties will have on the nation’s nascent democratic process?
The multiplicity of parties is confusing and inefficient. It demonstrates that absence of ideology and/or the existence of overarching political and social ideas around which groups can organize. It promotes the corruption of personalities and private interests and the abuse of often ill-gotten wealth in the political process.
How far do you think the decentralization of the Supreme Court would help in the quest for speedy dispensation of justice?
I think that decentralization is irrelevant to the efficiency of the justice system at that level. This idea is a deflection and a distraction. The job of a judge is to decide the merit of any case as far as possible and as efficiently as possible. At the apex, the task is to describe the nature and substance of our law and to supply guidance across the board. With the above in mind, two things are required.
First, a radical curtailment of the right of appeal except on significant or novel points of law which are of general public importance as our higher courts are now overwhelmed with ultra-technical, trifling and even puerile argumentation.
There is hardly any substantive law discussed in these cases and the development of our law is sadly stunted. The second thing is a revolutionary approach to the organization of the court registry, the court docket and the process for presenting cases before the highest court. Pointless cases ought to be weeded out by early administrative evaluation along with cases that are not ready for hearing before they appear on the docket of the highest court. It’s not magic; it just requires clear thinking and discipline.
Of what benefit would an upward review of judges’ retirement age will be to the judiciary?
If a judge is learned and he is alert and efficient in deciding and disposing cases, then losing his service is not good for the administration of justice. This cannot be said of all judges and in many cases; retirement brings a breath of fresh air.
How can the Federal Government curb activities of killer herdsmen which already tearing the country apart?
I do not know that this is tearing the country apart but I know that we have a very serious problem of law from reports of killings and reprisals,. This law and order is the primary and most important function of government. Whatever may be the politics of this issue, I know that if the government abdicates this responsibility then it is no longer fit for purpose.
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