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Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode

Lagos’ CMC and access to justice By Tayo Ogunbiyi

Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode

Dispute is an integral part of every society and it arises at all levels of interaction. Various crises that occur in society are partly traceable to inability of parties involved to amicably settle their disputes. All through human history, kingdoms and nations have had to engage in needles wars due to unresolved disputes. Thus, the extent to which disputes are cordially settled ultimately determine the degree of peace that is enjoyed in the society. It could, therefore, be affirmed that dispute resolution is crucial to the peaceful coexistence of human society. In contemporary time, three main methods have been evolved for dispute settlement through the intervention of third parties. These are judicial settlement or adjudication by courts of law, conciliation and mediation and arbitration.

Of the three, adjudication or litigation by courts of law is a famous conventional method that disputes have generally been resolved for quite some time. But it has been discovered overtime that court proceedings are usually delayed, substantially expensive and enormously demanding. Aside this, whichever way a litigation process ends, it always leave behind heightened animosity and eventually results in broken relationships with further consequences on societal fragile peace.

It is, thus, in recognition of the several shortcomings of litigation that stakeholders in the justice sector have been promoting and encouraging parties involved in disputes to seek other informal or not too cumbersome options in settling disputes. It is the search for such probable options that brought to the fore the now popular Alternative Dispute Resolution, ADR which involves compromise and making of concessions, here and there. In deciding on for this option, feuding parties may achieve the objectives themselves or may decide to involve dispassionate parties as mediators.

The main objective of ADR is to encourage and promote the resolution of disagreements in a way that is devoid of legal action. It is on this principle that the Lagos State Government anchored the creation of the Citizens’ Mediation Centre, CMC, in 1999. As earlier explained, legal process is often protracted and expensive and the realization of this usually makes some people, especially the indigents to resort to self-help, which sometimes could lead to anarchy. It is, therefore, in a bid to ensure that law and order isn’t in any way threatened in the country’s ‘Centre of Excellence’ that the Lagos State Government through the Ministry of Justice under the then leadership of Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), now the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, established the CMC as a Unit under the Directorate for Citizens’ Rights (DCR) of the State’s Ministry of Justice.

The establishment of CMC is a creative response to the yearnings of several Lagos residents, particularly the indigents, the illiterates and the helpless who find the traditional method of resolving disputes through litigation too costly, technical and rather awkward. Under the law that established the Centre, its services are to be provided only to indigent residents of the State especially women, children and the physically challenged. Also, for CMC to mediate in any dispute, the cause of action must have occurred within the jurisdiction of Lagos State. This implies that, the Centre wouldn’t take up cases that took place outside the State. One other vital point is that the complaint must come straight from the affected persons or other referrals. However, the Centre can sometime refer matters brought before it to other suitable agencies, Non-Governmental Organisations, the Courts or other relevant Organisations.

Over the years, CMC has evolved in diverse ways. Today it is a full-fledged Agency with 18 centres at 7up by old Toll -Gate, Yaba, Lagos Island, Iba, Ikorodu, Amukoko, Agege, Alimosho, Badagry, Ojo, Ojokoro, Ikotun, Bariga, Oshodi, Ibeju-Lekki, Epe, Eredo and Ikosin-Ejirin. The intent in creating more centres across the State is to bring the service of the CMC closer to all residents of Lagos State. The new focus of the Centre appropriately echoes the notion of “Justice for All” which is premised on the perspective that government’s objective of giving access to justice is similar to the goals of providing other vital services in other equally critical sectors such as education, the environment, public health among others. The insight here is that just as government makes provision for infrastructure development, education, health care delivery, public security and others, provisions should also be made for justice that is swift, affordable and perceptible. It is based on this premise that the cost of handling all cases at the Centre is fully borne by the government.

 The CMC has without doubt vigorously pursued its mission of promoting mediation as a substitute to litigation in conflict resolution in Lagos State. In the last one year, the Centre considered a total number of 11,813 (Eleven Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirteen) new cases; 6,503 (Six Thousand Five Hundred and Three) matters were mediated while a total number of 6,000 (Six Thousand) cases were amicably resolved. In same vein, the total value of settlement of debt related matters handled by the Centre was N265, 580, 876 (Two Hundred and Sixty-Five Million, Five Hundred and Eighty Thousand, Eight Hundred and Seventy-Six naira). Through the cases it has successfully resolved, the Centre has aided the prison decongestion drive of the State Government in no small measure. Also, incidences of resorting to self- help because of lack of faith in the judicial system have been on the decline because of the mediatory role being played by the CMC.

 In order to ensure that more residents of the State take advantage of the Centre’s service and also in accordance with the vision of the current administration in Lagos State to run an all inclusive government where no one or group is left behind in the scheme of things, branches of the CMC might soon be established in all Local Government Councils and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) in the State.

As it is well known, access to justice ensures a peaceful society. The role of CMC in promoting peaceful co-exientence in the State has been acknowledged by the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode who commended the Centre for successfully settling conflicts that could have degenerated into chaos and unpleasant situations in the State. The Governor who spoke at the celebration of 2017 United Nations International Day of Peace at Alausa, Ikeja, said that CMC had demonstrated professionalism in its entirety through its amicable way of conflict resolution, saying that matters that could cause disaffection and enmity among residents are being resolved within a minimal time frame, with all disputing parties returning home happy and satisfied. 

While it cannot be affirmed that CMC has reached Eldorado in terms of achieving its goals, what is however not in doubt is that it has done enough to engender hope among the people for uncomplicated access to justice. Democracy thrives on prompt dispensation of justice. To guarantee peaceful coexistence in any democratic society, everyone must have unhindered access to justice. This, indeed, is what the CMC stands for.

Ogunbiyi is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja

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