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How to end farmers/herders clashes with ADR — Ben Odoh, CEO, Negotiation PowerHouse

Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki

Mr. Odoh Ben Uruchi,, faculty member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators (ICMC), Association of Professional Negotiators and Mediators and Member, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in the United Kingdom and technical aide to Dr. Eric Kelechi Igwe, deputy governor of Ebonyi State speaks on ways to curtail the incessant farmers/herders clash which has left many dead and properties worth millions destroyed.

 You are promoting Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) which you also refer to as ‘Settle with laughter.’ What is that really all about?

The primary objective of settle with laughter is to create mass public awareness and acceptance of options for peaceful settlement of disputes – Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms. Using entertainment as a tool, the programme aims to craft ADR messages and lessons in simple and non-technical language for ease of understanding and use by the average citizen in daily management of conflicts. Essentially, settle with laughter aims to promote access to justice, social cohesion, public security, political stability and sound economic development by building a sustainable culture of peaceful settlement of disputes.

Some of the measurable benefits of settle with laughter include: building a culture of amicable settlement of differences and peaceful coexistence; promotion of access to justice, especially for the poor and needy who cannot
afford the cost of formal justice; substantial reduction in the number of cases that clog the court system and cause undue delays in court litigation.

Also, it would contribute to prison decongestion by reducing the number of misdemeanours and minor offences that clog the criminal justice system; promote law and order; and enhance police efficiency by reducing the
amount of complaints that stretch the limited resources of the police.

It would contribute to the reduction of ethnic, religious, social and political conflicts; strengthen public security; peace and development; rule of law and
sound democratic culture.

 Incessant farmers/herders clash is a burning issue in the country now. It has claimed many lives and ruined properties worth several millions so far. Can t ADR be useful in restoring peace?

For a few years, there has been a raging battle between Fulani herdsmen and farmers of Nigeria’s middle belt states of Benue, Plateau, and Taraba. This conflict, if left to mutate, can discourage tourists from visiting the different amazing destinations situated in this region. The Fulani herdsmen on one side are popular for being cattle rearers who make it essential for them to navigate their prized cows, from one location to another in search of food and water. As a result of this regular search, it may lead to the invasion of other people’s farms by the herdsmen.

Benue State is regarded as the food basket of the nation. It is an agrarian state because of the fertile soil and this makes agriculture very important for their livelihood and survival, and has inevitably attracted Fulani herdsmen to Benue and other Middle Belt states. So, the farmers rue the wanton ravaging of their farmlands as it destroys their source of livelihood. At the end, it becomes a battle for survival.

So, how can this be checked?

We have to tackle desertification. According to research findings, a sandy desert occupies about 35 to 40 percent of the land mass of frontline Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi. Over the years, the desert has consumed different parts of the region due to deforestation and pastoralism. This has encouraged many Fulani herdsmen to move from their base in these states, southwards. The Middle Belt and other parts of Nigeria are bearing the brunt. To forestall this continued migration, the government needs to encourage reforestation and irrigational farming.

The government has to bridge the indigenes/settler differences. When the Fulani find themselves in the farmer’s territory despite spending decades in the middle belt region, they are still regarded as settlers by the indigenes. These differences should be bridged through ADR, regular meetings, social gatherings, festivals and sporting events.

Again, there should be establishment of ranching zones. This is a key factor the government, herdsmen, and farmers have to agree on. A large expanse of land set aside solely for grazing should be declared as ranching zone. This should be established across the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. It will go a long way in reducing the tension between the farmers and the herdsmen.

 What is the level of application of ADR in Nigeria?

Rule 15 (3) (d) of Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioner, 2007, provides: “In his representation of his client, a lawyer shall not fail nor neglect to inform his client of the option of ADR mechanisms before resorting to or continuing litigation on behalf of his client.” More so, Nigerian court encourages litigants to resolve their disputes by adopting ADR options. The court may, with the co-operation and consent of the parties, refer the parties to ADR Centres of the court and the parties are expected to report back to the courts for adoption of agreed Terms of Settlement where ADR is successful or, where the ADR proceedings fail for trial. Under the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), cases are screen by the relevant registry official and suitable qualified cases may be designated for amicable resolution and referred  to the either the Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Delta, Akwa Ibom or Cross River Multi-Door Court House or other appropriate ADR Institutions.

 Are there challenges inhibiting ADR application in Nigeria?

Yes, there are challenges inhibiting ADR application in Nigeria. Unlike litigation where litigants spend many years in court for their dispute to be resolve by a judge, ADR is fast and flexible. The parties agree on the process of resolving their dispute. ADR proceedings are confidential and the outcomes are not subject to appeal. Notwithstanding the advantages of ADR over litigation, there are many challenges facing ADR as a means of resolving disputes in Nigeria.

Either by design or coincidence, litigation gradually became the main means of resolving disputes in Nigeria. Some businesses insist on resolving complicated disputes by initiating legal proceedings in court while some legal practitioners prefer to litigate a matter subject to ADR.

In spite of the continual training of judges on the role of ADR, some judges are still hesitant in referring matters to ADR as a result of their fear that ADR may gradually usurp their roles and the powers of the courts. This ingrained culture of litigation is a major problem to the growth of ADR in Nigeria.

Again, a poorly drafted or ambiguous ADR agreement may lead to ambiguity and confusion. An ADR agreement which does not clearly state the number and method of selecting the ADR experts, the scope, venue, seat, language, rules of ADR, and governing law of the ADR may delay the ADR proceedings or even defeat the parties’ intention of resolving their dispute through ADR.

Furthermore, for example, the growth of international trade and investment is supposed to develop Nigeria’s arbitral institutions and its culture of arbitration. But in most business transaction between Nigerian and foreign partners, the Nigerian partner is tacitly made to execute a ready-made template prepared by the foreign partner with the seat of arbitration at the foreign partner’s country or other foreign jurisdiction.

This trend has greatly hampered the growth of Nigeria as a foremost arbitration centre in Africa and discouraged local partners from invoking the arbitration clause when a dispute arises. Some winning party may also be exposed to same troubles faced by a litigant in conventional court.

 What’s your view about Nigeria’s Legal System? Can it be said to be of international standard?

Well, Nigeria has a well-developed legal system that is partially inherited from its colonial past, with English law forming the basis. This is combined with traditional customary laws in some cases and Islamic or Sharia law in the realm of marriage and secession. I therefore make bold to say that our Legal System is of international standard, sir.

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