Dear colleagues and patrons of mediation services, I am honoured to have this opportunity to share my thoughts on my concept and vision for our esteemed body, the Attorney Mediators Association (ATMA Nigeria).
When often I am asked my vision of this Association without a timeline as in pre or post incorporation, I am momentarily in some uncertainty as to what the information seeker desires me to talk about. Is it the vision that impelled me to form the Association or what my expectations are, going forward?
To the first question, I would say that the motivation was to regain a professional pre-eminence that was fast slipping out of the hands of us lawyers.
For so many centuries, dispute resolution has been known as the forte of us, learned men, who advise on law, prepare and frank legal documents as well as take the unresolvable disputes of our clients to the courts of law for adjudication.
Then came the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process which began as a social movement of discontent against the increasing complexity of adjudication, the delay in the time of justice delivery and the escalating costs of such processes.
The judiciary as an institution promptly bought into the sea change by promoting and domiciling the ADR process of mediation as a court-connected process. The story was different at the bar. Majority of lawyers viewed the advent of ADR with suspicion and strong disapproval.
As we deterred and remained unsure of what to do, other professionals were entering into the mediation profession in droves and having a field day mediating court referred matters to which we, as lawyers, had now become nothing but unwillingly horses that must nonetheless be dragged to the river, whether or not we wished to drink of the water.
Those of us who had the foresight to brave the odds and train as mediators had become but an insignificant handful within the larger numbers of non-lawyer mediators.
Attorney- Mediators Association was therefore conceptualized and brought into being as the branded vehicle for reclaiming our positions as Officers of the Temple of Justice and numero uno in dispute resolution.
Going forward, my vision for this Association is to be at the cutting edge of promoting court-connected mediation services. Let us, like the National Bar Association, be the voice of the Mediation fraternity. Let us be visible in the marketplace to set standards and uphold ethical values. This we can do through continuing education and enlightenment of our stakeholder communities. A point that must be noted is that while judicial authorities have since seen the imperatives of mediation, there remains a significant number of individual Judges and lawyers who neither understand nor care a hoot about the process.
I cannot conclude this vision statement without addressing some unfounded concerns within the judiciary, the bar, and mediation training institutions.
Attorney-Mediators are not opposed to the use and sustenance of civil and commercial litigation. Rather they offer their services to enable Judges and lawyers to free up their time from cases that can be easily resolved by settlement so that greater concentration is focused on cases that actually need adjudication.
The Association recognizes and respects the skills of fellow mediators of diverse backgrounds even as its primary engagement is tailored to court-connected mediation where lawyers are involved.
ATMA shall continue to draw its membership from accredited mediators of recognized mediation training institutions in Nigeria and elsewhere and to upscale such skills to the international standards it has cut for itself.
Buoro Valentino Eshimakhe