Disputes are inevitable in business relationships in every sector of the economy and clime and these disputes come in different ways and almost every day as long as business is being transacted but the measures to dispose of with the disputes in order to avoid having a long time effect on the businesses remain the factor to contend with.
It is always a nightmarish experience for anyone to seek a redress in the court of law when he feels that his right has been trampled upon only to be greeted with the frustration of remaining in the court for as long as he never thought or hoped for.
However, most of the cases in the court take such a long time to dispense with because of the litany of cases that the few judges have to contend with on a daily basis. The cases get accumulated because people file cases everyday thereby adding up to the ones already on ground.
In addition, some of the cases need time to be critically examined because of their technical nature and because they are sensitive too. So, the judge will have to take his time in order to get the best out of the case and also not to deny anyone of his or her right in the process of delivering the judgement.
As a result of this, many people have tried to devise means of finding alternatives to resolving matters order than through litigation. This is necessary so that the time and resources committed to litigation can be substantially reduced and also to minimize the situation where a party will be a loser while only one party will take the day.
As welcome as this ideas looks, its veracity is the point of contention. It is often argued that it might not really have the capacity to resolve all the grouse encompassed in the matter to the satisfaction of the clients. Some say since it does not involve the presence of laws of the land, it might not truly represent the true reflection of the laws of the land.
The seventh edition of the practical maritime dispute resolution seminar, the views of the organisers are totally different from the general belief of some people who might have one reservation or the other against such alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
The two day seminar which was organized by the Maritime Arbitrators Association of Nigeria (MAAN) which was formed about ten years ago explained that the measure is effective as it saves the number of days that would have been sunk into litigation or the conventional court process.
The group believes that because shipping business is a time bound business, it does not have enough time to chase after litigation because by so doing, man hour and revenue would have been lost in the process as well as losing business relationship.
The President of MAAN, Dr. Omogbai Omo-Eboh said that the seminar was organized to enlighten the maritime stakeholders on the need to embrace arbitration as a viable means of dispute resolution.
He said that litigation could get a litigant stuck in the court process for more that he has bargained for and that could lead to losing interest in the case or be denied of his right due to time and much resource committed into the case.
He said, “Disputes are inevitable in business relationship and if you enter into a business relationship in the maritime industry, you should always prepare that someday, there could be dispute and arrange to handle the disputes properly.
“You could resolve through the Maritime Arbitration Association of Nigeria as against going to court and getting stuck in the litigation for too long which can drag on for years without end and can lead to breakdown of business relationship with the person you are in that relationship with,” he said.
From the call made by Dr. Omo-Eboh, it expressly means that it can resolve dispute and still keep the business relationship where the dispute emanated from without being jeopardized.
However, also speaking, the Secretary of MAAN, Barr. Osuala Nwagbara said that the association was still making efforts to give the system publicity that will help register it in the mind of the stakeholders in the sector as a veritable means of dispute resolution and n to dissuade them from exploring the conventional court whenever there is any matter that crops up.
In his words, “We are advocating that dispute in maritime should be resolved through arbitration because shipping business is time bound and capital intensive and instead of court taking about five months, arbitration will take two or three week.
“It is a better alternative and people are embracing it. We had six judges from the High Court of Lagos State. One judge from the Appeal Court and two judges of the Federal High Court were present at the seminar which means it is being accepted by stakeholders and the public.
It is a welcome partnership with the court. It complements the court system unlike before when people thought it was antagonistic to the court system. It helps to relieve the system,” he added.
Speaking with Barr. Valentino Buoro, a mediation expert and maritime lawyer, he said the system was more flexible that the court system.
“Arbitration is a private process and arbitrators will give judgement based on who is right or wrong. It co-exists with the court and it depends on what the client wants, it exists all over the world; arbitration deals with facts and morals and not whether it conflicts with the laws of the state or not.
In this type of alternative dispute resolution system, it involves private judges and does not require that the arbitrator be a trained lawyer but must be an expert in the matter that is being put under consideration.
The arbitration system as advocated will help to reduce the work load of court and lessen the time taken to attend to a case and it is fast gaining acceptance all over the place but how well has it been explored in the maritime industry to resolve the myriad of cases in the sector?
How well are the government agencies, shipping agencies, terminal operators, clearing agents, freight forwarders and several maritime operators harping on this avenue to resolve business disputes and other matters order that wasting so much time and resource on litigation?
One would have expected that the case between the Sea Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and the Association of Shipping Lines Agencies (ASLA) against the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) be resolved through this means to avoid committing much resource to fighting the case and to also avoid wasting time.
This would have been necessary because it would have afforded both parties to be able to make appeal to each other and have a common ground rather than waiting for the pronouncement of the law because whoever loses out at the end of the day, may find it too hard to bear.
On the other hand, would it have been strong enough to handle such a high profile case as this and if not, then how viable can we say arbitration is?