Christian Mediation in Nigeria

The Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria (“CLASFON”), the oldest and largest Christian lawyers association in Africa, is leading the way in bringing mediation to Nigeria.

Two years ago, CLASFON invited Iowa attorney and Christian conciliator Laurie Stewart to teach a five-day course on inter-personal biblical peacemaking to over one hundred CLASFON lawyers in Nigeria. These lawyers and judges developed a vision for “Christian ADR” and asked Laurie to come back and provide training in Christian conflict intervention. She assembled a team of Certified Christian Conciliators to teach these courses through the Institute for Christian Conciliation, and I was honored to be part of this team. Over five days earlier this month, we were in Nigeria to teach the basic peacemaker seminar, two days of biblical conflict coaching, and two days of Christian mediation to about sixty lawyers, judges and pastors from all over Nigeria.

On the theory that peacemakers cannot bring peace to others until they have it themselves, we asked participants to come to the training prepared to be coached on a personal conflict. After a day of learning conflict coaching skills, participants paired up and “coached” each other through a personal conflict. Stories abounded of how God moved in participants’ hearts: one man said he was preparing to divorce his wife because she fought with his mother, but now he saw that he needed to reconcile with his wife; a woman was able to forgive a teacher who was mean to her young daughter; a pastor said he needed to forgive a woman in his congregation who had snubbed him, and he planned to stop at her house on his way home from the training to reconcile with her. Two people said they were convinced they were totally innocent in their respective conflicts, until their “coaches” helped them see their contributions to them – in light of Jesus’ teaching that we must first get the log out of our own eye before going after the speck in our neighbor’s eye.

Mediation isn’t used much in Nigeria’s legal system, so it’s exciting to me that, as a result of this training, it is being introduced as a “wholistic” process that addresses emotional, relational and spiritual issues in addition to legal and material issues. Lawyers were rightly skeptical about how a mediator could ever be truly neutral, and why the second party would agree to a mediator recommended by the first party. They also questioned how their ethics rules pertain when lawyers sit as mediators. We assured them that the American bar also wrestles with these issues, and that they will figure this all out. We understand that there are CLASFON chapters in three major Nigerian cities eager to set up Christian mediation centers in their communities. These lawyers have an opportunity to impact the legal system, the church, and their culture.