A mediator is a trained person who facilitates communication between conflicting parties and helps them reach an amicable, mutual and satisfactory solution to the dispute. Note that a mediator is neither a judge – his/her role is not to decide on the dispute that has arisen out between the parties; rather the mediator is a neutral and impartial person whose aim is to promote communication and direct the course of resolving the dispute between the parties involved. The mediator is also called an arbitrator, conciliator, facilitator or ombudsman, depending on the setting and the circumstances. Though the people and settings vary, all mediators need certain important skills. For one to qualify as a mediator, he or she must have training in peace building and conflict resolution, critical reasoning, reflective listening, and emotional detachment. The mediator must possess the ability to get along with people from diverse backgrounds and with a range of personalities, and know how to organize groups and help with decision making. Mediators work in many settings, usually indoors in an office setting where it is common to gather the opposing sides around a table to discuss issues. Mediators also meet one-on-one with individuals involved in the dispute. These meetings can take place at the court, at a correctional facility, hospital, lawyer’s office, community group meeting, government office, community hall or off-site in a neutral setting. Mediators reduce the cost and time involved in going to trial, especially with family and marital issues. Mediators also help businesses to resolve problems with employees. Arbitrators help union and management reach an agreement and avoid a strike. Corporations, schools, government agencies and community groups use them to reach consensus more quickly, before problems escalate. Mediators are indispensable in the correctional setting. They are important in custodial centres to help reconcile offenders with their victims so as to promote a smooth reintegration. They also help to resolve disputes among offenders, among correctional staff, and between staff and inmates. Mediators help the conflicting parties to find common grounds which will lead to the amicable resolution of the dispute. Finding common ground is difficult and takes a very special set of skills. One of the techniques which mediators help parties to assess their current positions and help them decide a mutually advantageous outcome to the disagreement is the Victim-Offender Mediation (VOM).
The Victim-Offender Mediation is also known as “victim-offender meetings,” “victim-offender reconciliation,” or “victim-offender conference.” The objective of Victim-Offender Mediation is to let the offender have insight into his/her misdemeanor, as well as hold him/her directly accountable while providing important support and assistance to the victim of the misdemeanor. With the assistance of trained mediators, the victims are able to let the offenders know how the crime affected them, receive answers to their questions, and be directly involved in developing a restitution/compensation plan that holds the offenders financially accountable for the losses they caused. The offenders are directly responsible for their behavior and therefore must learn the full impact of what they did and develop a plan for making amends, to the degree possible, to the persons they violated. Disputes are primarily referred to victim-offender mediation as a diversion from prosecution, assuming the mediation agreement is successfully completed. In some circumstances, disputes are referred primarily after a formal admission of guilt has been accepted by the court, with the mediation being a condition of probation (if the victim is interested). Court Judges, probation officers, victim advocates, prosecutors, defense attorneys, or police can make referrals to Victim-Offender Mediation programmes. The victim-offender mediation process serves to humanize the criminal justice experience for both the victim and the offender. It holds offenders directly accountable to the people they have victimized, allows for more active involvement of crime victims and community members in the justice process, and reduces further criminal behavior of offenders. The author of this piece believes that if this conflict resolution technique is put to maximal use in Nigeria, the hue and cry about congestion in our custodial facilities will be a forgone issue. With the introduction of restorative justice occasioned by the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019, the ball is now in the net of the authorities concerned to maximize it for proper administration of criminal justice in Nigeria.
The world is struggling to contain the COVID-19 disease. Many have died from the pandemic which has halted the world to a standstill. You are enjoined to stay at home and maintain good personal hygiene and social distancing. Above all, pray for the world.
DSC Ugwuoke, Kelvin Abuchi