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Expanding legal aid to vulnerable groups in Nigeria

In a significant stride towards increasing access to justice for vulnerable groups, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistant, through the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) programme and funded by the European Union, supports various initiatives to expand legal aid services to people in need. This includes providing vital technical and administrative support to Legal Aid Coordinating Committees in Adamawa, Anambra, Edo, Lagos, Kano, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The impact of these efforts was evident in the Federal Capital Territory, where International IDEA, through the RoLAC programme, collaborated with key stakeholders such as the Duty Solicitor’s Network, Juritrust Centre for Socio-Legal Research and Documentation, Public Interest Law Partnership (PILP), the Nigerian Bar Association, the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, National Human Rights Commission, and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons. Together, they provided free legal aid services to 134 citizens, predominantly from the informal sector, over one week.  This was done through a team of 40 lawyers who volunteered for the legal clinics, offering assistance on tenancy disputes, small business conflicts, marital issues, domestic violence, and employer/employee disputes.

Similar positive outcomes were recorded in Anambra, where collaborative efforts expanded the delivery of the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) to 32 detention centres across the state, providing legal aid to 750 inmates. This intervention led to releasing 215 detainees, striking out of 56 cases, and charging 79 detainees to court. This followed support to the Human Rights Desk of the Awka branch of the Nigerian Bar Association to carry out sensitisation on the PDSS to 8 other branches of the Bar.  105 lawyers across the 8 bar branches and 35 non-lawyers (paralegals were reached through the sensitisation.  The support also included harmonising the activities of the existing Legal Aid Coordinating Committee with that of the Bar branches. The PDSS harmonised team has secured the buy-in of the Commissioner of Police, Anambra State Command Aderemi Adeoye, who issued a directive to all the 51 Police Formations and 8 Area Commands to accord the Team the necessary cooperation.

In Edo, the Legal Aid Coordination Team provided legal advice and representation to 57 inmates, securing release for three and progressing cases for 54 in court across the Oko Correctional Centre and the Children’s Home in Ugbekun.

In Adamawa, International IDEA supported advocacy efforts through a sensitisation walk led by the Chairman of the state branch of the NBA, alongside 50 other members. This included the printing and distribution of 1000 leaflets and flyers on citizen rights and contact details of legal aid service providers. Additionally, a lecture was conducted for Sixty lawyers and 30 police officers are within the Adamawa State Police Command, raising public awareness about the rights of suspects in detention and the crucial role of police duty solicitors.

At the policy level, International IDEA joined forces with the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON), the Duty Solicitors Network, Rights Enforcement, and the Public Law Centre (REPLACE). Together, they advocated for enhancing legal aid availability to detainees in police detention facilities, funding a joint conference of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria and the Nigeria Police Force. This conference, attended by Police Public Relations Officers from all 36 states, aimed to review and enhance the effectiveness of the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme.  Participants at the conference, which was organised in commemoration of the 2023 International Human Rights Day, include the Director General of the Legal Aid Council, Aliyu Abubakar; Chairman of the Police Service Commission (who was an Inspector General of Police), Dr Solomon Arase; the Attorney General of the Federation represented by a Director in the Ministry of Justice Mrs Gladys Odigbaro; the President of the Nigerian Bar Association Mr Yakubu Maikyau (SAN); and the Inspector General of Police who Assistant Inspector General Shehu Gwarzo represented.

"The enforcement of Force Order 20 and other relevant provisions of the ACJA are commendable milestones in the concerted effort to address the crisis of arbitrary, irrational and interminable pretrial (awaiting trial) detention in the country" - Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.

About the authors

Murkthar Suleiman
Communications Officer
Grace Akpan
Communications Assistant
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