The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Mr. Paul Usoro SAN has said the NBA is committed to the establishment of “Pro Bono” centers in each of the Six-geopolitical zones to encourage access to justice at the grassroots.
Mr Usoro (SAN), said this at the Sign-On Round table on Building A Culture of Pro Bono in Nigeria on Wednesday in Abuja.The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the “Pro Bono’’ scheme is aimed at offering free legal service to indigent persons seeking justice.
Usoro, who was represented by the Secretary-General of the association, Mr Jonathan Teidi, said the establishment of the centers will encourage access to justice at the grassroots.
He said the measure would complement the effort of the National Legal Aid Council, adding that the development would speed up decongestion of prisons.
“The large number of inmates that we have shouldn’t be there had they had legal representation. Part of the focus of the association would be to take the scheme to the next level,’’ he said.
NAN reports that the NBA president spoke on the theme: “Pro Bono Legal Services and the Nigerian Society: Bridging the Justice Gap’’.
Mr Dayo Apata, Solicitor-General of the Federal, said disproportionate percentage of inmates in the country’s prisons were awaiting trial because they could not afford legal representation.
Apata, who is also the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, said the ministry usually firmed out cases to private practitioners and external solicitors to provide legal representation to verified indigent inmates.
Apata, represented by Mr Julius Ajakaiye, a Deputy Director of Public Prosecution, said that aspect of the initiative was currently being undertaken through the Legal Aid Council.
“Moreover, as part of the prison decongestion programme, government and other key stakeholders provided funds to pay off the fines of indigent inmates languishing in prisons because they could not afford to pay fines.
“While acknowledging government efforts in this area, it is noted that funding constraints have adversely affected the efficacy of some of these initiatives.
“Permit me to say that one major lesson learnt over the years is that government cannot function optimally in isolation, but can only achieve maximum results with the support and cooperation of organised private sector.
“It is on this premise, therefore, that we are seeking your support as stakeholders in the justice sector and in the society at large to ensure that the initiative being birthed here today thrives.
“Let me at this juncture commend our partners, the Justice Research Institute and the Nigerian Bar Association, for this laudable initiative.
“I am encouraged by the prospects that this has the potential to galvanise all stakeholders in a united and concerted effort towards ensuring access to justice for all citizens, especially the indigent,’’ Apata said.
Mr Ikem Isiekwena, Executive-Director, Justice Research Institute, said the firm was using the roundtable to build a culture of “pro bono’’ in the country.
He said it was a start up meeting focusing on bringing justice to the underserved in the society.
Isiekwena said “pro bono’’ scheme was not being properly handled at the moment, adding that the institute was seeking partnership with relevant stakeholders to make the scheme more systematic.
According to him, about 200 legal firms have been introduced to the initiative in Lagos.
He said the institute had created a clearing house to serve as a market place where legal demand and supply would converge.
Isiekwena, however, said the initiative was not open to all, adding that focus was on the underserved and indigent who could not afford legal fees.
He also said the institute had signed an agreement with the NBA to ensure seamless operation and participation of lawyers in the country.
NAN reports that the event attracts dozens of legal practitioners, Human Rights activists and other rights related NGOs.