Justice Research Institute (JRI), a non-governmental organization, at the weekend signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for the purpose of providing free legal service to the most vulnerable, underserved and marginalized residents in the federal capital territory (FCT) Abuja, and three other states namely: Enugu, Kaduna and Osun.
Speaking on the rationale behind the initiative, Executive Director, JRI, Ikem Isiekwena, said the partnership will assist in mobilising a substantive number of legal practitioners to augment the limited state and civil society capacity in providing pro-bono services to individuals with legal needs.
According to him, the partnership would involve knowledge building training sessions and advocacy programs for active participating members.
“The obstacles to access to justice are deeply entrenched, and require appropriate and specialised resources to ensure that much-needed legal needs in Nigeria do not go unmet,” he stated.
He pointed out that building the infrastructure to facilitate the engagement of the private sector is a critical way to augment limited state and civil society resources and improve the ratio of legal services providers to individuals with legal needs.
According to him,with the proposed partnership with the NBA, “We could support and facilitate a system that matches competency and expertise with legal needs thereby begin the process of reducing barriers to justice for vulnerable citizens across the country.”
He noted that in the past, NGOs had played a role, alongside government legal aid agencies, but the resource constraints of these organizations limit their impact on the scope of the challenges.
On how the project which has funding from The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) is to be implemented, Ikem said it is designed to ensure building a culture of Pro-bono assistance in Nigeria.
He explained that a major component of the Pro-bono project is to establish two strategic clearing houses, which will tap into the available pool of lawyers who are eager to give back to society through pro bono work.
The clearing houses, he stated will match experienced volunteer lawyers with non profit organisations and indigent or vulnerable individuals in need of free legal assistance.
Earlier, the President NBA, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), commended the JRI for the initiative, stating that it will further ensure that the common man in Nigeria have access to legal support when the need arises.
He noted that access to justice was a fundamental human right, stressing that the NBA is aware that there a huge demand for the service hence the initiative is timely.
He expressed hope that the signing of the MoU will be the beginning of a long lasting initiative.