LACON Presents 2022 Statutory Annual Report at the 2022 Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference
With gratitude to God Almighty for yet another opportunity to present the Legal Aid Council’s Report for the preceding 2021 legal year, may I congratulate this August gathering of legal luminaries on a successful year 2021/2022 legal year.
The Legal Aid Council is a Federal Government Parastatal supervised by the Federal Ministry of Justice with the mandate to provide free legal services to indigent Nigerians. The Council as a statutory body was established by the Legal Aid Act No. 56 of 1976 and was amended by the Legal Aid Act Cap 205, 1990, Laws of the Federation, this law was later repealed by the substantive Legal Aid Act 2011.
The extant 2011 Act expanded the scope of the mandate of LAC from primarily criminal defence to the rendering of Legal Aid and Access to Justice to indigent persons nationwide by preventing decongestion of detention facilities and custodial centres in Nigeria, assisting road traffic victims, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and providing legal representation and paralegal services in three broad areas:
- Criminal Defence Services,
- Advice and Assistance in Civil matters including legal representation in court and
- Community Legal Services
The Mission of the Council continues to be the leading and pro-active provider of free, qualitative and timely legal aid services in Nigeria, ensuring social justice and the emancipation of the oppressed, reprieve to the weak and vulnerable thereby giving voice to the voiceless.
We remain grateful for the privilege to once again address this high-powered assembly of our nation’s distinguished lawyers effectively straddling diverse successful legal practice areas while providing access to justice to indigent and vulnerable persons in Nigeria. It is therefore on this premise that I present the Council’s activities and achievements for the year’s appraisal.
With the plethora of events that characterized the tenure of our dynamic outgoing President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Olumide Akpata and other National Executives, their two-year term which flew by in a flurry of activities can at the very least be termed ‘very engaging and interesting times’ for our Bar Association and our dear country. As projected in the preceding year, the Legal Aid Council enjoyed enviable proximity with the apex Bar body in a more strengthened relationship which impacted positively on the Council’s mandate of providing legal services to the Nigerian indigent. As you are aware, the NBA National General-Secretary and 3 other members of the NBA are statutory members of the Legal Aid Council’s Governing Board as provided under Section 2(1)(f) of the Legal Aid Act 2011.
The tenure of the former Governing Board of the Council led by Mr Suraj Sa’eda SAN came to a successful end on the 12th of May 2022. A new Governing Board is yet to be appointed by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR.
We heartily congratulate the in-coming NBA President, Yakubu Chinoko Maikyau SAN and other elected National Officers of the NBA on their successful election at one of the most keenly contested NBA national polls. We eagerly anticipate the added value this distinguished team of the succeeding NBA President and his executive will impact on the Council’s activities during their two-year tenure in office.
To this end, may we respectfully urge this August body to consider the appointment of the Director General of the Legal Aid Council (LACoN) as a Statutory member of the NBA NEC. This request is respectfully predicated on considerations of the nature of services rendered by the Council in providing free legal services to the indigent in our society, the said demography being the larger percentage of our population and largely resident in semi-urban and rural areas of Nigeria and the Council’s strategic relationship with NBA branches nationwide.
The DG Legal Aid Council’s membership of the National Executive Council of the NBA will in no small measure afford members of our association greater opportunities to key into the Council’s many innovations including pro bono service partnerships with the Council and participation in the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) towards rendering free legal services to the indigent in our society.
REVIEW OF 2021 PROJECTIONS ON LEGAL AID DELIVERY
Consequent to the projections we presented on the Council’s efforts at the last Bar Conference on Legal Aid Delivery and Access to Justice, we are delighted to report significant achievements towards the set goals including but not limited to the following:
Pro bono services.
Pursuant to the foregoing, may we use this medium to thank some members of the NBA that have deemed it fit as part of their corporate social responsibility to register and have their names listed in our register of legal practitioners rendering pro bono services.
As at the time of this report, we have a total of over 1,350 private legal practitioners/corporate bodies registered as lawyers rendering pro bono services in partnership with the Council. Almost half of these lawyers are based in Lagos and Abuja. It is our projection that come the next annual general conference of the NBA (if we are afforded the opportunity) we intend to publicly acknowledge and appreciate private legal practitioners who have collaborated with the Council in the preceding year and outstanding in rendering pro bono services to indigent and vulnerable persons.
In the same vein, we are much obliged to the sensitization efforts of the outgoing General Secretary who issued a notice drawing the attention of the NBA to these services, however, the caveat qualifying participation in these activities remains that all cases assigned to private legal practitioners by the Council under this arrangement are strictly provided pro bono as funds have not been made available by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) to pay for such services. Access to Justice Funds is provided for under Section 9 of the Legal Aid Act 2011, but it is yet to be activated with funds by the FGN, consequently we do not have the means to pay private legal practitioners who assist our clients on pro bono basis.
Paralegal services: The Council in its effort to expand the frontiers of paralegalism in Nigeria as provided under Section 17(3) of our Act 2011, is working with some donor agencies, paralegal service providers and selected private and public universities such as the RoLAC, Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative, Justice Empowerment Initiative, Attorney General Alliance-Africa, University of Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Bayero University Kano to mention a few to provide paralegal training/courses for persons to render such services as legal office managers, legal secretaries, research assistants, court and detention facilities monitor. LACoN is charged to undertake the regulation of such paralegals by the granting of practice licenses and keeping a register of such licensees. Trained paralegals can be hired from this pool of capable licensees and be attached to law firms. Their services will be restricted by the supervision of legal practitioners or hiring law firm. It is my firm believe that this will significantly improve the efficiency of legal practice and the justice delivery sector most especially in the rural areas where larger percentage of Nigerians who are poor reside with absence of Lawyers in their communities .
Reinvigorating and building new partnerships on the Police Duty Solicitors Scheme: The Council continues to build new collaborations nationwide fueled by better understanding and synergy between the Council, Lawyers and the Nigeria Police.
Building synergy with all critical stakeholders and partners as well as sister agencies in the Justice system and the NBA: The Council remains committed to better working relationships with all critical stakeholders and partners towards achieving workable justice service delivery coordination.
Critically engaging Donor Agencies and Civil society towards an enhanced Access to Justice.
Driving the Para-legal scheme in Nigeria: LACoN collaborated with the office of the Vice-President (V-P) to train over 500 persons under the At Risk Children-Program (ARC-P) directly handled by the Special Assistant to the V-P on Social Investment Mrs. Miriam Uwais. The program was to train and empower vulnerable Nigerian Children. LACoN was committed to train and equip paralegals with skills that would enable them offer legal advice and services to the vulnerable, especially the children. The training were conducted in Gombe and Kaduna states.
The Council’s projections for a paralegal summit in conjunction with other paralegal service providers is underway. In the meantime, the Council continues to organise seminars/workshops, the most recent was in collaboration with Attorneys General Alliance-Africa (AGA-Africa) in July 2022 in which over 100 participants were trained in paralegal practices and as paralegals.
Speeding up criminal justice Project: The Legal Aid Council led by the Director General has embarked on visits to correctional services centers across the country towards case loading and providing legal aid services to Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs) that have stayed long in correctional custody. A special task force was set up by the Director General to speedily handle these cases and we are getting result of these actions. 30 ATPs were recently released from Keffi Correctional Centre as a result of this special intervention by LAC. Currently there are applications for the enforcement of fundamental rights of 101 ATPs of Kirikiri Maximum Correctional Centre who have spent over 10 years in custody without trial before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Senate Public Hearing on Legal Aid Act 2011 (Amendment) Bill 2021:A public hearing on the Legal Aid Council Act 2011 (amendment) Bill 2021 was organized by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on Monday, 15th November 2021 at the Senate Conference Hall of the National Assembly in Abuja. The event was attended by the Director-General of the Legal Aid Council, Aliyu Abubakar Bagudu Esq., the management of the Council, the outgoing Nigerian Bar Association President, Olumide Akpata Esq. and other stakeholders. The DG Legal Aid Council urged the committee to expand scope of legal aid services to be rendered by LACoN to include all cases for the indigent persons in our society.
Work in progress:
- Improving the Capacity of staff in line with international best practices. Targeted training always produces desired results which is why the Council has continued to solicit for better funding or sponsored facilitation to support its efforts in the capacity building of its staff.
- Committed effort towards improvement of staff welfare. The Council continues to make concerted efforts toward the improvement of staff welfare but while there is light at the end of the tunnel, the Council solicits the cooperation of the NBA towards addressing the urgent need for improved staff welfare which invariably translates to improved services for the indigent.
- Tackling the decline in the Council’s infrastructure and enhancing as well as equipping our various offices nationwide. Despite the efforts of the Council in delivering services under its mandate, the work environment of most of its staff leaves much to be desired as they battle an increasing decline in infrastructure as many of the Council’s offices are underequipped, understaffed and lack basic logistics.
- Massive improvement in Logistics of the Council: While there has been some improvements in the Council’s logistics, it is far from satisfactory owing to the sheer volume of the Council’s responsibilities which have been impeded by its lack of adequate logistics.
Here is an outline of the statistics of cases handled for the period under review:
STATISTICS OF CASES HANDLED IN 2021
|Type of Cases||Cases Handled|
Legal Aid Council partnered with the following States’ Government, Donors and Non-Governmental Organizations which provided both technical and/or financial assistance to the Council. Their activities with us have been most critical to our success over the years, they are:
- Enugu State Government
- Imo State Government
- Anambra State Government
- Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (ROLAC)
- Partners West Africa
- Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA)
- European Union
- International Committee of the Red Cross
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
- Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI)
- Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (IWEI)
- Attorney General Alliance-Africa among others.
Legal Aid Council is beginning to surmount its challenges and it is hopeful of overcoming the leftover with the support and assistance of all three tiers of Government, relevant local and International stakeholders as well as concerned corporate bodies and well-meaning individuals. Some of them are:
- Recruitment of additional Legal personnel
- Improved funding
- Well-equipped libraries at the Headquarters, Zonal, State and LGA Offices
- Improved Emoluments and financial implementation of the Legal Aid Council staff conditions of service.
The Legal Aid Council’s management and staff acknowledge and profusely express our appreciation to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, for his unwavering encouragement of the Council and the Nigerian Justice Service Delivery System.
The assiduous efforts of the Honorable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN in the apparent enhancement of the Council in recent times cannot be overemphasized, the Council’s management and staff remain grateful for his exemplary leadership.
The Council is deeply appreciative of the Nigerian Bar Association for their critical partnership with us on Pro Bono legal services and Legal Aid Delivery.
In concluding, I would like to personally thank all our Partners and stakeholders that have assiduously worked with us to guarantee that quality legal aid remains available and alive to the needs of indigent Nigerians.
Ailyu Bagudu Abubakar Esq. (FCILRM)
Legal Aid Council, Nigeria.