This led to a Bill prepared by the then Honourable Attorney-General, Dr. T.O. Elias, entitled Legal Aid and Advice Act 1961 for Parliament, in order to formally establish legal aid in Nigeria.
The Bill sought to make provision for the establishment and operation of a scheme for the granting in proper cases, legal aid and legal advice, to people with low income, who could not otherwise afford to procure them for the enforcement or vindication of a legitimate right or for the purpose of obtaining a just relief. Unfortunately due to the Nigerian Civil War the Bill did not see the light of day.
This effort later gave rise to the birth of the Nigerian Legal Aid Association. The Association was made up of legal luminaries who took it upon themselves to champion the cause of providing legal aid for poor Nigerians. The Association was inaugurated on February 6th 1974. One week after the inauguration saw the launching of the East Central State Branch of the Association in Enugu. Thereafter, Branches were also launched in Lagos, Plateau, Oyo and Cross River States.
The initiator of the Association was Chief Chimezie Ikeazor SAN, other members were Chief Debo Akande SAN who was the Director of Operations of the Organization, Chief (Dr) Solomon Lar C.O.N. was the Secretary General of the body. Other active members of the association include Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke. Chief Adebayo Ogunsanya, the then President of the Nigerian Bar Association was one of the national patrons.
The Association got immense support from the Bench during the launch of the Association’s state branches. Amongst the eminent jurists that attended the various occasions were Hon. Justices Dr. T.O. Elias, G.S. Sowemimo, Dan Ibekwe, M.O. Balonwu, Mohammed Bello, Ayo Irikefe and S.M.A. Belgore C.O.N.
The efforts of the Association later culminated in the promulgation of the Legal Aid Decree or Legal Aid Act No. 56 of 1976. This Act formally introduced the legal aid scheme into law and it eventually was incorporated into the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Legal Aid Act No. 56 of 1976 was promulgated by the Head of the Federal Military Government, General Olusegun Obasanjo on 10th November 1976. This was during the tenure of the Hon. Mr. Justice Dan Ibekwe, as Attorney-General of the Federation.
By section 19(1) of the Act, the Legal Aid Act was to come into force on such a day as the Attorney-General may, by order appoint. By the Legal Aid Decree (Appointed Day) Order 1977, L.N. 30 of 1977, it was Dr. Augustine Nnamani J.S.C. then Attorney General of the Federation, who brought the provisions of the Legal Aid Act into force, on the 2nd day of May 1977. He thus established the first Legal Aid Council, in accordance with the provisions of the Legal Aid Act.
Chief Executives Officers Of The Council
The Council had as Chief Executive, Mr. C.U. Osakwe, as the first Director of Legal Aid in appointed in 1977, assisted by Mr. V.C.O. Achike, who later succeeded him in 1987 as Director-General. In 1992, Mr. Osikoya was appointed as Director General and Mrs. Wonu Folami became Director General from 1994 to 1997. Mr. Akin Akinleye took over in 1997 and later Mrs Uju Hassan Baba was appointed in 1999. Mrs Letitia Akinlami was Director General from 2007 to 2010 while Mrs. Joy Bob-Manuel was Director-General from December 2010 – December 2018. Mr Aliyu Bagudu Abubakar (the current Director-General) took over the mantle of leadership in January 2019.
THE COUNCIL’S OPERATION
The LAC began its operations in a one (1) room office on the 4th Floor of the Federal Ministry of Justice, at Marina Lagos, with a staff strength of about Twelve (12) persons. Since inception, it has undergone series of changes and relocations of its administrative base. After its initial take-off the next headquarters of the Council was situated at the Constanzer House, 72 Campbell Street, Lagos State. In 1992 it was relocated to the old National Assembly Complex, Lagos, and once again it was relocated to No. 10, Okotie Eboh Street, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. In 1998, the Council was relocated from Lagos to Abuja. This was in line with other MDA’s moving to Abuja to begin operation as the seat of government had relocated to the new Federal Capital. Its new office was located at Ademola Adetokunbo Street, Wuse II, Abuja.
The movement of its administrative base did not end here. In 2005, the Council was moved to the Federal Secretariat Complex (Phase I). During this period, the staff strength grew to over two hundred percent of its original size. In 2009, its administrative headquarters was thus further moved to 22 Okemesi Crescent, off Oro Ago Street, Garki II, Abuja. In 2012 the Council moved to the Head of Service Building, Federal Secretariat Phase II with annexes in the Federal Secretariat Phase I and the FCT Education Board Building in Area 3, Garki, Abuja. We can thus say that within a period of thirty-seven (37) years, the Council has changed office locations seven (7) different times. The Council finally moved to its permanent Headquarters Building located at No. 22 Port Harcourt Crescent, off Gimbiya Crescent, Area 11, Garki, Abuja in May 2016.
 Opcit, pp xi, 143.
The scope of legal aid was provided by section 6 of the Decree and stated thus:
(6)(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, proceedings in connection with which legal aid may be given shall be criminal proceedings and shall be in respect of the criminal proceedings specified in Schedule 2 to this Decree and no legal aid shall be provided in respect of criminal, civil or other proceedings not so specified.
Schedule 2 of the Decree stipulate proceedings in respect of which legal aid may be given as;
A. Proceedings in court or tribunal (whether at first instance or on appeal) wholly or partly in respect of :-
B. Aiding and abetting, or counselling or procuring the commission of, or being an accessory before or after the fact to, or attempting or conspiring to commit, any of the offences listed in paragraph A above.
The Decree has gone through several amendments.
The Legal Aid (Amendment) Decree No. 10 of 1986
This amendment included Civil matters for the first time in the jurisdiction of the Council. The Second Schedule of this Decree provided for proceedings in respect of which legal aid may be given:
Criminal Code Penal Code
wounding or influencing
grievous bodily harm
This Decree also contained subsidiary legislation which provided the Legal Aid Regulations.
The Legal Aid (Amendment) Decree No.22 of 1994
This Decree included damages for breach of Fundamental Human Rights as guaranteed under the 1979 Constitution.
The Second Schedule of this Decree provided for proceedings in respect of which legal aid may be given:
Criminal Code Penal Code
wounding or influencing
grievous bodily harm
B. Aiding and abetting, or counselling or procuring the commission of, or being an accessory before or after the fact to, or attempting or conspiring to commit, any of the offences listed in paragraph A of this Schedule.
C. 1. Civil claims in respect of accidents.
2. Civil claims to cover breach of Fundamental Human Rights as guaranteed under Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Legal Aid Council Act Cap L9
The Decree was later codified into the Legal Aid Council Act Cap L9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
Legal Aid Act 2011
The Legal Aid Act Cap L9, 2004 LFN was recently replaced by the Legal Aid Act 2011 which expanded the Civil mandate of the Council and also expanded its Criminal jurisdiction to include Armed Robbery.
The present mandate of the Council is as follows;
|CRIMINAL CODE (In the Southern States of Nigeria)||PENAL CODE (In the Northern States of Nigeria and FCT)|
|1. Murder of any Degree.||Culpable homicide punishable with death|
|2. Manslaughter.||Culpable homicide not punishable with death|
|3. Maliciously or wilfully Grievous hurt.||Wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm|
|4. Assault occasioning actual bodily harm.||Criminal force occasioning actual bodily harm|
|5. Common assault.||Common assault|
|9. Armed Robbery.||Armed Robbery|
(ii) Civil claims to cover breach of Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(iii) Civil claims arising from criminal activities against persons who are qualified for Legal Aid under this Act.
The LAC Act 2011 also provides in Section 8 (3)-
The Council shall establish and maintain a service to be known as the Civil Litigation Service for the purpose of assisting indigent persons to access such advice, assistance, and representation in court where the interest of justice demands, to secure, defend, enforce, protect or otherwise exercise any right, obligation, duty, privilege interest or service to which that person is ordinarily entitled under the Nigerian legal system. Legal Aid shall also be granted in respect of any breach or denial of any such right, obligation, duty, privilege or service. The Council shall be responsible for the representation before any court or tribunal for such civil matters.