The Nigerian Law Society (NLS) and law based civil society group, Duty Solicitors Network (DSN) has called on the National Assembly to make provision for the funding of legal aid for the poor in Nigeria.
In the same vein, the two groups also call on the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN to ensure the establishment of the legal aid fund that will cater for the poor in the society.
In their joint statement signed by spokesperson, Bayo Akinlade, the two groups said that “it is the duty of the National Assembly to set aside funds for the provision of Legal Aid to deserving citizens”, adding that they are ready to fight for what is due to the people and to ensure access to justice.
They stated further:
“With the level of injustice and abuse of power in Nigeria today, many are suffering and do not have access to justice through the courts. This situation has made the poor utterly helpless and even more vulnerable leading to an increase in crime within our communities;
The Courts being the last hope of the common man has become an illusion, nobody believes this anymore hence the new phrase “go to court” if you feel aggrieved because we know you may not even get through its gates talk less of walking within its corridors;
I ask; is this new administration really ready to empower the people as it promises? Is the National Assembly serious about letting the “poor breathe”? Is the Attorney General of the Federation going to live up to his reputation as a man of honour and a protector of the weak? Then let me remind them of what the Law says;
The Legal Aid Act 2011, in line with international standards, provides for the establishment of the legal aid and access to justice fund into which financial assistance would be made available to the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON) on behalf of the indigent citizens to prosecute their claims in accordance with the Constitution and further to empower the existing Legal Aid Council to be responsible for the operation of a scheme for the grant of legal aid and access to justice in certain matters or proceedings to persons with inadequate resources in accordance with the provision of this Act. (See Part 3 of the Legal Act 2011);
The mandate of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria is enormous and robust. Established to serve more than 80% of Nigerians living in poverty but guess what? The Council cannot do this job effectively and why? Because it has no funds! There are States in Nigeria for instance that have less than five LACON staff yet they are to serve the legal needs of millions of indigent citizens;
What is the House of Representatives doing, what are our Senators doing that they cannot earmark funds to the Legal Aid Fund that will be used to provide probono legal services to their own constituencies? Why are they focused on palliatives that have no lasting value? Why cant they give our people access to justice by adequately funding and supporting our Justice delivery sector;
The Legal Aid Council of Nigeria is no doubt well placed to deliver justice to the people and it is this belief that the *Nigerian Law Society* in collaboration with *Duty Solicitors Network* will initiate a campaign to establish this legal aid fund;
We therefore appeal to our leaders and especially to the Attorney General of the Federation, *Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN* to ensure that the Legal Aid Fund is set up and running. We also appeal to well-meaning Nigerians and other Human Rights groups to demand that the Legal Aid Fund is activated and utilized”.
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