UNICEF In Synergy With NBA, FIDA, Other Stakeholders To Improve Child-friendly Justice System In Nigeria
Posted: 10/Jul/2020

The webinar on “Access To Child-Friendly Justice in Nigeria: FIDA and NBA as Catalyst” with stakeholders from Nigerian Bar Association, Nigeria International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), National Human Rights Commission, UNICEF and Legal Defence Assistance Project (LEDAP) witnessed a robust discussion on charting a new course and way forward towards an effective justice system anchored on friendliness and accessibility to the vulnerable in the society.

However, the webinar which was declared opened by Mr. Toni Ojukwu, Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission wherein his preliminary remarks, he commended the initiative and stated that it is coming at a better time in our national life considering the bane of sexual abuse and other related issues in Nigeria at the moment.
 
Furthermore, he stated that the webinar would ensure a step in the right direction by igniting a stronger formidable partnership between NBA, NHRC, UNICEF, FIDA and LEDAP as a path to mobilizing national call for action in order to stamp out human rights violations and closing a gap on the perpetrators by making sure “they are tracked” and therefore, putting all hands on deck in ensuring a smooth partnership.

In addition, while stating the background to the chosen theme, Nkiru Maduechesi stated in her remarks that survey shows that in Nigeria, six out of ten children experience one form of violence or the other before their 18th birthday. Particularly, she noted that “One in four girls and one in 10 boys experience sexual violence ”. Also, she noted that over 1500 children under 18 years are estimated to be in correctional centers .

Furthermore, she said the objectives of the webinar are to provide consultative platform, deliberating on possible roles, eliciting ideas and commitments, and advocating pro bono services. Besides, she noted that the goal is to provide a convergence, information sharing and capacity building, joint advocacy and coordination, and organization.

The webinar which was moderated by Chinelo Ofoegbunam, witnessed the lead presentation from  Chairperson, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Abuja Branch, Hauwa Shekarau, who presented on the topic “Establishing Sustainable Mechanisms for Pro bono Legal Aid Services to Child-Victims of Sexual Violence in Nigeria”.

According to her, “access to justice is a basic principles and lack of justice creates rule of force”. She submits that “the vulnerable groups are mostly at the receiving end of the brunt of justice”. She further noted that a major obstacle to accessing justice is the cost of legal advice and representation. She emphasized the importance of pro bono legal service for child-victim of sexual violence because of the prevailing criminal justice system in Nigeria, illiteracy, poverty, the disconnection between the criminal justice system and its users, helping vulnerable persons feel secured amongst others. Moreover, she urged that for there to be sustainable mechanisms for pro bono services, there should be a continuous legal education, establishment of Legal Aid Clinics, creation of support groups, developing an online community blogs, giving awards, partnerships with Attorneys-General amongst others.

In conclusion, she enjoined conscious efforts towards providing free legal aid to the indigent in rural communities who are distanced from the justice system and urged a formidable partnership.

In another development, the second presenter, Mr. Chinonye Obiagwu, SAN, (LEDAP) led the discussion on addressing problems of juveniles in adult correctional centers, he said the discussion is “very timely”, while noting that LEDAP has been highly instrumental in a quest to protect children juveniles, recounting his experience with two cases (Owodu v. State and Obed v. State), he remarked that the incidence of children (mostly under 18 years)  in correctional centres is prevalent in Nigeria and that there is an urgent need for a criminal justice reform anchored on prioritization of children “because of vulnerability and susceptibility”.

While commenting on the legal frameworks, he posited that the need to domesticate Child Rights Act being a comprehensive policy legislation on the child cannot be overemphasized and he commended States like Lagos, Ekiti and the Federal Capital Territory for having Family Courts. He recommended that “NBA should create an institutional memory” by providing sufficient data base of pro bono Lawyers and their works by working through its established Human Rights Committees.

Furthermore, he lauded the national NBA Alegeh led administration on the licensing system and urged that there should be an effective licensing system because of its necessity in pro bono services, urging a mandatory continuous legal education in addition to pro bono legal services for Lawyers. Also, he urged an abundant criteria for the renewal of license and calling on FIDA to institutionalize pro bono services.

He further, noted that it is the responsibility of Government to provide such and that, there is need for strong motivation and political will to respect the welfare system of children most as it relates to education citing section 18 of the 1999 Constitution. Similarly, he urged that there should be a capacity building of the relevant justice actors in addition to creating ‘attitude and reward system.’

In addition, he called for punishment of prosecutorial officers who deliberately alter a charge sheet by filing the column to read “adult” when they know that the offender is a juvenile and further urged that there should be legal education at all school levels i.e. primary, secondary etc enlightening them on their rights. He finally recommended that there should be a partnership “from the supply and demand sides” of the justice delivery system i.e. Judges, Lawyers, NGOs, amongst others.

Mr. Toni Ojukwu, the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) emphasized on the need for stakeholders to be part of the process and noting that Government alone is incapable of providing pro bono services and aligned with the licensing system for Lawyers.

He stated that the NHRC had been very instrumental in the domestication of the Convention on Rights of Child in Nigeria. Also, he noted that the Commission received the news from the Attorney General of Kano State that the State would soon domesticate the Child Rights Act, he stated that this would ignite many other Northern States to follow suit. He concluded that the Human Rights Institute of the Commission is working seamlessly towards drawing up human rights education in its curriculum.

Similarly, Prof. Oluyemisi Bamgbose, SAN, Chair, NBA Women’s Forum whilst bringing greetings from the President of the NBA, Paul Usoro, SAN and noted that there are Faculties of Law like University of Ibadan that are taking courses on child justice system and that there are continued efforts towards making it stand as a lone course.

Fundamentally, she emphasized on the need to embrace the phrase “catch them young” and put same in practice by encouraging young Lawyers to provide pro bono legal services and making it form part of their corporate social responsibility. Also, she stressed the importance of forming support groups and emphasized the significance of Universities Law Clinic. She noted that Law Clinics prepare Law Students towards pro bono legal services and that if same is effectively institutionalized, it would enhance pro bono legal systems when the student clinicians later become Lawyers. Also, she recommended that the 2015 Pro bono Declaration be revisited for effective implementation. “We should all network, we should all cooperate”, she concluded.

Finally, Rhoda Tyoden, the National President , FIDA Nigeria described the engagement as “apt and timely” while stressing that the vulnerable people are always at the receiving end which necessitated the mandate of FIDA towards their protections. She noted that the current issue needs a right legal framework and that FIDA had been actively involved in the process. However, she stressed that there should be a proactive implementation of existing Laws and policies.

Furthermore, she said there is a “need to form a coalition for the implementation of the Laws”, stating a declaration of state of emergency.

She noted that FIDA now has 34 Branches across the federation. She stated that it has provided a platform for the education of women/parents and children. Besides, it noted that it has provided a simplified Child Rights Act with a view to effective sensitization. She noted that there is a need to sensitize parents who are afraid of stigmatization amongst others which prevent them from approaching appropriate authorities.
 
She further said that FIDA has applied to the Attorney General of Federation in order for a fiat to be granted for all her Branches to prosecute cases of sexual abuse and related matters. She concluded that FIDA has also recommended to the AGF, the need for specialized courts to handle such cases.