Strengthening innovation and people-centred justice in Nigeria: A Q&A

Resolving people’s justice problems is a cornerstone of a peaceful and prosperous society. Yet, organising universal access to justice remains a challenge. The first step requires gathering the right data on people’s ‘justice journeys’ but what comes after? 

With a spotlight on Nigeria’s justice sector, our recent policy brief examines the challenges and opportunities for creating the conditions that spur justice innovation. Drawing on experiences from entrepreneurs, public officials, and local decision-makers, the policy brief highlights seven innovators and recommends ways to support creating an ‘enabling environment’ – the conditions that strengthen people-centred justice programming.

In this Q&A, we sat down with Armi Korhonen, Justice Sector Advisor, to discuss the policy brief and its recommendations for justice innovation. What is required to make it possible? Who can (and should) be involved? And how will identifying people’s needs and prioritising ways to help them realise justice for all and lead to greater security and economic prosperity? 

You recently published the policy brief, From challenges to successes: Four levers to enhance the enabling environment for people-centred justice innovation in Nigeria. Why is this brief so important at this juncture? 

In 2023, HiiL conducted a Justice Needs and Satisfaction (JNS) study that surveyed people’s justice experiences. We can see from the data that 81% of respondents have faced at least one justice problem in the past year. And while many take action to resolve their problems, the data still shows a massive burden. This justice gap is a call to do something different. 

The integrated approach of people-centred justice offers a path forward. It starts with data of course, but from there, it suggests justice sector actors 1) support innovation, and 2) create the environment that enables – and strengthens – the greatest impact, based on people’s needs. 

In short, we’re looking to complement the justice sector through innovative service delivery models that have the potential to bridge the justice gap. We’re seeing progress in Nigeria – especially in Imo, Ogun, and Kaduna states where we have been glad to facilitate HiiL projects for innovation. Also, our Justice Accelerator in West Africa, based in Lagos, is supporting Nigerian innovators, helping them sustain and scale their people-centred solutions. 

This policy brief examined the journey of seven innovative service delivery models that work on delivering people-centred justice solutions to Nigerians. From these seven stories, the policy brief provides recommendations for decision-makers and innovators to keep an eye on, when designing and implementing people-centred justice solutions. 

There are four recommendations in the policy brief. What does each one suggest?

First, let’s start by defining the ‘enabling environment. There are widely recognised obstacles that prevent many social innovation initiatives from taking off and achieving their desired impact. These include social pressures but also regulatory burdens and lack of resources such as funding, people, and knowledge, as well as inequitable power structures. Taken together, these components make up the ‘enabling environment.’

Assessing the existing justice services and the development and scaling of innovative approaches, our findings point to four ways that can strengthen efforts to address the outcomes people need. 

  1. Initiate networks and task forces
  2. Empower all actors in the ecosystem
  3. Foster capacity sharing
  4. Embrace an evidence-based way of working

HiiL’s 2023 study reveals that 81% of Nigerians faced legal issues, with only 55% resolved in 12 months.

Can you say more about these recommendations as part of the ‘enabling environment’ for justice innovation? How do they impact the success of social innovation initiatives?

We looked at challenges but also successes and victories that the interviewees experienced throughout their journey of justice innovation. It is a learning process but four areas are worth noting. 

First, all interviewees indicated that networks play a key role in their success. These networks can vary from expert groups around specific justice questions to networks of other innovators and experts. They also include networks for mentoring and coaching. We all recognise the benefit of these network approaches.

Second is driving leadership – a belief in what is being implemented, its success, and doing it with adjustments as needed along the way. Of course, building any initiative comes with its challenges. That is why we heard interviewees describe the importance of a task force, to support the creation of innovative service models. Apart from having leadership within the initiative, there was an acknowledgement of also receiving support from decision-makers to encourage further development. 

Thirdly, the gamechangers indicated how teamwork and the ability to share skills are crucial. Startups and innovators are naturally collaborative people, so this point came as no surprise. It’s important, however, to support collaboration across sectors within the justice ecosystem. Piecing together this puzzle of weaknesses and strengths among different actors will complement each other. This is mutually beneficial to people-centred justice. 

Lastly, the innovators highlighted how important it is to work from evidence. This approach creates feedback loops that monitor and evaluate ‘what’s working’, thus ensuring the solutions match intentions. 

You highlight the experience of gamechangers (entrepreneurs and startups) involved in creating innovative justice service delivery models in Nigeria. How do their experiences in the justice innovation space contribute to the understanding of people-centred justice?

The seven gamechangers interviewed are all champions of people-centred justice. They are active in their respective communities, observing people’s legal needs and fearlessly pursuing ideas that contribute to solving them. In profiling them, we wanted to explore factors contributing to their success, profile the challenges they’re facing, and spotlight what can help to nudge the needle towards further progress. Sharing experiences is a big part of this entire effort. 

Nonetheless, the policy brief is a very humble start, highlighting narratives and experiences. In the future, the field could benefit from more systemic and wider research to further understand what challenges people-centred innovative models are facing. We hope decision-makers remain engaged and see people-centred justice as a way to bridge the justice gap, realising the needs of people reading this policy brief. There’s much good work going on already and we want to spotlight it together.

What do you want people to take away from reading this policy brief?

We want everyone – from local citizens and entrepreneurs to public officials and community leaders – to join the cause and movement of people-centred justice. In simple terms, closing the justice gap means focusing on people and their justice needs, reassessing existing justice services and then developing and scaling the most innovative approaches which have the greatest impact. There are many justice practitioners already working towards this. 

I felt humbled by the chance to interview the seven innovative minds and hear from them directly about their experiences in creating real solutions to people’s problems. There are many great ideas, initiatives, and new ways of working out there – all of which come from the principle of being people-centred. It is very inspiring and suggests that in the future, we will be a bit closer to realising access to justice for all. 

Let’s continue encouraging people to reach out to each other. HiiL is part of this facilitating effort but the real progress is in strengthening the connections and networks, both existing and ready to be made. 

“A stronger and more diverse ecosystem would benefit everyone by strategically leveraging relationships and increasing the options for capacity and knowledge sharing.”

What guidance would you have as a justice advisor for current and future justice practitioners? 

I would encourage justice practitioners to continue to listen to each other and to remain curious about people-centred justice programming. Building on what’s said above, I would add that as advisors, HiiL aims to facilitate collaboration and promote best practices towards realising SDG16 – equal access to justice for all. This policy brief hopefully contributes to our knowledge and understanding of doing just that but it’s only a start. Listening and talking to one another is the crucial next step, creating the networks for collaboration and coordination.

Further Reading