Meeting of the Elders: Dialogues on Nigerian legal challenges

People-centered justice is needed in Nigeria
Musa in rural Kano state is a farmer, while Ngozi sells vegetables in a village in Imo state and Sola is a widow in a remote part of Ogun state. All three are Nigerians, but their experiences in access justice are different from Adamu the medical doctor in Abuja, Timipre the politician from Rivers State, or Hadiza the beauty mogul from Bauchi! Whether the difference is gender-based, location-driven, or socioeconomically influenced does not matter as much as it tells the story of unequal access to justice. 73% of Nigerians have unmet justice needs!

While we know we cannot have all 73% of a population of approximately 200 million people in a room, we had to capture the essence of the population by gathering custodians of the justice ecosystem to sit and have a dialogue about how we can make people-centered justice happen in Nigeria. Not gender-centered, not sociopolitical-centered, and certainly not location-centered justice as is the current reality in the country.

Making the meeting happen
The Foundation Dialogue held on June 30th, 2020 in Abuja was successful. Not merely because the Core Convening Group (CCG) invited participated, but the event took place with clear determination on both the participants and HiiL that this would still occur amidst the Covid19 restrictions. It was a hybrid of people who participated virtually from the Hague, South Africa, Lagos, and Ogun all converging with participants and HiiL Nigeria team in a socially distanced meeting hall in Abuja. The mix of platforms did not prevent the quality of the discussions as they were meaningful, actionable, and real.

We had the following Nigeria justice ecosystem represented: Office of the Vice-President of Nigeria, Ministry of Justice, Nigerian Bar Association, Civil Society Organization (Legal Aid Council of Nigeria), Nigerian Police (Office of the Inspector General of the Police), Nigerian Correctional Service (Office of the Controller General of NCS), and a State Attorney General. A bit about the CCG: they will act as a national body providing guidance and buy-in for the process to move to State level stakeholder dialogues. The intention is that this group will help shape the country approach, identify which state(s) is to pilot a Justice Transformation Lab (JTL), and establish who should be in the Stakeholder Dialogues.

Nigeria justice eco-system represented
Membership of the Core Convening Group is on a voluntary basis, each member is a volunteer, giving their time to the dialogue. The transformation of justice in Nigeria, towards more people-centred approaches, is premised on the understanding that there is a general interest in Nigeria to explore innovative approaches to change.

The group agreed on some actionable points during the Foundation Dialogue, including the need for special attention to be given to the justice needs of women, rural dwellers and the less privileged. It was equally agreed that the rights of citizens, affordability and efficacy must be considered with people-centered justice innovations. Noteworthy was emphasis on the need for the police to be involved as the nation-wide justice survey indicated that they are one of the stops that Nigerians rely on to resolve their justice needs. In criticism, the group opined that the survey sample size of 6150 people is not up to 1% of Nigeria’s population, so future surveys should have a large sample size.

What might enable or inhibit the Justice Transformation Lab objective in Nigeria?
Varied responses were offered, ranging from collaboration and representation to innovation, transparency, and funding. The richness of the discussion demonstrated the deep engagement and interest of the members. Most importantly, the members of the CCG expressed their willingness to provide strategic support to the process.

“Where do we go from here”, you’d asked?
Having achieved our objectives for the Foundation Dialogue, there is now the momentum to start consulting and convening stakeholder teams in each state. The Core Convening Group will be updated with the progress made. There will be Strategy Launches for each state where the Justice Transformation Lab process occurs.

In that strategy document of actionable plans lies the hope for access, affordability, and user-friendliness of the justice system for Sola, Ngozi, Adamu, Musa, and all Nigerians irrespective of gender, location, or socioeconomic status.