The Nigerian government in collaboration with human right groups has created an electronic platform to reach vulnerable people in need of legal assistance.
The platform, www.probono.ng, was unveiled during a meeting of the organisers in Abuja, on Thursday.
Speaking during the unveiling of the platform, the Solicitor-General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, said the portal was created to connect lawyers with socially disadvantaged members of the society and reduce the challenges usually connected with rendering pro-bono services.
“The initiative of providing a pro-bono Clearing House is a unique opportunity that harnesses technology to minimise some of the challenges usually connected with rendering pro-bono services.
“The Clearing House Portal is a platform that seeks to connect lawyers, civil society organisations, government agencies and other relevant stakeholders to the indigent and socially disadvantaged in our society. By signing up to this initiative, stakeholders are able to offer their services and get connected to cases that align with their expertise and interest, regardless of their location.”
The portal, which categorises various groups of people in need of legal assistance, was created to focus on major groups, including victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual harassment, disinheritance of widows and orphans, disinheritance by reason of gender, rape, unfair dismissal, commercial cases (involving oppression of indigent persons, such as petty traders on matters such as unlawful taxation), among others.
Mr Apata said the portal is an addition to government’s effort towards decongesting prisons through assistance from the Legal Aid Council.
“Another of such initiatives is the Prison Decongestion and Reform programme, which as part of its mandate, deals with the issues of awaiting trial inmates in prison facilities across the federation.
“Statistics indicate that a disproportionate percentage of inmates in Nigerian prisons are awaiting trial inmates largely because they cannot afford legal representation. As part of the initiative, government through the Office of the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation farmed out cases to private practitioners and external solicitors to provide legal representation to verified indigent inmates in various prison facilities. This aspect of the initiative is currently being run through the Legal Aid Council.
“Moreover, as part of the prison decongestion programme, government and other key stakeholders provided funds to pay off the fines of indigent inmates who were languishing in prison because they could not afford to pay the fines, some of which were for amounts less than five thousand naira.”
Also speaking at the event, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s adviser on rule of law, Akingbolahan Adeniran, said the platform will also include specialists who will help in carrying out forensic examination of cases to ensure adequate investigation, before prosecution.
“The specialists will conduct such forensic examination so that you can always tell in an alleged rape case for example; that the act did happen. We are collaborating with developmental partners to ensure that this becomes a success, both local and international.”
The programme was jointly organised by the ministry of justice in collaboration with the Nigerian Bar Organisation and the Justice Research Institute.