By Chidi Nkwopara
Events of the recent weeks have shown the strength of the appetite for justice among Nigerians, with the loudest demands coming from the nation’s youngsters, who will decide its future as a nation. The rippling effect of their action is still cascading, even as you are reading this piece.
While this can lead to conflict between citizens and their government, like the gory reports in the social media indicates, it can also prompt a new commitment to understanding people’s justice problems and solving them in innovative ways.
Only a few days ago, the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, HiiL, brought together justice leaders, to brainstorm on transforming the justice system in Nigeria. The participants, who were part of the brainstorming process, put together by the Country Representative, Mrs. Ijeoma Nwafor, took decisive first steps towards designing a people-centred justice system that will meet the needs of a rapidly changing society and fast-growing economy. Implementation of agreed next steps is now the focus.
The work of this pioneering group of justice leaders shows what can be achieved by taking justice out of the formal confines of institutions and bringing it closer to where people live and work.
No fewer than 28 justice leaders came together, in two dialogue retreats, which lasted six days. They were drawn from the Executive, Judiciary, Legislature, Ministry of Justice, Nigeria Police, Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, civil society organizations, CSOs, the State Branch of Nigeria Bar Association, Nigeria Correctional Service, National Orientation Agency, NOA, as well as traditional and religious leaders, and representatives from the private sector.
The new justice strategy, which was launched October 15, 2020, provided an opportunity to present the conclusions of Imo’s inaugural Justice Transformation Lab to a wider group of stakeholders within the State, and to the public at large.
People-centered goals, targets, pathways and game-changers were unveiled. In widely communicating the people-centred results that came from the Justice Transformation Lab in Imo State, leaders reaffirmed their commitment to making justice happen for all Imo people, and by extension, Nigeria.
Indeed, and with the prevailing circumstances in the land, the need for a people-centered justice system in Nigeria, has become absolutely necessary, more than ever before. For instance, Musa in rural Kano State, is a farmer; while Ngozi sells vegetables in a village in Imo State, and Abike is a widow in a remote part of Ogun State.
All three are Nigerians, but their experiences in access to justice, is different from Dr. Adamu in Abuja, Sekibo the fisherman from Rivers State or Hadiza the beauty mogul from Bauchi! Whether the difference is gender based, location-driven or socio-economically influenced, does not matter as much as it tells the story of unequal access to justice.
Records show that a staggering 73 percent of Nigerians have unmet justice needs! This is a huge population from the approximately 200 million people in Nigeria. Truth is that this figure is not gender-centered, socio-political centered and certainly not location-centered justice, and the current reality in the country has helped to prove.
From what the nation is passing through today, it becomes very clear that the transformation of justice towards more people-centred approaches, sincere efforts must be made to explore innovative approaches to ensure the desired change and not through brute force.
Similarly, special attention should be given to the justice needs of women, rural dwellers and the less privileged in Nigeria. The rights of Nigerian citizens, affordability and efficacy of the justice system, must come into cognizance, if the people-centered justice innovations is to be realized in our lifetime.