L-R: Professor Isa Hayatul (DG Nigerian Law School), Professor MT Ladan (DG NIALS), Mrs Maryam Uwais and Dr Fatima Waziri Azi
A National Paralegal summit was organised by the Legal Aid Council and Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (IWEI) with the support of MacArthur Foundation and NAMATI, Kenya. The two day summit which held on 8th-9th October, 2019 underscored the need to recognize the crucial role paralegals play in providing community based legal services to the indigent in order to access justice. It was also anchored on the need to draw up a roadmap for the operations of paralegals with a view to maximise the benefits derived from the services they render in justice administration especially in rural communities and propose a draft Ethics and minimum standard Curriculum for training of paralegals. The summit had in attendance the Director General of the Legal Aid Council (LAC), Mr. Aliyu B. Abubakar, Mrs Maryam Uwais, the founder of IWEI, Dr. Fatima Waziri Azi, special Advisor on rule of law to the Vice President, Professor Akinseye Geoarge, SAN, Professor M T Ladan, Director General, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Professor Isa Chiroma, Director General of Nigeria Law school and Vice President of NULAI, Professor Chidi Odinkalu (Key note speaker), Stanley Ibe (Open Society Justice Initiative West Africa), Amie Ongeso (NAMATI Kenya) participants, lawyers and paralegals from IWEI, Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Cure Nigeria, the Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI), NIALS, Nigeria Bar Association, Justice Empowerment Initiative, Citizens Gavel, Womens Health and Equal Rights Initiative (WHER), other Civil Society Organisations and members of the media.
The DG NIALS Prof MT Ladan stated that the aim of Legal Aid is to access justice and justice cannot be accessed without financial aid. He further stated that the constitution has laid down the principle that the indigent should be assisted before legal aid came into being. He cited a section of the constitution to buttress his point.
Summit explored ways to take legal services to the citizens so as to legally empower Nigerians, especially the rural duelers by providing well-structured and effective community paralegal services. The need for paralegals services was attributed to several factors, including the shortage of legal practitioners (we have between 120, 00 to 180, 00 legal practitioners to serve a population of between 180- 200 million people), legal practitioners being located in urban areas, and the inability of rural dwellers to access legal services due to lack of infrastructure, lack of funds to pay for legal services, lack of awareness, etc.
The second Day witnessed a Recapping summary of Day 1 activities for necessary corrections and adoption of the Report. Immediately after the adoption, there was a Presentation on the Use of Technology for Legal Empowerment and the Role of Paralegals.