THE COMMUNITY PARALEGAL AND VILLAGE MEDIATION PROGRAM (CPVMP) PROJECT IN ENUGU STATE
The Community Paralegal and Village Mediation Programme (CPVMP) is a model of mediation replicated in Africa by the Paralegal Advisory Services Institute (PASI) in Malawi, and later extended to few other African countries including Sierra Leone, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. The Village Mediation Programme (VMP) element of the model is modelled on the Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA) mediation model established in the 1970s in Bangladesh. The MLAA trains respected members of the local community (the majority of whom are women) as mediators. It has proved successful and replicated throughout the Indian sub-continent at little or no cost because the mediators are volunteers. PASI pioneered adaptation and replication of the model to the African context.
As in Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and in Malawi, most of Nigeria’s population live in rural areas where traditional structures remain strong and access to justice, via the mechanisms of the formal justice sector, remain a remote concept.
In Nigeria the CPVMP is being replicated by CIRDDOC Nigeria – a non-governmental organisation that provides legal assistance and promotes access to justice for the poor and marginalised group in the society in collaboration with PASI of Malawi and with the support of the DFID – British Council Justice for All (J4A) programme.
Under the CIRDDOC/PASI/J4A community-based paralegal and village mediation scheme, Community Paralegals (CPs) and Village Mediators (VMs) were trained to provide legal assistance and mediation services in locations that are marginalised in accessing justice. The CPs are non lawyers drawn from their own communities, who are given sufficient legal training to be able to provide basic legal information and guidance, and to promote legal and human rights awareness to their fellow community members. The VMs also reside within the communities they serve and handle day-to-day disputes according to a strict Code of Conduct, overseen by the CPs.
Empowering communities to manage and resolve their own conflicts will contribute to harmony and a better understanding of how conflict can escalate if left unchecked. The skills transferred to the communities through the CP-VMP will improve resolution of non-criminal matters such as family disputes, land matters, local trade and neighbourhood issues, as well as appropriate misdemeanours and petty offences. More serious cases will be handled by the paralegals through the provision of legal information, guidance and onward referral to a lawyer or to the police if the case requires.
The CP-VMP scheme is not designed to compete with or replace any existing justice mechanisms, rather it complements the formal justice system by tackling disputes at the early stages before they escalate and become criminalised and helping to reduce case backlogs in the court. Through Diversion, the programme helps to resolve less serious criminal matters referred by the police and the courts and thus impacts positively on reducing overcrowding in prisons. The programme also identifies cases in the community which need to be handled by the formal justice system and ensures that these cases are reported. Links through the paralegals ensure that procedures are followed correctly and that legal representation is provided if necessary.
PHOTONEWS OF THE CPVMP
International experience of community-based paralegal and mediation services has demonstrated an immediate and positive impact on community relations, enhancing goodwill and harmony in the society. The benefits of the community-based paralegal and mediation services are therefore enormous.
The overall objective of the CPVMP intervention in the justice sector is to respond to the needs of Nigeria’s indigent citizens for improved access to quality justice, guaranteed in their Constitution and international instruments. This is because in Nigeria, the cost of using the formal justice system is high both in terms of money and time. Costly filing fees and the need for parties to engage lawyers to navigate through complex and often intimidating court procedures and the slow pace of cases are a considerable frustration for users. Also lawyers are mainly urban-based and reluctant to travel to rural locations, making legal services inaccessible.
The overall objective of the CP-VMP aligns with the objective of the CRMC and CIRDDOC of promoting access to justice to indigent citizens particularly women and children. CIRDDOC has structures on ground in Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra States that have operated for almost 2 decades and have achieved positive results. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, we propose that it would be more value oriented for Enugu State Government through the Citizens’ Right and Mediation Centre (CRMC) under the Ministry of Justice to build on, strengthen and/or expand what is already existing and working.
The CP-VMP is being piloted in 5 Communities in 3 Local Government Areas of Enugu State namely
- Enugu East Local Government (Ugwogo)
- Isi Uzo Local Government (Eha Amufu)
- Nkanu East Local Government (Nara, Nomeh and Nkerefi)
So far a total of 20 Community paralegals and 150 Village mediators have been trained in the 5 CP-VMP pilot communities.
CPs in one of their training sessions
CPs being formerly presented to the community
CPVMP team paid courtesy call to comm. Leader
CPs and VMs receiving working kits (Nkerefi)
Community sensitization at Ihenyi, Eha Amufu
Community sensitization at Ugwogo
The Community Paralegals during one of their meetings
CPs in a group photographs with their trainers
Cross section of CPVMP community leaders
Trained VMs in Nkerefi community
Nara comm. leaders receives CPVMP office equip
Church sensitization at St Paul’s Catholic Church Nara
Church sensitization at St Joseph’s Parish, Ugwogo
Community sensitization at Enuogu Nkerefi