CIRDDOC Nigeria through its Legal Department since 1999 till date has successfully been implementing a project titled: “Increasing access to mediation and legal services for poor people especially in rural Communities”
The project was supported by two partners: Henreich Boll Foundation (HBF) and The British Department for International Development (DFID) through the British Council Justice For All (J4A) office in Nigeria between 1999 and 2015. HBF supported CIRDDOC Nigeria to train over 500 Paralegals, Civic Educators (CEs) and Development Information Officers (DIOs) as well as established and equipped Community Information Centres in 9 States of the South East and South-South of Nigeria. DFID/J4A supported the Community Paralegal and Village Mediation Project (CPVMP) which had so far trained 20 Community Paralegals and 150 Village Mediators in Nomeh, Nara, Nkerefi, Ugwogo and Eha Amufu all in Enugu State. The Community Paralegals and Village Mediators were expected in turn to provide mediation and legal services free of charge to the members of their communities with the goal of reducing the workload of the courts, congestions in the prisons and also minimising the rate of police intervention in civil and minor criminal cases at the community level.
Objectives of the project
The overall objective of the Project is to respond to the needs of the indigent citizens of Enugu state for improved access to quality justice, as guaranteed in their Constitution and international instruments.
The specific objectives of the intervention are:
- To provide affordable and accessible justice for the fair, equitable and speedy resolution of disputes through effective legal aid services which are accessible by poor people, especially women
- To build capacity of citizens of Enugu state to manage disputes brought by poor people and thereby minimise risks of civil disputes escalating and creating disharmony or becoming criminalised
- To build awareness and understanding of, as well as respect for, citizens’ rights in particular women’s rights
- To rebuild confidence of citizens of Enugu state in the justice systems
The importance of the “Increasing access to mediation and legal services for poor people especially in rural Communities” lies in the fact that Nigeria’s formal legal system is complex, the lawyers are urban-based, the court process is time consuming and expensive and therefore poor people, particularly the illiterate and the disadvantaged living in rural communities, cannot enforce their own rights and as such they suffer injustice in silence. The mediation project is providing access to quality and affordable justice for people at the community level. The project beneficiaries have continued to express satisfaction with the dispute resolution approach, which is not just affordable but also acceptable and preferred.
- Trained Community Paralegals (CPs) and Village Mediators (VMs) in the pilot communities provide free legal services to their community members through mediation and legal assistance in courts and police stations, even when the project has not been directly funded by any of our funding partners since 2016. For instance, 197 of 231 cases registered for mediation in 18 months (July 2016 – December 2017) were successfully handled, representing 85% success rate. Within the same period, about 55,879 community members were sensitized on human rights and available justice options for the resolution of disputes.
- In 2018 the total number of cases reported was 130 (113 cases were reported by women while 17 cases were reported by men).
- In 2019 the total number of cases reported were 92 (72 cases were reported by women while 20 cases were reported by men)
- Between January – October 2020, a total of 145 cases were reported (115 cases reported by women while 30 were reported by men
Breakdown of the cases
- Total number of cases handled between July 2016 – October 2020: 598
- Marital Dispute 280
- Widow disinheritance 100.
- Land dispute 25.
- Assault and battery 15.
- Child welfare/custody: 80.
- Tenancy dispute 25.
- Wife desertion 58
- Intimidation/Harassment 18
Summary of Cases
- Total No. of Cases reported by Women: 470.
- Total No. of Cases reported by Men: 128.
- Cases settled by mediation department 485.
- Cases referred to litigation: 22.
- Cases referred back to umunna/ kindred for final settlement: 10.
- Ongoing cases: 70.
- Total number cases that could not be resolved: 11
- Enhanced citizens’ access to mediation and legal services; especially those at the rural communities.
- Established and promotion of a community-based Paralegal and Mediation program in locations that are marginalised in accessing justice services.
- Increased access to affordable and quality of justice for people at community level.
- Community Paralegals and Village Mediators are trained and supported to provide basic legal information and human rights awareness to fellow community members.
- Collaboration with all justice agencies as well as community leaders and government for referrals of cases
- Lobbied for formal support for referral of small claims and minor offences from police, Ministry of Gender Affairs, Traditional and Religious Leaders, Magistrates and Customary Courts to mediation (Diversion) through the Community Paralegals
Impact of the Community Paralegal and Village Mediation Program (CPVMP)
“The project has made a huge impact in three areas: capacity building/skills acquisition, Case diversion and sustainability. Variety of skills was imparted on the Community Paralegals and Village Mediators through the series of training and retraining they have undergone, starting from human rights, gender, criminal law, family law to Project management, data collection, team building and fund raising.
- One of the VMs in Nkerefi, Mr. Jacob Onu, in commending the programme to the consultant who was conducting a light touch review of the programme stated that “although the work is voluntary, there are many benefits. My status has changed positively in the community. I am now regarded as a very important personality and I command respect from the community because of the skills I now have and the work I do in the community”
- In the area of diversion, key stakeholders – the Nigerian Prisons Service, Enugu State Command, the Legal Aid Council, Enugu state, the Enugu state Ministry of Justice and very soon hopefully the Local Government Chairmen have agreed to enter into cooperation agreements with CIRDDOC in the project. The Magistrates Courts and Customary Courts in the pilot Local Governments are already referring cases to the CPs and working with them to reduce their caseload. Magistrate Amalu of Amagunze Magistrate’s Court swore to continue to work with the CPs inspite of a petition against him from a lawyer in one of the cases he referred to the project.
- According to CSP Eze Geoffrey Chijioke “The work of the CPs is invaluable. Since they started coming to the Police station (Amagunze), the workload of the police and the congestion in our cells has reduced considerably. They help us to locate the relations of the suspects in detention for bail purposes. I cannot quantify the benefits of the project. “However, sustainability is very critical because if at the end of the J4A intervention, the project dies, we should all cover our faces in shame”.
- On the part of DPO Ewet Bassey of the Abakpa Police Station, “we no longer waste time on minor cases since we started working with the CPs.”
These testimonies point to the impact of the project. ”