IMPROVING ACCESS TO JUSTICE THROUGH AN INNOVATION CHALLENGE

According to the World Justice Project report on measuring the justice gap an estimated 5 billion people have “unmet justice needs” globally, including people who cannot obtain justice for everyday problems, people who are excluded from the opportunity the law provides, and people who live in extreme conditions of injustice. An estimated 73% of Nigerians experience legal problems, leaving Nigerians with about 25 million legal problems to deal with every year. In February 2008, Amnesty International revealed in a detailed and scathing 50-page report, how at least 65% of Nigerian inmates have never been convicted of any crime, with some awaiting trial for up to ten years. It also showed how most Nigerian inmates are too poor to afford a lawyer, with only one in seven awaiting trial having access to private legal representation against a backdrop of only 91 legal aid lawyers working in the country. The report also shone a light on appalling prison conditions, including severe overcrowding, which contributes to seriously damaging the mental and physical health of thousands.  The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Nigeria in February, further widened the justice gap with multiple reports of human rights violations of various kinds.

The situation often plays out as follows: the son of a poor widow is arrested alongside a group of young men on his street by a group of police officers for an allegation he knows nothing about. He spends two years in the prison waiting to be brought before a court of law but his mother has no idea what to do or where to go for help. Or an orphan using a wheelchair is raped by the son of a wealthy politician within her neighbourhood. She reports the crime to the police but she is laughed at and asked to be grateful that someone decides to touch her. Or an upcoming music artist is shot dead by uniformed men because he is found with an iPhone and a laptop while driving a Mercedes Benz 300 and refusing to buy them lunch. These and more are instances of some common justice problems experienced in Nigeria. Many of the problems go reported, unresolved and some linger for many years before justice is served.

Many of these access challenges exist and continue to increase due to judicial corruption, delays in the justice system and social and economic inequality. A classic example is the case of Cecilia Ibru, a bank executive who was convicted of stealing, sentenced to just six months in prison but also required to forfeit shares and other assets worth over USD $1.2 billion. Meanwhile, David Olugboyega, an armed robber, was sentenced to death after being found guilty in a £50 robbery. It’s true that armed robbery carries a death penalty, but it’s prudent to think that carting away millions in cash should attract a stiffer penalty.

Accountability Lab Nigeria, through her SDG 16 Innovation Challenge, looks to address some of these challenges by supporting young social innovators to develop ideas, build skills and connect with others on a shared goal of strengthening accountability, the rule of law and access to justice for all Nigerians. The Innovation Challenge was launched Tuesday in Abuja and will support 80 young change makers across four states in Nigeria – Abuja, Kaduna, Edo and Lagos with 20 participants from each state. To ensure significant female representation, the selection of participants for this programme favoured women with a 70:30 ratio, giving them an opportunity for their voices to be heard. These participants will have their ideas refined over three days of training and be given an opportunity to pitch their ideas before a panel of judges from various organizations working around the SDG16 goal. The scores from the judges will then produce two winners from each state who will be crowned winners of the challenge, given a brand new laptop and migrated into the Accountability Incubator – a year-long programme supporting 10 young Nigerian accountability entrepreneur – or accountapreneurs – who are developing creative, bottom-up ideas for accountability and anti-corruption. These accountapreneurs are supported through quarterly training and knowledge sharing, mentorship, fundraising, network-building and sustained communications with the aim to integrate the group into a vibrant eco-system of accountapreneurs with projects that engage tens of thousands of young Nigerians.

In the coming days we will be making official announcements about the winners from each state, starting from Abuja. The SDG Innovation Challenge is powered by Accountability Lab Nigeria with support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

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