UN-EXECUTED NIGERIAN LEGISLATION: THE PLACE OF THE CORP LAWYER…

By Omobolaji Oyeniran Esq.

It is a popular saying that most Nigerian laws are yet to be implemented, this I believe to be true. 60% of the provisions of laws made are yet to be implemented hence leaving plethora of untapped goldmines in our laws, just as in reality, the nation still struggles to manage its natural resources. The writer focuses on the rich provision highlighted in the Legal Aid Act in respect of NYSC Lawyers, how this provision has not been utilized, as well as the advantages of utilizing same. The writer concludes with recommendations on how to implement this provision for the good of lawyer Corp members, the Legal Aid Council, indigent citizens, and the nation at large.

STATUTORY PROVISIONS OF FUNCTIONS OF NYSC LAWYERS.

Section 1 of the National Youth Service Corps Act(NYSC ACT)[1] provides for the establishment and objectives of the National Youth Service Corps with the sole aim of inculcating a sense of nation building, egalitarian service and self reliance in the Nigerian youths. Section 1(2) provides:

“(2) The Service Corps shall with a view to:

  1. The proper encouragement and development of common ties among the Nigerian Youths
  2. The promotion of National unity and;
  3. The development of Nigerian youth and Nigeria into a great and dynamic economy.

be charged with the functions as pertain to the objectives of the service Corps set out in subsection (3) of this section.”

The objectives of the Corps listed in Subsection (3) inter alia are:

  1. “Inculcate discipline in Nigerian youths by instilling in them a tradition of industry at work, and  of patriotic and loyal service to Nigeria in any situation they may find themselves;
  2. Raise the moral tone of the Nigerian youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about  higher ideals of national achievement, social and cultural improvement;
  3. Develop in the Nigerian youths the attitudes of mind, acquired through shared experience and suitable training, which will make them more amenable to mobilization in the national interest;
  4. Enable the Nigerian youths acquire the spirit of self reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self employment;
  5. Contribute to the accelerated growth of the national economy.”

In order to achieve the objectives  adumbrated above, the Service Corps shall ensure the equitable distribution of members of the service Corps and the effective utilization of their skills in areas of national needs.[2]

The culminating understanding of the above provisions is that Corps members are to be posted to areas where their skills are required to enhance national growth in a bid to develop in them the spirits of patriotism and self reliance. In the light of this, the National Assembly under Section 16 of the Legal Aid Act, LFN 2011[3] enacted as follows:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of any other enactment including rules of court, legal practitioners for the time being serving in the National Youth Service Corps shall, if the Council so directs, act for a person receiving legal aid, in which case no professional fees shall be made by the Council except stipend and travelling allowance”

From the foregoing, it would be safe to infer that Lawyers serving in the National Youth Service Corps are expected to use their lawyering skills in national development by rendering pro bono services to indigent citizens through the joint administration of the Service Corps and the Legal Aid Council.

THE STATUSQUO

The reality of the above provision is that many legal practitioners serving in the NYSC are not posted to the Legal Aid Council. The means adopted to cure this malady is the Community Development Service(CDS) in which Corps members are made to use their skills to help in nation building. However, many lawyers are posted into all sorts of CDS groups that make them redundant throughout their service year, hence frustrating the purpose for the establishment of the Service Corps as well as the Community Development Service whereas the services of legal practitioners are highly needed.

With the continuous swelling of the Nigeria’s population, the demand for legal representation as well as legal services is constantly on the high rise. Many people associate this to an increase in the level of literacy, the emergence of more business enterprises and increase in crime rates. Similarly, the swollen population brings with it a proportional increase in tortfeasors, and numerous infringements of fundamental human rights by law enforcement agencies. Ironically, majority citizens who are victims of this human mal-administrations are indigent and cannot afford legal representation, hence the need for legal aid. The poser is “where then is the free service of a lawyer serving in NYSC needed most, with the Legal Aid Council or Dance and Drama?”

Apart from helping the indigent out of their misery, the free skills of NYSC lawyers can be used in national development especially in the area of prison decongestion. According to a prison audit report of the National Human Right Commission (NHCR) published in 2019,[4] there are over 73, 995 inmates in Nigerian prisons, with 68% of the figure awaiting trial. Meanwhile the total combined inmate capacity of Nigerian Prisons is 50, 153 inmates.[5] During a visit to the Agodi Prison few years ago, the writer learnt that out of 1,031 inmates, 968 inmates were awaiting trial. Apart from the painful fact that many inmates are being held in innocence, their maintenance and feeding are cutting deep into the Federal Government Budget for Prisons, and with the dwindling revenue, a paltry sum of N 222 (Two hundred and twenty two naira) earmarked for the daily feeding of each of the inmates of the various prisons scattered across Nigeria. This leaves family and friends with the burden of catering for their imprisoned loved ones, and for those who were captured without the knowledge of their loved one, or who do not even have loved ones, are left to fend for themselves.

A prominent factor responsible for the problem of overcrowding is the indigence of most accused persons who cannot afford the service of a lawyer to either obtain simple bail, or even represent them in court, most do not even have a case file to their name, hence they end up spending years in prisons.

Even though, Heads of Courts during special national holidays  discharge some inmates as part of their power to grant prerogatives of mercy, it is still not the best measures considering that the Country prides itself in rule of law enshrined in its Constitution which protects the fundamental rights of its citizens. Also, considering the measures put in place by her Law makers contained in the Legal Aid Act and the NYSC Act, the Country should do better in protecting its citizens.

RECOMMENDATIONS

In a bid to achieve a sufficient implementation of the joint provisions of the Legal aid Act and the NYSC Act, the writer recommends as follows:

  1. The Legal Aid Council should be tasked with quarterly, biannual, and annual goals which must be implemented to enable it be funded for the succeeding year.
  2. All lawyers, or 90% of lawyers in NYSC service should be assigned to the Legal Aid CDS group.
  3. Upon assignment, each lawyer should be given a case file to handle before the completion of their service year.
  4. Where possible, Lawyers in NYSC service should be assigned interlocutory matters, for instance, Bail Applications, Arraignments.
  5. Like officers from the Ministry of Justice, Corp members rendering pro bono services that are not for hearing (especially in Criminal Cases)should be given priority in Court (this will automatically be the case, as officers representing the State being the Prosecution in all criminal matters,  are given priority in court, and thus Corp members from the opposing side will consequently enjoy such benefit of priority as well)
  6. Lawyers should work with the legal practitioners at their Primary Place of Assignment(PPA), their Legal Aid Coordinator, and their fellow lawyers that are Corp members in achieving their assignments.
  7. The Supervisory authorities over each Cope member should be the Legal Aid Coordinator and the Lawyer’s supervisor at their PPA. This is needful as the average lawyer spends one day of the week at the CDS group but expends the remaining at the service of their PPA, thus the need for the PPA to guide, assist, and ensure that such lawyer achieves his assigned task. During the pendency of their service year. More so, since legal practitioners are expected to render pro bono services, the assistance rendered by the law firm could also fall under their own Corporate Social Responsibility. (CSR)
  8. Where a case drags on beyond the one year stay of the Corp member, the PPA should be made to inherit the case, and where they refuse, the case be reassigned to a new Corp member, or another lawyer in the service of the Legal Aid Council.

Inasmuch as the implementation of the above suggestions would aid the indigents in our society, it would also ease the overwhelming financial burden of catering for the welfare of Prisoners from the neck of the Federal Governments, whilst the Legal Aid Council achieves its mandate for each year, and most importantly the whole essence for the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps which is to promote a sense of national patriotism in Nigerian Youths would be achieved. More so, the opportunity given a Lawyer serving in NYSC to represent a client helps to groom and harness their Advocacy Skill, Client Management, as well as Case Management Skills. It is a reality that many lawyers in the service Corps will end up in other areas of law, however the experience garnered during their one year service will definitely leave an indelible mark in their career path, and also inculcate in them the need to render pro bono services, and to ensure the execution of the Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) of any establishment they work with, hence building a stronger nation founded on egalitarianism, patriotism and altruism.


[1] Chapter N84 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

[2] Subsection (4)(a) NYSC Act.

[3] The Legal Aid Act, 2011 which repealed the Legal aid Act CAP. L9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

[4] https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/NIGERIA-2019-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiL16GMkbHqAhVxDWMBHW76BSgQFjADegQIAxAC&usg=AOvVaw2Lp6_grZYj0zWVeKHJBHb6.

[5] supra

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