The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Friday in Abuja, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote free legal services in Nigeria with the Justice Research Institute, an NGO.
The President of the NBA, Mr Abubakar Mahmoud, (SAN), who signed on behalf of the association, said that encouraging pro bono services was a strong strategy in rebuilding confidence in the legal provision.
He said it was also part of efforts to raise standards and ensure proper regulation of the profession.
“We have in the last year and a half, pursued aggressive public interest engagements in a number of areas and so this entirely falls within that broad framework.
“We have prioritised the North East and the Niger Delta regions but we are mindful of other regions because we are interested in access to justice, human rights protection and provision of pro bono legal services.
“We recognise that there is serious demand for these services and we are very delighted to encourage lawyers to show interest and commitment to these services to members of the public,” Mahmoud said.
The NBA president noted that the association had entered into a number of MoUs with a number of partners.
Some he said, were related to training programs for its members while others were on the provision of pro bono services.
He expressed confidence that the partnership would wax strong and translate to putting smiles on the face of Nigerians who benefit from the services.
Mr Ikem Isiekwena, Executive Director, Justice Research Institute said that the MoU was born out of the realization that societal structures were full of potent inequalities where many Nigerians were ignorant of their rights.
“We live in demanding times with an increasing population and a significant number of the populace impoverished, who also do not know their rights or how to access these rights.
“So we can only expect that the interaction within this space will lead to the need to protect rights were there are obvious violations.”
According to Isiekwena, the objective is to deepen pro bono practice within the legal profession across Nigeria.
This he said was by establishing a system that leveraged private sector resources to help increase access to legal resources for more disadvantaged individuals and groups.
The executive director added that the institute and the NBA, with the support of the Open Society For West Africa (OSIWA), intended to institutionalize a pro bono initiative that connected demand and supply for free legal services.
“Pro bono” refers to legal work done by a lawyer for the public good rather than for commercial interests, it is voluntary and uncompensated for the lawyer and free for the client.