Osun State is located in the south-west part of Nigeria.
It covers an area of approximately 14.875 square kilometers, lies between longitude 04 00E and latitude 05.558 and is bounded by four (4) other states i.e Ogun, Kwara, Oyo and Ondo States in the South, North, West and East respectively.
The people of the State are composed of Yoruba tribe. However non-indigenes from all parts of Nigeria and foreigners reside in the State, living together in harmony.
A reasonable segment of the populace comprises traders and artisans. The State has 31 Local Government Councils with Osogbo as the State Capital.
In December 2008 the Governor of Osun State in his Budget speech created the Office of the Public Defender and Citizens Rights and I was appointed as the pioneering director in March 2009. Five months later four additional lawyers were appointed to the Office. All of them are below 5 years at the Bar.
In order for us to function effectively a law was proposed and drafted by me and approved for the House of Assembly's deliberation and passage.
The Office has power of corporate personally and its main functions among others is to provide free legal services to the indigent people of the State and embed the culture of providing legal representation on a pro-bono basis with the legal profession in the state and provide ready means of assistance to less privileged.
The Office is to institutionalize mediation, reconciliation, conciliation and alternative dispute resolution in the administration of Justice in the State by ensuring that parties enter into ADR processes voluntarily.
The office has the status of an agency under the Ministry of Justice and is situated at the Government Secretariat Osogbo the capital city of the State.
However, it can be said that the world economic situation has seriously affected the takeoff of the office since its establishment.
Already we have received over 50 complaints from the general public on disputes such as landlord and tenant, employer and employee, domestic violence and family inheritance, debt recovery, accident at work, domestic accidents, fatal accidents, breach of agreements, human rights etc.
However only about five cases of these disputes have been successfully handled by my office. The reasons are not farfetched.
Firstly, the manpower is limited i.e only five lawyers are appointed to service the whole State of 31 Local Government Councils.
Secondly there are no enough infrastructure for counsel to work. We have not been able to attend any of the cases outside the state capital because there is no official vehicle to embark on such trip. Office equipment are also not adequate.
Thirdly, I am the only person in the office who has a reasonable experience and training in pro-bono and ADR work. Other lawyers are very young at the Bar with no experience in this field.
The above scenario is generating disenchantment and lack of interest in the lawyers and thereby making the generality of the people in the State to lose hope and confidence in the office.
A CASE STUDY
One Mrs. 'A', a 32yr old mother of three, came to our office to report her husband a police officer who abandoned her and three children without care and support. My office wrote to the officer who had been transferred out of the State. A copy of the letter was sent to the Boss; a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) demanding that the officer should come to a meeting in our office. At the meeting he was advised to pay monthly living allowance to the three children out of his monthly salary. An agreement was mutually entered into by the parties and a legal agreement was drafted in that respect. The officer paid three months installment before he was transferred to Ondo State. Since he left for Ondo State three months ago, he has failed to pay the monthly allowance to his three children. Now we have difficulty in reaching him in his new place of posting which is about four hours drive to Osogbo, the State capital.
Also in a related development, Mrs. 'F', a widow of seven children, is yet to receive her husband's entitlement from Nigerian Custom Services, a Federal Government establishment 6 years after her husband’s death. The law establishing the agency requires that the head office should be at the capital of the country, Abuja. A letter of demand to the agency on behalf of the widow was ignored. Litigation on behalf of the widow will cost so much and my office is yet to be funded. Meanwhile the widow and seven children are languishing in abject poverty.
That is the typical situation of my office.
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee