Lawyers must champion justice sector reform, says Tobenna Erojikwe at the NBA-YLF Benin Law Clinic Symposium  

At the Nigerian Bar Association’s Young Lawyers’ Forum (NBA-YLF) Benin Branch Law Clinic symposium on Friday, February 23, 2024, the chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Institute of Continuing Legal Education (NBA-ICLE), Tobenna Erojikwe, made an impassioned call for lawyers to spearhead justice sector reform in Nigeria. As a discussant at the event, Mr Erojikwe emphasised that for any meaningful conversation on access to justice, the legal profession must take ownership and provide leadership.

Mr. Erojikwe noted that Nigeria’s justice system faces systemic challenges that constrain access to justice, especially for marginalised groups. However, he stressed that, as ministers in the temple of justice, lawyers must advocate for reform and fight for justice.

“We must focus on having courts of justice, not just courts of law. The rule of law, of which access to justice is an integral part, provides the framework to address these challenges,” he said.

Mr Erojikwe challenged participants to continue fighting for speedy justice delivery, reducing delays in the legal process, and making the system work for all Nigerians. He called on the Bar and Bench to collaborate in reforming archaic laws and procedures hindering access to courts and justice.

Delving deeper into the issues, Mr. Erojikwe analysed how poverty, illiteracy, weak institutions, and corruption create obstacles for citizens seeking legal redress. He recounted heartbreaking stories of individuals denied justice due to their inability to afford legal fees, a lack of awareness of their rights, and systemic inefficiency and corruption.

“Despite constitutional protections, justice remains out of reach for many Nigerians, especially the poor and marginalised. We must confront these stark realities,” he reiterated.

Underscoring the urgent need for reform, Mr. Erojikwe highlighted policy interventions that can help expand access to justice. These include legal aid to assist the poor, public interest litigation, promoting alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, strengthening anti-corruption efforts, and improving legal awareness through community outreach.

As thought leaders, Mr. Erojikwe implored lawyers to engage with stakeholders across the public and private sectors to advocate for these reforms. He emphasised that the NBA and young lawyers must give voice to the voiceless and realise the vision of equal access to justice.

Participants said Mr. Erojikwe’s insights were thought-provoking, and his stories of people denied justice across Nigeria were deeply moving. His focus on justice sector reform and call for lawyers to take leadership resonated strongly.

“It is time for us to rise and take responsibility for fixing this broken system. We must be the change we want to see,” said a young lawyer participant.

Others noted that Mr. Erojikwe’s intervention lent gravity and moral authority to his words. “His message underscores that access to justice is integral to the rule of law. It is our duty as lawyers to make this a reality for all citizens,” remarked a law clinic representative.

The symposium marked an important step in spurring action on access to justice issues. Mr. Erojikwe urged participants to return to their branches and translate the insights into meaningful community engagement and reform initiatives. With lawyers serving as catalysts, he expressed hope that Nigeria could build a just society where the quest for justice is within reach for all.