Charity Nwakaudu, Abuja
Mrs. Ijeoma Nwafor is the Country Representative of Haque Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL), a non-governmental organisation based in the Netherlands. In this interview, she spaeks on the need to make justice accessible to everyone irrespective of class or gender.
What do you mean by justice problem?
In 2018, HiiL came to Nigeria and conducted research across 18 states, three per geopolitical region. We found out through the research that only 8.4 per cent of Nigerians actually go to court when they have a justice problem. You may ask, what is justice need? It is when people have disputes within their society, be it financial, with the neighbours, families or with the outcome of a particular living situation. Some of the things we found out was that justice need of people in Nigeria is usually money-oriented, employment, crime, land disputes, conflict with neighbours and families, those are the five major ones.
Who are the people mostly exposed to this justice need?
Everybody. It is a people’s problem. In Nigeria, when we talk about justice, people think we are referring to wealthy men going to court for political or business-related cases, but that is not true. If you take a critical look at people’s daily life and tell yourself the truth about the country Nigeria, where we are, so many things happen to people that leave them dissatisfied and because of the gap between the people’s justice and the justice system, people walk around dissatisfied, believing in jungle justice. They let out their frustration on an unlucky offender that is caught. If the system had worked for the average person, there would be reduction in injustice. Netherlands, where I worked in the past, is known for justice and peace. Have we asked ourselves how they got there? They got there because they realised that when justice is focused on human rights, that is, social, economical, land justice, things are fair. Justice is not about equality but equity and fairness. If you feel that when you are wronged there is a place to address it, that will relieve you of some stress. Somebody cannot commit a financial crime and say it is due to unemployment. There is also justice to be addressed in social sector where people are hired not based on merit, qualification, competence and experience but based on who you know. That is also injustice because, looking at it globally, you will discover that everybody is affected by injustice directly or indirectly. I have noticed that once you interface with people about justice, immediately their minds goes to the legal system. Justice is beyond the legal system. Our data shows that more people resolve injustice by going to the Nigerian police. Is the police the legal system? Some go to their traditional rulers in the rural areas, this is to tell you that justice is bigger than the legal system. The message we want to pass to Nigerians is that justice is all-encompassing. The judiciary, legislature and executive are not the only ones involved in the dispensation of justice. Everybody has a role to play in making justice available. Access to justice for all is Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Number 16. Having access to justice does a lot for society because people will get to know that, whatever form of injustice they commit, they would be punished for it.
How does the political system contribute to justice challenges?
It is obviously contributing but we are also part of the political system. In HiiL, there are three facts that matter to us. One is data, which is used for the justice need survey. Another is innovation, which means finding out-of-the-box ways to meet peoples’ justice needs, and the third one, which is my focus as the country representative here, is justice transformation. HiiL has identified that, without the political will, which is the people-centred justice, there would be no headway. That is why HiiL will be having an event in Nigeria on March 5, 2020, to discuss how to make people-centred justice possible in Nigeria. We would be speaking with stakeholders on how to make justice accessible to Nigerians. Every Nigerian has a part to play in making our justice system more accessible.
How many people have your organisation helped to get justice?
The innovation components of our organisation, which is currently working with justice innovators like some young people, are focused on coming up with applications to resolve different forms of conflict. We sponsored some contests globally that brought out all those innovators. We can said that, since we set into Nigeria in 2018 and did that innovation, we have been able to offer services to close to 10,000 Nigerians. There are lots of innovations that HiiL is behind but Nigerians are not aware because we make less noise about it. There are lots of innovations going on and the achievements of HiiL are measured based on the number of people that interface with these innovations.
How do you relate injustice to corruption?
HiiL has tried to use data to support the fact that there is corruption because of injustice. A student knows that he does not have job security in the private sector. So, he does whatever it takes to work in the government sector. That desperation will make such an individual to do different forms of unjust things, which gives the person he or she is approaching the ground of taking advantage of him. Nigerians don’t recognise the difference between justice and corruption. Studies have shown difficulty to separate justice from corruption. In some places, people see poverty as laziness, they conclude that the individual is not smart enough to do what others are doing. The system is not fair. Now, someone who goes through school and ends up not being able to express himself or herself is part of injustice. When such person goes out and meets his or her peers who actually went to school, such person feels little because of ignorance or incompetence. Any slice of corruption you take, there is an underlining number of injustice created. HiiL doesn’t care about demography but we are respecters of data, which shows that poor people experience more injustice than rich, women more than men, persons with disabilities than persons with full abilities. What we are trying to do is to raise the awareness or the consciousness of every Nigerian to the fact that we need to look at the justice system and look for a way to bring more people on board to access justice that is not limited to the legal system. Data tells us there is always mental distress that comes from experiencing injustice.
It is said that most Nigerians don’t know their rights, and if you don’t know your rights, you can’t seek justice. What is your organisation doing about that?
If you don’t know your rights, you won’t know when it is being taken away from you. But one need to know that justice is bigger than human rights. One may know his right and know that it is being violated but may not have access to justice. So, human rights are just part of the justice but they are not interchangeable. We address the access to justice whether because your human rights have been violated or you are experiencing injustice. There is a huge gap between the justice needs of most Nigerians and the access to justice to solve those needs. Our forthcoming event will relunch the justice survey, unveil some of our innovation and innovators that are in Nigeria, and we would also begin the justice transformation dialogue. All these would instigate Nigerians on what HiiL is all about. We must start addressing justice. If you don’t make justice accessible to everyone, one day, injustice will come knocking at your door. So, the sooner we know that access to justice is for all, the better for all of us.