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The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has given a major boost to the offering of pro-bono legal services in Nigeria with the execution of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON).

The ceremony which took place at the Reiz Continental Hotel, Abuja on Monday, July 17, 2017, had the President of the NBA, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON, SAN, and Mrs. Joy Bob-Manuel, Director-General, LACON formally sign the MoU, between the two bodies to provide a practical framework for the partnership in furtherance of the administration of Pro Bono legal services in Nigeria to enhance the justice delivery system.

Speaking prior to signing the MOU, A. B. Mahmoud, SAN, said: "The reform of the Justice sector is a very critical project in this country. Two days ago we had a roundtable discussion with the Vice President,   Professor Yemi Osinbajo over the need for a reform of the Justice Sector and criminal justice system in Nigeria. Also, a visit to the prisons reveals a congestion in which the overwhelming majority of prisoners are awaiting trial. This indicates a dysfunctionality of our criminal judicial system. We are very delighted to partner with the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria to deliver the Pro Bono legal services, which, hopefully, would ease this difficult situation”.

Buttressing the necessity for the partnership with the LACON, the NBA President whilst alluding to the MacArthur Foundation grant for boosting the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria; talked about the NBA North-East Task Force, Niger-Delta Task Force, and the NBA engagement in the resolution of the Southern Kaduna crisis. He concluded that "It is worthy of note that part of the conditions for the award of the prestigious Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN),  is an evidence of  contribution to Pro Bono legal services”, and admonished all lawyers within the NBA to take advantage of this opportunity to contribute to the administration of justice system in the country.

In response, the Director-General, LACON, Mrs. Joy Bob-Manuel lamented the predicament of the multitude of prisoners who were on the 'awaiting trials list' in the prisons for many years. She stated, "We want to make sure that indeed this perennial problem of having   70% to 80% of prisoners on 'awaiting trials list' across the country simply because they cannot afford legal services or they don't even know that they have a right becomes a thing of the past. We hope to turn this around immediately after signing this MoU”.

Professor Ayo Atsenuwa, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (UNILAG), traced the 25 years' efforts to establish Pro Bono legal services within the legal profession and concluded that all the challenges they met were surpassed all in an effort to promote and encourage Pro Bono legal services in Nigeria.

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