The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, Lagos State Branch has launched its Police Duty Solicitors Scheme (PDSS). The event took place during the weekend at the FIDA Lagos headquarters at Makoko, Lagos.

Speaking on the rationale for the scheme, the Chairperson of FIDA Lagos Branch, Mrs. Philomena Nneji said it was aimed to assist indigent persons who come in contact with the law, adding that special focus will be placed on protection of women and girls against rape and sexual assault.

Tracing the history of PDSS in Nigeria, the Lagos State Coordinator of Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACoN), Mrs. Iyabo Akingbade stated that approximately 70 per cent of total prisoners are awaiting trial detainees. She identified multiple adjournments as a major handicap in pre-trial detention, adding that State prosecutors charged with ensuring due process in criminal arraignments lack mechanisms to monitor or control the police.

“There are instances where detainees are held longer in pre-trial detention than would have been the case if they had been convicted for the offence charged,” Akingbade said, adding that duty solicitors are meant to “stand in the gap” and resolve many of the cases to reduce judges’ dockets.

On his part, Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos Branch PDSS programme, Mr. Emeka Nwadioke commended FIDA Lagos for the initiative, noting that there is a need to boost the provision of legal assistance to indigent persons. He however canvassed the need for an “urgent review of the PDSS framework in view of the fact persisting overhang in pre-trial detention.”

Former Chairman of NBA Ikorodu Branch, Mr. Adebayo Akinlade traced the implementation of the PDSS programme in the Ikorodu area, adding that the scheme posted several successes under his leadership. He urged the chapter to ensure that the scheme is sustained in order to foster access to justice for more citizens.

A senior officer with the Legal Department of the Nigerian Police Force, State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Lagos, Ibijoke Akinpelu spoke on the modalities put in place by the force to tackle rape and sexual offences among other crimes. She pledged the cooperation of the force with FIDA Lagos in carrying out its PDSS project. She also took questions from Makoko residents and duty solicitors during the interactive session.

Following the formal unveiling of the scheme, the chapter bestowed an award on Akinlade for his contributions to the growth of the duty solicitors’ scheme.

Other stakeholders who attended the launch are Mrs. Felicitas Aigbogun-Brai, Executive Director of REPLACE as well as a representative of the Chairman of Yaba Local Council Development Authority (LCDA), Kayode Omiyale. Members of the chapter held a legal clinic on the sidelines of the launch to offer legal counseling to some Makoko residents who attended the launch under the programme.

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