Yiaga Africa and the Nigerian Bar Association Young Lawyers Forum (NBA-YLF) are to provide ‘pro-bono’ services to young candidates participating in the electoral process during the forthcoming elections.
Pro bono is a Latin phrase for professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment.
The Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, Mr Samson Itodo made this known at the Election Law Clinic for 30 young lawyers held in Lagos on Tuesday.
According to reports, Election Law Clinic, which is part of the ‘Turn Up Democracy’ project of the NGO, is funded by the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Itodo said that the service would also be extended to other young candidates with disabilities who requested for the free legal service.
The official said the essence of Yiaga Africa and NBA-YLF partnership was to provide free legal services to young candidates who could not afford to get lawyers that could handle their election petitions.
He said the NGO discovered that a lot of young candidates who wanted to run in the election had very limited access to legal support, to defend and pursue their political aspirations.
“We discovered a lot of them do not have the financial capabilities to secure legal services and we also saw cases where young candidates were substituted by their parties, because they couldn’t defend their rights.
“This is because securing electoral justice was quite challenging so we thought that as part of our efforts to increase young candidacy and to increase political inclusion.
“It was necessary to mobilise young lawyers who can support candidates with pro bono legal services, providing them guidance on provisions of the electoral legal framework in this case.
“The constitution and the Electoral Act, can help them defend their mandate because of the nature of our electoral process.
Itodo said the exercise was not only to build their capacities on the Electoral Act, but also to mobilise them to support the young candidates who were running in the next election, as a way of advancing youth participation.
Mr Nurudeen Yusuf, the immediate Past Chairman, Young Lawyers Forum, Ikeja Branch, noted that 30 young and new lawyers were trained in Lagos and Sokoto State simultaneously on election litigation and laws relating to the new Electoral Act.
Yusuf said the electoral litigation was a cost intensive and young candidates did not have access to such funds to mobilise lawyers.
According to him, “the essence of the clinic is to see how we can change the face of democracy and elections in Nigeria.
He said: What Yiaga Africa and the Young Lawyers Forum are trying to do here is to see how we can forego our professional fees for some stipend, which we won’t be rewarding to.
“Practically I have example of aspirants who contested but were cheated during the primary elections but didn’t have the money to go to court and I have handled a number of cases on their behalf.
“So if Yiaga Africa is coming with this incentive, they are not just coming in with asking the young lawyers to render free service alone but they want to give them the prerequisite knowledge.
“Besides, you may even have access to candidate who may want to pay you the legal fees but you don’t have the knowledge of what you want to do.
“So I think it is a welcome development because when you say young lawyers, we are part of the youthful population of the country and we understand the plight of the young people.”
One of the facilitators, Dr Sam Oguche, the Coordinator, Yiaga Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement (CLE), said the clinic was conducted due to the Not Too Young to Run Act which had reduced the age for certain elective offices.
Oguche said the act had made the country to have young candidates and as they were coming on board, they would be faced with various election litigations as petitioners and some would be respondents.
One of the participants, Ms Chioma Esuabom, said the take home from this exercise was to train them to participate as one of the major stakeholders in the society in terms of election law practices.
Esuabom said the training would be helpful to her, especially when faced with a situation where she had to advise her client who was a major participant in an election. (NAN)