Mr Patrick Dunkwu, a Nigerian barrister and Executive Director of Human Assistance Initiative (HUMAI), has said the entire justice system in Nigeria was “stacked against the poor, especially women”.
“Litigation is costly, the judicial process is cumbersome and unfriendly, and the judicial process is compromised by institutional capacity weakness and corruption,” he said.
Mr Dunkwu was speaking on appraisals of laws protecting women’s rights and access to justice in Africa with focus on Nigeria at a three-day workshop on, “building bridges of understanding to end cultural practices that violate the rights of women in Ghana” in Ho.
It was organized by Royal Care and Support (ROCAS) with sponsorship from Commonwealth Foundation.
Mr Dunkwu said though there was legal aid it was only for few criminal cases and some civil claims in respect of accidents.
He said for instance women could not access legal aid for matters relating to marriage, divorce and inheritance or for suppression of harmful traditional practices.
Mr Dunkwu said those limitations underscored the need for immediate reform including the extension of legal aid to a wide range of civil cases and “public interest litigation” to eliminate harmful cultural practices against girls and women.
He said applicants for legal aid in Nigeria must have an annual income of less then $15, an amount “absurdly” low, as a result of inflation, since the introduction of the legal aid scheme in 1977.
Mr Dunkwu said consequently, many people especially girls and women who earn more than $15 annually and needed legal aid could not access the facility and called for its urgent redress.
Mr Dunkwu also called for the training and re-training of legal practitioners in family law and the principles enshrined in the various international conventions signed and ratified by the country to reduce or totally eliminate the violation of women’s rights in the country.