Increasing Access to Justice for Pretrial Detainees in Nigeria

by Maliza Bonane of PartnersGlobal and Hadiza Usman of Partners West Africa Nigeria (aka Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative)

In Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), more than 80% of the prison population is currently awaiting trial. Many detainees are held in overcrowded pre-trial custodial facilities for extended periods of time, with little to no provisions or access to legal counsel. This issue is not unique to the FCT. Custodial center overcrowding is an issue throughout the country. In 2004, a Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) was developed by the Open Society Justice Initiative in collaboration with the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON) and the National Police Force (NPF) and piloted in several states across the country. This program placed young lawyers in police stations as part of their compulsory national service and tasked them with providing legal services to pretrial detainees in order to reduce detention rates. However, the FCT was not part of this program and those stuck in pre-trial detention found themselves in a situation with seemingly no solution.   

Partnership and Persistence

Things changed in 2021, when the Reforming Pre-Trial Detention in Nigeria (RPDN) project began implementing the PDSS for the first time in the FCT. The RPDN is a project of PartnersGlobal and is carried out in partnership with Partners West Africa – Nigeria (PWAN), Network of University Legal Aid Institutions Nigeria (NULAI), and New-Rule LLC. The goal of the program is to uphold the principles of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) – a law that guarantees detainees speedy trials, humane treatment, and other human rights. As such, partners work to institutionalize a system of detainee registration, representation, and processing that demonstrates rule of law, respect for human rights, and duty of care for victims, the accused, and their families in the Federal Capital Territory.  

RPDN project partner PWAN worked in collaboration with LACON, NPF and the Nigeria Correctional Services (NCoS) to integrate resident pro bono lawyers in 10 different police stations in the FTC – Nyanya, Karmo, Gwagwalada, Garki, Utako, Wuse, Gwarimpa, Jikwoyi, Mabuchi, and Kubwa. The lawyers are responsible for verifying and reinforcing the ACJA detention time limits and conditions. They also assist the first interview of the detainee with the police officer or file bail applications on behalf of detainees. 

Impact of PDSS in the FTC 

The free legal services provided as part of the PDSS are making a significant difference in preventing unlawful detentions and enacting releases before detainees are transferred to the custodial centers. Since the project started in April 2021, a total of 488 detainees had their first interview with PDSS lawyers, 339 were released on bail, and 75 were released outside of the bail process. In the latter case, the lawyers used conflict resolution skills to engage in dialogue with the police and explain the principles of ACJA, which lead to the releases before suspects formally enter the system. The availability of free legal services at the primary stage allowed the service to be at the disposable of any detainee who wishes to use it.  

Furthermore, police officers increasingly refer cases to the lawyers and grant them access to initial interviews with detainees.  According to, a Divisional Police Officer currently based in Garki Police station, the presence of the lawyer has reduced the number of detainees that stay above 48 hours in the police station.  

“The scheme has positively aided me in my duties of checking the cell daily since I receive feedback as to the condition of the cell from the duty solicitor [lawyer] and my presence has boosted the public confidence in the police station and has reduced litigation against the police from the general public.” 

The Seeds of Change

Justice actors in the FCT have taken notice of the impacts of the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme under the RPDN project and are eager to sustain them. Going forward, the Administrative Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee (ACJMC), an interagency government body that oversees the implementation of the ACJA in the FCT, recently made a commitment to deploy lawyers at ten additional police stations under the direction of RPDN project partner PWAN. The ACJMC is also considering setting up telephone call centers of pro bono lawyers that respond to requests for detainees outside of the PDSS stations. Additionally, the police made a commitment to continue its collaboration with the National Youth Service Corp to receive lawyers beyond the RPDN program to ensure lawyers are assigned to police stations for continuous legal services. 

Beyond reducing the number of detainees in custodial centers, RPDN’s PDSS activity fortifies the sustainability of our pre-trial services goal. Building on this past experience, PartnersGlobal is looking forward to implementing the activity for another year to ensure rule of law and respect for human rights to more victims, accused, and their families in the FCT.  

A small island situated in the middle of the Persian Gulf, the Kingdom of Bahrain is touted as one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East for women’s equality and advancement. It is a diverse and more religiously liberal country in comparison with some of her neighbors. Legally, Bahraini women are recognized in the Bahraini Constitution as equal to Bahraini men in “political, social, cultural and economic spheres of life, without prejudice to the provisions of the Islamic Shariah.” Bahrain is also a member of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and in 2017, adopted the unified Personal Status Law (PSL – known also as the Bahrain Family Law) – an important step in the protection of both Sunni and Shi’ite women under an inclusive legal framework, following trends in the region. Throughout 2020, the Supreme Council for Women took measures to protect these advancements and mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Persistent Challenges for Bahraini Women

Despite the gains made in the past 20 years, systemic barriers to women’s legal equality and empowerment continue to exist. For example, Bahraini citizenship for children is determined by the citizenship of the father. Bahraini women who are married to non-Bahraini men cannot pass their citizenship onto their children, leaving their children effectively stateless and without legal protection.

Some barriers were exacerbated by the restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. For instance, due to mandatory lockdowns and curfews in Bahrain, victims of domestic abuse were forced to reside with their abusers for long stretches of time. One such woman—who for security reasons will remain nameless—wished to obtain a divorce due to domestic abuse she was suffering during the pandemic. However, in Bahrain it is difficult both legally and culturally for a woman to divorce a man, including due to domestic violence. Legally, when a woman files for a divorce due to abuse, the process requires this same woman to first provide proof of the abuse or harm; her word alone is not sufficient. Therefore, women who are subjected to violence—including the woman mentioned here—are forced to first file a police report and a obtain a medical report, following a medical examination, to prove the harm in court. Additionally, the pandemic has delayed court hearing processes and prevented lawyers from meeting with clients.

Culturally, domestic violence is seen as a household issue. There is no official database with domestic violence statistics in Bahrain.  The stigma around reporting domestic violence exists, dissuading anyone from formally moving forward with the process. A man, on the other hand, can submit a request for divorce without even informing his wife and without any cause. 

An Opportunity to Advance Further Legal Reforms

Adopting the unified Personal Status Law in 2017 was a positive step towards women’s equality in Bahrain. Yet there are still improvements to be made, as was revealed by the impacts of the pandemic. Women-led local civil society organizations (LCSOs) are in the driver’s seat and are demanding further reforms. Since 2019, Bahrain’s women-led local civil society organizations have taken the lead on drafting amendments to the unified Personal Status Law and, in December 2020 they finalized a list of amendments to ultimately be presented to the Bahraini parliament for adoption in the future.

In the coming months, these LCSOs will launch a series of advocacy efforts aimed at the amendments’ adoption. This will begin by publishing the proposed amendments and meeting with relevant Bahraini authorities. The work of Bahraini women civil society leaders in the context of shrinking civic space demonstrates the power of long-term, collective efforts. The persistence, resiliency, and determination of this group drive the transformative change for a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous society.

by Fatema Al Majed   January 24, 2021

Female citizens of Bahrain married to foreigners demand citizenship for their children

Through its Strengthening Implementation of the Personal Status Law in Bahrain program, PartnersGlobal focuses on the citizenship topic as one of several areas for improvement in the implementation of the personal status law

This article was originally published in Arabic by Raseef22. The English version below has been edited for clarity.

There are many questions that Bahraini women who are married to foreigners carry as a weight on their shoulders, which raise certain fears for their future.

This anxiety overtakes their hopes, and their lives begin to seem like open-ended stories. These women are in constant search for answers to their endless questions and their children are in constant search for identity. It is an identity that they know very well but that does not officially belong to them or appear in their documents, even though they feel it in their sense of belonging, dialect, and customs!

Apprehensions around residence permits of a foreign husband and children

Shaikha, one such woman in this position, tells Raseef 22:

“The future worries me, for a person could die any time, and I can’t help thinking: ‘What will my children do after my death? How will they remain in Bahrain?’

I currently do not face any financial difficulties due to my good financial situation and my position at work, but I cannot help thinking about my children’s residency in Bahrain after they exceed the legal age as I will not be able to sponsor their stay after they exceed the legal age. So, what will happen if my son does not find a job after completing education? Will he be deported? Should they find a job, will they be treated as foreigners in the only country they have known?”

Shaika’s suffering started 13 years ago when she married a Moroccan man. Although Bahraini law allows Bahraini men to sponsor (citizenship for) their foreign wives, this does not apply to Bahraini women married to foreigners.

“My fears started to grow after I had my kids,” Shaikha says. “Will my kids be able to inherit my house if I died? Today foreigners are allowed to own property only in investment areas and my house is situated in a residential area. Will my children’s rights to the house be acknowledged?”

She continues: “I have been able to overcome many situations but there are many more to come.  For instance, at the beginning of my marriage I received the electricity bill, which had not been paid by the government as it should be for Bahraini citizens. I went to the authorities with complete certainty that it must be some sort of mistake, for I am a Bahraini citizen, and the lease agreement is under my name, and it is my right that the electricity should be supported by the government! The employee working there told me, “The word ‘citizens’  refers to male citizens!”

No right to housing, no accommodations

“I feel helpless, and my children’s basic rights have turned into unattainable dreams for me.”

This is how 27-year-old M.A.H (who chose to be referred to by her initials for this story) describes her situation. She dreams of enrolling her 5-year-old daughter in nursery school. However, financial difficulties stand in her way.

In a voice filled with pain she says, “The suffering I am going through is bigger than me finding words to describe it. I am a mother of two girls, the eldest is five and the youngest is one and a half. I am married to a Pakistani man. He had applied for citizenship in 2006 and is still waiting. I am worried that my children’s future will be like their father’s, especially since the law today prioritizes Bahrainis. We do not receive help from the government in terms of financial support, employment, or unemployment.”

She adds: “I am facing family issues with my husband’s family, and we do not have a place to live. So, my family and I keep moving from one place to another without any source of income, for my husband is currently unemployed and is ineligible to receive unemployment from the Ministry of Labor and Economic Development because it is only given to Bahraini citizens, even though his mother is Bahraini! I borrow money every time his residence permit is due for renewal and I live on the charity of others that may or may not come! So, I wait and worry!”

Citizenship application requests stopped for an unknown period!

M. points out that she submitted an official application request for her 5-year-old daughter with the Nationality, Passports and Residency Affairs by filling out the application forms, attaching the birth certificate, the Bahraini mother’s passport, a letter from the mother, as well as an official paper showing that the children are in the custody and sponsorship of their Bahraini mother. Yet there is no specified timeframe for her to get an answer to this request.

As for her second daughter, the mother learned that the window for submitting citizenship applications is currently closed for an unknown period due to the coronavirus.

She explains: “Following up on the matter has become difficult, and the wait has become terrifying because it means that my daughter will wait longer until she is granted citizenship. These requests take a very long time, and I am afraid that she will reach the legal age without a citizenship and then be trapped in this dilemma of solving her residency.”

M. continues: “I feel that everything in life is against me. I even requested financial aid from the authorities that provide financial support to low-income citizens, and my request was rejected because I am married to a non-Bahraini.”

She concludes by saying that she still tries communicating with the relevant authorities from the Royal Court to the Supreme Council for Women as well as all the civil women associations with no solution whatsoever!

Amending the law to be in line with the Bahraini Constitution

Article 4 of the Bahraini Nationality Law of 1963 states that a person is considered a Bahraini if he was born in Bahrain or outside Bahrain and his father was a Bahraini at the time of his birth. It is also possible to apply for citizenship upon fulfilling a set of conditions set forth in the law itself.

In 2017, The Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defense and National Security in parliament rejected two proposals for a law aimed at granting nationality to the children of a Bahraini mother married to a foreigner, explaining that “the issue of granting Bahraini nationality is related to the state’s sovereignty, which does not require expanding the grant of the citizenship without restrictions.”

In this context, Mariam Al Rowaie, an activist in the field of women’s rights and empowerment, says: “The fundamental solution to this issue is to amend Article (4) of the Bahraini Nationality Law to be in line with the spirit of the Bahraini constitution, which stipulates and affirms equality between women and men.”

Regarding temporary solutions for this matter, Al-Rowaie – who is a member of the Nationality Committee of the Bahrain Women’s Union and the head of the Tafawuq Consulting Center for Development – stated that it is possible to take measures to treat the children of Bahraini women equally when it comes to Bahraini citizenship. She pointed to the issuance of Law 35 in 2009 requiring that non-Bahraini wives married to Bahraini citizens and children of Bahraini women be treated the same as citizens in the fields of education and health. However, there are some loopholes and is not effectively implemented.

Al-Rowaie continues in her interview with Raseef22: “The children of Bahraini women are still deprived of scholarships. There is a woman whose son’s average exceeded 98 percent, and he did not obtain a scholarship. These children do not fully benefit from health services like the rest of the citizens, and their residency in the Kingdom is temporary and not permanent.”

Until the law is amended, Al-Rowaie demanded real solutions that end or alleviate their suffering, such as issuing a card that qualifies children of Bahraini women to benefit from privileges in employment, housing, social insurance, and residency.

Efforts of governmental and civil institutions

More than ten years ago, the Supreme Council for Women in the Kingdom of Bahrain launched a service to follow up on citizenship requests for the children of Bahraini mothers married to foreigners after these requests are submitted to the Nationality, Passports and Residency Affairs at the Ministry of Interior. The service seeks close out the requests with relevant authorities and expedite the acquisition of citizenship for these children.

In 2005, the Bahrain Women’s Union launched a campaign called, “Nationality is a right for me and my children.” The ongoing campaign activities include holding educational and awareness events, sharing information through media and social media, and meeting with members of parliament and with the Supreme Council for Women.

Children without citizenship and rejected requests

In one of the seminars organized by the Bahrain Women’s Union, Muhammad Ghulam, the son of a Bahraini woman who married an Iranian and separated from him a year after she gave birth, said, “I lived all my life with my mother in my grandfather’s house, and I do not have any nationality. I married a Bahraini woman, and we had our first child, and now my child is suffering from what I suffered because she is like me. She also is without a nationality!”

Nedaa Ali recounted her story in the same seminar. Some parts of the story were shared with Raseef 22.

She says, “I am a Bahraini citizen who married a Pakistani man and gave birth to three children born in Bahrain. Then my husband died. I have knocked on the doors of the Ministry of Housing more than once for being a widowed citizen, unemployed, and the sole breadwinner of my family, but my application was rejected because the children are non-Bahrainis.”

Zahra Salman narrates her story at the same seminar, stating, “I married an Iraqi man 37 years ago, and when we wanted to settle in Bahrain, I was unable to sponsor him back then and today he must be registered as an employee. Now that he has reached the age of sixty, we are facing difficulties in renewing his residency because of a law that stipulates that expatriates over the age of sixty can only renew their residency if they are in specialized occupations.”

She adds, “As for my children, I cannot sponsor them because they are over the age of eighteen and face difficulties in acquiring residency. I also have a daughter who is married to an Iraqi citizen, and I suffer greatly whenever we try to issue a visit visa for her.”

These are the voices that we were able to hear, but there are many others that we could not reach. Whenever we hear a story, we say that it’s terrible, and then we hear of greater suffering. The suffering grows and multiplies, and only the questions and confusion remain.

We wonder and search for solutions. We want to know how granting citizenship to the children of Bahraini women will affect the state’s sovereignty. What are the obstacles coming between granting the children of Bahraini women permanent residency? How long will these voices continue calling and remain unanswered?

  May 25, 2020

This interview is part of a longer article. Read the full post “Justice in the time of COVID-19: Innovations to preserve rule of law, rights & safety in Nigeria” here

Q: How prepared was the Nigeria Police Force to handle the COVID-19 pandemic?

Oluwakemi Okenyodo, Executive Director at Partners West Africa Nigeria

A: Since the lockdown issued by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigeria Police Force has found itself at the forefront of ensuring compliance with the lockdown directives by members of the public.  The Nigeria Police Force, like most of the government agencies in Nigeria, were not prepared for the situation in which the country finds itself. There has been no special training for the police officers apart from their routine training, which many of us in civil society have argued is outdated.

The police ought to be trained on how to be first responders and interact more with the citizens in a way that raises awareness about the pandemic and encourages people to obey the lockdown directive for their safety. What is lacking is a police force that exercises restraint in using the force they are accustomed to using and one that puts on a human face in discharging their authority. The majority of the police rank and file officers who interact with citizens on a daily basis are the least educated and therefore more prone to use force to ensure obedience or to extort bribes from citizens. They lack the social skills to engage peacefully with the public and have difficulty in balancing the rights of citizens against their duties.

Q: Why have we seen so much violence from the police during this period? What does this mean for Nigeria’s adoption and implementation of community policing?

A: Excessive use of force by the police on citizens continues to be a challenge despite various attempts by the government, including the Nigerian Police Force itself, and civil society, to address this issue. The police organization has to double its efforts to ensure its officers are trained and reoriented to be service inclined.

The police need to see citizens, who are the taxpayers, as their bosses and understand that they are answerable to citizens. Accountability of the police to members of the public and other stakeholders needs to be strengthened through multiple strategies. For example, the National Human Rights Commission, Police Service Commission, and the Complaints Response Units need to be proactive and dynamic.

There is a lot of public mistrust of the police and this is heightened in light of the COVID-19 pandemic as a result police misconduct. Sadly, Nigerians, out of necessity, have taken matters into their own hands, as has been seen in Lagos, where citizens on the mainland formed vigilante groups to protect themselves from criminal gangs such as “the one million boys.”

With proper guidance on community policing, Nigerian citizens will serve as a supportive mechanism to the Nigerian police force. The police need to be proactive and discerning in discharging their duties so as to gain public trust and respect. Without building upon public trust, community policing is sure to fail as, community support is essential to the police maintaining law, peace, and order.

Q: What is the Nigerian Police Force doing to ensure the safety of officers as they interact with citizens?

A: Apart from the orientation about the preventive measures that need to be taken in order to keep safe against the COVID-19 virus, I do not think there is any coordinated organizational response of providing personal protective equipment kits for police officers on the frontline.

When the lockdown order was issued by the President, the Inspector-General of Police issued a directive, that indiscriminate arrests and detention should not be made by the police. Recently Partners West Africa Nigeria issued a statement calling on the federal and state governments to provide personal protective equipment and essential infrastructure to the police. The statement can be found on our website. Many police stations lack the basics, such as running water or soap, let alone masks, hand sanitizers, and other equipment to operate safely.

Q: What role is the police going play in responding to COVID-19 now that lockdown restrictions in Abuja have been eased?

A: They will continue to play this dual role of enforcing government guidelines requiring face masks and social distancing alongside their primary responsibility of maintaining law and order.  The society still faces its normal challenges, criminality still exists. Gender-based violence, such as domestic violence, has peaked during the lockdown period because victims were confined in the same space as their abusers.

About Partners West Africa Nigeria

The Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative is also known as Partners West Africa Nigeria (PWAN). We are a non-governmental organization dedicated to enhancing citizens’ participation and improving security governance in Nigeria and West Africa broadly, which we achieve through our Rule of Law and Citizens Security Program Areas.

The organization does this through research, collaborative advocacy, capacity building, dissemination of information and integrating the implementation of government policies such as United Nations Resolution 1325, Women Peace and Security Second Generation National Action Plan (NAP 2), Prevention and Countering Violent Extremism National Action Plan (P/CVE NAP), Administration of Criminal Justice Act/Law (ACJA/L), UN Resolution 2250 amongst others which are complementary to our strategic objectives.

We are a member of the Partners Network which is a network of 22 like-minded national organizations around the world, united by common approaches including participatory decision making, collaborative advocacy, consensus building and social entrepreneurship for democratic governance.

  May 25, 2020

NULAI Program Director Odi Lagi
This interview is part of a longer article. Read the full post “Justice in the time of COVID-19: Innovations to preserve rule of law, rights & safety in Nigeria” here

Q: How do the mobile courts work?

A: The mobile courts only prosecute offenders of the Quarantine Act and are manned by up to two Magistrates. The accused are brought by the police to the court, not sent to jail/lock up. The courts themselves are dismantled daily, and do not sit in a particular location, but are permitted to move within their jurisdiction. Magistrates only issue non-custodial sentences such as fines ranging from 1,000- 3,000 Naira; community service such as sweeping roads and picking up litter, impounding of cars and motorcycles, even detention under trees located close to the courts. Court proceedings are attended by police, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, the Federal Road Safety Corps, and Abuja Environmental Protection Board. All of these agencies are members of Nigeria’s COVID 19 Task Force.

Q: How does NULAI’s partnership with the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja work? What was the motivation behind this partnership?

A: NULAI formed this partnership in an attempt to prevent additional remands to the Nigeria Correctional Service, which would only increase pretrial detention in Keffi and Kuje Custodial Centers where the Reforming Pre-Trial Detention in Nigeria project is being implemented. The partnership provides legal representation in Abuja, at the mobile courts through a team of volunteer lawyers sourced from the Nigerian Bar Association, while NULAI monitors court proceedings.

The lawyers are assigned to the 13 mobile courts across Abuja and the surrounding suburbs. In some courts, presiding Magistrates have requested the pro bono lawyers to defend all accusers, while other Magistrates permitted legal representation to those who expressly stated they required these services. All defendants are asked if they would like to represent themselves. At the beginning of May, a total of 2,986 people had been prosecuted by mobile courts in Abuja.

Q: The Nigeria Corrections Service Act was enacted last year to establish non-custodial sentencing, among other things. How has this type of sentencing worked practically in the COVID-19 context? What has the response by the Nigeria Correctional Service been to mitigate the spread of coronavirus in the corrections system?

A: Nigeria Correctional Service is mandated by law to supervise non-custodial sentencing. However, in the case of the mobile courts the task force team supervises these sentences. This measure was put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the correctional system. However, it is not clear how well this will work because, for instance, defendants required to sweep the roads as part of their sentencing are not provided soap or water to wash their hands before they use brooms to sweep streets. They all use the same broom! It is conceivable, the lack of proper hygiene will likely cause additional COVID-19 cases.

To date there has been no case of COVID-19 recorded by the Nigeria Correctional Service; however, one should keep in mind that there is no testing, and personal protective equipment is scarce within the correctional system. The Nigeria Correctional Service has banned external access to its facilities to reduce potential transmission of COVID.

Q: How could Nigeria better prepare for future pandemics or global crises and, in particular, prepare courts to ensure they remain functional?

A: Our courts have been closed since March, with the exception of extenuating time sensitive matters. This has further prolonged pretrial detention not just at Keffi and Kuje Custodial Center but across Nigeria’s 36 states. The coronavirus has underscored the need to integrate technology and digital processes in court proceedings. This step, in tandem with other reforms, would ease and speed up judicial processes. If the Nigeria Correctional Service  Information Management System were deployed across all correctional and custodial centers, if the judiciary, Directorate of Public Prosecution, and police had effective information management systems, then it is likely pretrial detainees would have been able to have their cases heard. Going forward, the courts should pursue non-custodial alternatives vigorously. This will help check or reduce pretrial detention, which would only help the Correctional Service to better manage future spread of disease throughout the correctional system.


The Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI) Nigeria was established on 16th October 2003. It is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission Nigeria as NULAI Nigeria (Limited by Guarantee – RC650698), a non-governmental, non-profit and non-political organization committed to promoting clinical legal education, legal education reform, legal aid and access to justice.

  May 26, 2020

To protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19, public health experts tell us to keep a safe distance from others and to shelter in place at home. But for millions of prisoners around the globe, held in crowded facilities and with little autonomy over their environments, these precautions are all but impossible, leaving them susceptible to infection.

PartnersGlobal’s Director for Sub-Saharan Africa and Accountable Governance Muthoni Kamuyu-Ojuolo

Meanwhile, thousands of others waiting for trial or newly entering the justice system may find themselves increasingly vulnerable to violations of their rights during this time as governments turn to new security measures to enforce public safety, such as rounding up violators of lock down/quarantine orders, and addressing backlogs in court proceedings pile up.

While COVID-19 forces us to reimagine all aspects of our lives and governments to adapt economies, governance, and public services, we should not overlook its impact on the justice system. How is this crisis affecting access to and the administration of justice? How has the state’s provision of security and maintenance of law and order changed?

The U.S, for example, is witnessing an explosion of COVID-19 cases in prisons. As of May 13, the US recorded a total of 25,239 prisoners positive for the coronavirus. Against this sobering reality, states are taking steps to reduce jail and prison populations. Executive orders and other measures have been put in place to release chronically ill and elderly inmates; review cases with low bail amounts; and expedite the release of non-violent offenders and individuals due for release within a 30-day to 4-month period.

U.S. courts are having to innovate and adapt as well to ensure cases proceed swiftly through the criminal justice system. Courts in Texas, for instance, have begun virtual case proceedings. In Seattle, judges have reduced the number of cases that require physical appearances. The U.S. has also seen innovation among its police including the use of drones to enforce social distance guidelines. Some police departments have established online platforms to allow citizens to report non-urgent matters.

Similar innovations are underway in Africa. In Nigeria, where PartnersGlobal implements the Reforming Pretrial Detention in Nigeria project, our project partner the Network for University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI) is working with the Nigerian Bar Association to provide legal aid to defendants in mobile courts established by the government to prosecute offenders of the Quarantine Act.

Meanwhile, the Government of Nigeria has released elderly, at-risk inmates across the country including from Kuje and Keffi Custodial Centers, where the Reforming Pretrial Detention in Nigeria project provides legal aid to pretrial detainees. For its part, the Ministry of Justice is exploring the possibility of virtual court proceedings and has minimized the number of people allowed in court rooms. To date, no cases of COVID-19 have been recorded within Nigeria Correctional Service.

To find more about these adaptations and innovations, PartnersGlobal’s Director for Sub-Saharan Africa and Accountable Governance Muthoni Kamuyu-Ojuolo interviewed Nigerian colleagues working on the frontlines of some of these changes to ensure that, despite the pandemic, access to justice and rule of law are preserved.

Click below to read the two Q&As.

About the Reforming Pretrial Detention in Nigeria project

Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Law and Narcotics, the Reforming Pretrial Detention in Nigeria project targets the Federal Capital Territory/Abuja. The project’s goal is to institutionalize a system of detainee registration, representation, and processing that demonstrates rule of law, respect for human rights, and duty of care for victims, the accused, and their families.

To accomplish this, the project will replicate successes from its predecessor the Reforming Pre-Trial Detention in Kuje Prison project by expanding interventions into Keffi Custodial Center and providing technical assistance to a range of criminal justice institutions including courts, prosecuting agencies, the Nigeria Police Force, and the Nigeria Correctional Service.

It is implemented by PartnersGlobal and our consortium including New-RulePartners West Africa Nigeria (PWAN), and the Network of University Legal Aid Institutions in Nigeria (NULAI).

The project will improve the functioning of the information management system utilized by the Nigeria Correctional Service, introduce technology into court proceedings, provide institutional support to improve interagency coordination and address inefficiencies in case management, and works to improve remand warrant procedure. It also provides legal aid at select police stations, strengthens clinical legal education through training and exchange visits, and pairs law students with pro bono lawyers to provide legal representation at Keffi and Kuje Custodial Centers.

  March 12, 2020

“Everyone knew Idris was innocent, even prison staff,” said Rashida Bashir, a Senior Paralegal and licensed lawyer at the Public Defender’s Office in Kano State, Nigeria.

Rashida was assigned to the case of Idris Nuhu, a 35-year-old male detainee in Kurmawa prison.

Kurmawa prison houses more than 1,300 inmates, even though the prison’s maximum capacity is 750. Idris had been in pretrial detention for seven years after being accused of involvement in an armed robbery. Within those seven years, he never once had a formal court arraignment or appearance.

“It’s common in Nigeria for wardens to think some of the inmates are innocent, but they don’t have control over processing,” Rashida explains.

Unfortunately, cases like Idris’s are not uncommon in Kano. Located in the North-West of Nigeria, Kano State serves as the economic hub of Northern Nigeria with a population of 13 million people. The city of Kano serves as the confluence of old and new ways of life. Many still participate in Kofar Maya — the 500-year-old tradition of textile dying pits — yet younger generations seek to find a life outside the ancient walls. With high poverty rates, low school attendance, and a scarce job market, Kano citizens are left with limited options and can become vulnerable to engaging in other means of providing for their families. Due to the failures of the justice system, one crime can turn into a life of crime.

In many circumstances the justice system’s breakdown lies within its prison system. Nearly 80 percent of those detained in Kano State prisons face extremely prolonged periods of pretrial detention. Many are stuck there for the duration of their sentences, effectively doubling their time spent in prison and feeding into a vicious cycle of overcrowding. The prisons are understaffed and lack sufficient resources to provide detainees with basic necessities like food and humane living conditions.

Public Defenders Office tackles pretrial detention challenge

For those like Idris who are caught in the system and stuck in detention, the Kano Public Defender’s Office (PDO) is providing some hope.

The PDO was established through the Greater Access to Defense and Justice (GADJET) project. GADJET is implemented by PartnersGlobal, the Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative (also known as Partners West Africa — Nigeria), Democratic Action Group, and New — Rule LLC. It is funded by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the U.S. Department of State. The overarching goal of the initiative is to improve citizens’ access to justice by providing legal services through the establishment of a Public Defender’s Office.

The PDO works closely with prison detainees and staff to address pretrial detention rates. With monthly visits to the prisons, the PDO has made reducing pretrial detention rates a priority.

The case of Idris Nuhu was one of the first cases they took on. During their first interview with Idris, the PDO discovered that during his detention, Idris was forbidden from speaking with his family members or informing them of his status, diminishing any hope of receiving legal advice. The two PDO lawyers assigned to the case realized that this was not only a violation of his fundamental human rights, but it was unconstitutional. They took immediate action and submitted a formal cause of action in the form of a fundamental rights enforcement to the Kano State High Court.

The complaint addressed the violation of Idris’s right to personal liberty, fair trial, and freedom of movement under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Once the claim was submitted, the Honorable Chief Judge of the high court agreed to hear Idris’ case. The judge found that Idris was arrested merely off suspicion with no straightforward evidence to justify his sentencing.

Less than four months after the PDO filed the complaint, Idris was released from Kurmawa prison and returned to his family in Dawakin Tofa.

“It was very emotional watching him leave prison and seeing him take his first breath of fresh air and steps as a free man,” Rashida recalls.

The PDO’s involvement in this case not only changed Idris’s life, but it is also changing the way the justice system in Kano functions by showing the importance of providing public defense to pretrial detainees.

by Barbara Maigari   February 14, 2018


Behind the bolted doors of Kurmawa central prison in Kano State, Nigeria, an old wooden board hangs high on the wall of the warden’s office, keeping count of the inmates inside the prison. Written in white chalk, the board shows that over 1,000 men are held in this jail — a building that is intended to house no more than 750 —most of whom are not convicts at all. These men await trial.

Among those waiting was a young man, about 5.4ft tall, by the name Abdulrazak Suleiman. Abdulrazak (21) remained in pretrial detention for eight years, after military officials arrested him in 2010 for alleged rape and abetment on a Thursday when he was about to ablute for his evening prayers. At no point in those eight years was a court date set. “I can do nothing about my situation,” he said to the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) paralegal staff on a monthly prison visit.

After hearing his story, the PDO filed for a court declaration that his rights were violated and a ruling was made in his favor. It declared a violation of his rights and required his immediate release.

When Abdulrazak Suleiman saw his name taken off the prisoner list, his gaze quickly drifted downwards to the bare floor. “Some spirit of discouragement started getting into me and I was asking, ‘when will I leave?’ he said to the PDO lawyers who secured filed his claim. After a few seconds he glanced up with a wide smile and a grateful heart. “But unexpectedly I was released.” His prolonged stay in prison had finally come to an abrupt end.

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Public Defenders Office Kano

In Kano, as in many parts of Nigeria, access to justice is limited. Most residents in Kano, specifically indigent persons, cannot afford the exorbitant legal fees charged by private lawyers. The Legal Aid Council of Kano currently employs only four lawyers, and the majority of people in Kano do not know that these services exist. The average vegetable vendor or market woman living outside of the Kano City metropolis finds it difficult to access these services.

The PDO’s goal is to address this gap and make the judicial system more accessible to the average person. The PDO employs 10 lawyers who handle criminal, human rights, and mediation cases for indigent and marginalized persons in need of legal aid in Kano state. Since its launch in June 2017, the PDO has contributed immensely to legal service delivery by providing pro bono legal representation to over one hundred indigent persons in Kano and has recorded critical early successes. These include the case of Baby Khadija, Idris Nuhu, and Iliyasu Baduku (alias Chindo).

Like Abdulrazak Suleiman, Chindo’s case was referred to the public defenders’ office by prison warders after a visit by the PDO staff to interview inmates who had been detained in prison beyond the allowed constitutional time. Thirty-six year old Chindo was accused of armed robbery and detained for seven years without being arraigned before a court with jurisdiction—a length of time far beyond the constitutionally allowable period. The PDO sought his unconditional release by filing a fundamental right enforcement. The respondent in Chindo’s case, a Kano police officer, informed the court that Chindo was arrested based on suspicion but that there was no evidence connecting him to the alleged offence. The respondent therefore concluded that he had no objection to granting the PDO’s application. Chindo was released unconditionally from prison in November 2017.

Prison warders also referred Idris Nuhu’s case to the Public Defenders Office. Idris (35) was accused of the rape of a 15 year old girl. He claims he was asleep at home, when the police woke him up and took him to the police station. He initially denied the accusation, but after much torture was forced to admit to the offence.

The PDO filed a fundamental right enforcement on behalf of Idris Nuhu on the grounds that he was detained for seven (7) years, a period far above the constitutional period allowed without arraigning him before a court with jurisdiction. Idris Nuhu was released on the sane day and repatriated back to his family in Dawakin Tofa by the Public Defenders Office.

Setting a Monumental Precedent for Child Rights

Baby Khadija’s case against Muttaka Muhammad was reported to the PDO in June 2017. The family alleged that in May 2016, six-month old Khadija was sexually abused by Muhammad, a neighbor and close confidant of theirs. Her mother claims she asked Muhammad’s wife to watch Khadijah while running an errand. Upon returning, she found her daughter crying profusely and discovered injuries and blood in her genital area.

The case, filed in August 2017, was a joint action between the PDO and Khadija’s father versus Muhammad and his wife. On November 15, the Acting Chief Judge granted all the relief in a landmark ruling, and awarded compensation of ten million Naira as special damages for the expenses to Khadijah’s family for her health since the incident. This judgement was the first of its kind in Kano state.

Ingredients of Success for Public Defense

While there is a lot more work to do, there are a few key ingredients to the PDO’s future success. These include creating awareness, engaging in collaborative advocacy with strategic stakeholders, and continuously improving the capacity of PDO staff.

Apart from monthly prison visits designed to ensure that people know of the PDO and utilize its services, the PDO raises awareness among indigent persons in Kano through public education programs and law clinic services in local communities. The project has also developed posters, fliers, and jingles in English, Hausa, and Pidgin. The jingles are currently being aired by major radio stations in Kano, including Freedom Radio, Arewa FM and Wazobia FM. As a result of these awareness campaigns, there has been an influx of requests for legal representation from the PDO.

In a recent visit to the Emir of Kano, PDO staff informed the Emirate Council of the office’s activities. The Emir, His Royal Highness Muhammad Sanusi II, promised the full commitment of the Emirate Council to the PDO and assured his support. This kind of relationship with the emirate council allows future cases to be referred to the office.

In the efforts to build capacity of staff members and to further improve the efficiency of Kano’s judicial process, PWAN conducted a training program on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) for PDO staff and lawyers of the Ministry of Justice. The PDO often encounters cases that do not necessarily require litigation; rather, they can easily be resolved through third-party intervention such as ADR and mediation. Increasing staff capability on these matters will improve the overall effectiveness of the PDO.

The Public Defenders’ Office (PDO) is a project of Partners West Africa Nigeria (PWAN), PartnersGlobal and the Democratic Action Group, and is funded by the International Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the US Department of State (INL).



Written by Barbara Maigari, Program Manager/Consultant for Partners West Africa-Nigeria

barb headshotMs. Maigari has an extensive legal and judicial experience in Nigeria. She focuses on coordinating project activities on judicial integrity, security, human rights, anti-corruption and citizen responsiveness. She also has a wealth of experience designing and implementing accountability measures for police oversight and forging relationships with justice sector stakeholders to improve democratic governance. She has been a key insider and served as a link between key security personnel, the military and civil society members to the situation in northeast Nigeria. She has also worked on DFID’s Justice 4 All’s judicial accountability project. She has experience on legal aid from her work with Avocat sans Frontier. She’s presently representing PWA — Nigeria in its engagements with the Nigerian Bar Association. Ms. Maigari is a Barrister of Law (B.L.) from the Nigerian Law School and holds a L.L.M. in Human Rights from Budapest, Hungary.

by Nengak Daniel Gondyi   October 19, 2016

Weeding out corruption and ending transnational organised crime requires restoring accountability and transparency within all levels of society. Recently, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari visited President Obama at the White House to discuss matters of security, economic development and corruption in the Nigerian government. During his visit, the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to assertively tackle corruption in Nigeria. He also advised President Buhari to appoint only “seasoned technocrats” to head key sectors of the economy.

President Buhari made clear to his U.S. government hosts that he would not appoint a cabinet until September, explaining that he needed time to root out corruption before naming his ministers. “The fact that I now seek Obama’s assistance in locating and returning $150 billion in funds stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts on behalf of former, corrupt officials is testament to how badly Nigeria has been run,” President Buhari recently wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

Indeed, President Buhari has a large order to fill; public safety and economic progress in Nigeria relies heavily on who he appoints, but most importantly on his commitment to accountability and transparency. However, the weight of this responsibility is not squarely on his or the future cabinet’s shoulders alone. Nigerian citizens and the civil society organizations that represent them have a role to play in Nigeria’s anti-corruption campaign. Collectively, civil society and the public must help identify corrupt practices, gather data to identify holes in the system and develop and implement joint solutions with the government. With proactive and productive partnerships with the Nigerian government agencies and civil society, President Buhari has many willing partners to dismantle the corruption embedded in the Nigerian governance system.

One approach to diagnosing and treating corruption is the development of partnerships between civil society and the Nigerian government agencies, such as those created through the Access Nigeria (AccessNG) project. Working with the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Crimes Commission (ICPC), National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP), and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the project has stressed the importance of transparency and accountability within these particular prosecuting agencies, since 2014.

The initiative has trained and deployed twelve civil society groups to develop engagement plans and cultivate positive and productive relations with the four agencies. For example, our partners, the Innovative Strategy for Human Development (ISHD), requested information on cases being prosecuted by NAPTIP to improve their own work on the prevention of trafficking in persons. Despite bureaucratic challenges and delays, ISHD was able to work with the NAPTIP South West regional office in Lagos to collect information on prosecutions in that region. Sustained interaction and trust between the agency and the civil society partner at the regional level made this interaction possible.

Jointly the twelve civil society groups are collecting information about the agencies’ work and assessing the records of convictions and prosecution cases. Our initiative holds numerous prospects but has had its challenges. Recently, AccessNG published a report of our findings for the second half of 2014. Below is our summary of the issues that has caught our attention.


OpenGov-ConceptsWhen public education and proactive disclosure of information becomes a core part of an institution, citizens are much more capable to participate in priority setting within the decision-making process. With citizens knowledgeable in their governments operations they can hold their government accountable and demand equal treatment and equal justice. The EFCC, charged with investigating and prosecuting economic and financial crimes has a fairly well maintained website where they post frequent updates on their work; this includes press releases with information about new cases filed in courts and their judgements. However, we observed that while general information is provided, specific details for tracking and monitoring cases, such as subsequent adjournment dates and final court hearings were excluded. This makes it difficult for the public, or those of us in civil society, to follow the progression of cases.

In addition, after following up on some of the cases prosecuted by NAPTIP, we found that court records are not easily accessible to the general public. When case records do exist, they often exclude vital information, such as the date of the next scheduled appearance in court, therefore making it difficult to follow up. By reviewing 26 cases prosecuted by NAPTIP in Southwest Nigeria in 2014, we saw that 20 cases were prosecuted in High Courts, while four were in the Court of Appeal, and two cases were before the Supreme Court. Closely analysing the case reports, we found that some of the key challenges to the effective prosecution of cases included the following:

Adjournments: The number of adjournments and the time lapse between cases constitute a major challenge to effective and diligent prosecution. Some of the main reasons for adjournments include: absence of prosecution/defense counsels in court; inability of the court to sit; absence of the accused in court; and pre-trial matters such as bail hearings.

Trials within Trials: Before cases can be heard, a number of issues can arise, such as challenges to court’s jurisdiction, complications in the investigation, and the capacity of the of NAPTIP. This can slow down the process.

Cases against the Prosecutor: While NAPTIP is a leading agency in the prosecution of suspected offenders; there are many cases where the NAPTIP is accused of abusing their power and the rights of individuals. Currently, the trial process for these incidents are conducted within their very own prosecution courts, such cases necessitate the need for a continued deployment of resources from both the prosecution and the defense.

However, because we could only view cases with convictions, rather than all cases during that time period, there is a slant to the data collected. Overall the data of the prosecuting agencies reveal an undue emphasis on the number of convictions in the published case records. Citizens need to know and have the right to access a broader set of information, including the number of new cases and appeals, asset recovery from prosecutions, scheduled court appearance dates for continuous cases etc. Ultimately, by helping citizens know and understand the records and processes of the prosecuting agencies, civil society and the public can begin to build the trust and goodwill necessary to support their efforts.

As difficult as it was for civil society to access court records, retrieving the same information from the prosecuting public agencies proved to be just as arduous and filled with needless bureaucratic processes — in spite of on-going collaboration with the agencies. The Access Nigeria project continues to maintain that increasing citizens’ access to information is crucial for an effective anti-corruption campaign. If the public can follow the agencies’ court cases, both in court and with regular briefings after the court sits, then a garnered interest can be further sustained and deepened through media reports of arrests, commencement of prosecutions and acquittals, or suspect sentencing. In summary, the results of the report from the AccessNG project further emphasize the need for civil society’s continued engagement with these public agencies.

If Nigeria is to benefit from the reforms that President Buhari has promised, corruption must be tackled proactively and weak institutions strengthened. Our evidence and experiences from the AccessNG project indicate that, in at least one of Nigeria’s geo-political zone, there are inadequate staffing levels in the investigation and prosecution departments; additionally, as we found in our review of the 2014 appropriation, the budget allocations of anti-corruption agencies are decreasing, which will undermine the government’s efforts. If we are to truly move forward with a transparent and accountable government, the current administration needs to strengthen these agencies through an increase in funds and staff. Most importantly, the agencies should be more open to the prospect of civil society as partners. Ideally, the first step would be a less bureaucratic system for accessing their data. In turn, civil society can play our role as monitors and collaborators, and together we can improve the system.