A civic rights organisation, the Pro Bono Clearing House, with branches (clearing houses) in Kaduna, Lagos, Osun, Kebbi, and Sokoto, and its national clearinghouse in Abuja, but with nationwide operations, has urged the general public to reach out to them if they know someone that was raped, or the victim to reach out to them for free legal services. Their message reads, “Have you been raped or do you know someone who has?
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, then you should not suffer in silence. SMS ‘Probono State’ to ‘7447’ and one of our representatives will reach out to you in the shortest possible time.” That is, for example, text ‘Probono Edo’ to ‘7447’ if you live within Edo State, or ‘Probono Oyo’ to ‘7447’ if you live within Oyo State.
The clearing house provides pro bono legal services in areas like domestic violence, child abuse, unlawful detention, human rights abuses, sexual harassment and assault, disinheritance of widows and orphans, disinheritance by gender, unlawful dismissal (employment matters with sexual harassment or discrimination undertones), commercial cases (involving oppression of indigent persons such as petty traders on matters such as unlawful taxation), and rape.
According to the organisation, “The Justice Research Institute Ltd. Gte. (JRI), is a Justice Policy and Research Centre established in 2005. The JRI, in collaboration with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), with the support of the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA) is working to facilitate and promote a pro-bono culture in Nigeria through the establishment of clearing houses at strategic locations in the country. The Clearing House was set up in 2018 and is firmly committed to enabling disadvantaged and underprivileged persons have access to justice, counsel, and legal services at no cost to them. The Clearing House aims to bridge the gap between persons and organisations seeking legal services and lawyers or law firms willing to provide these services pro bono, voluntarily and at no cost to the recipient. Additionally, the Clearing House aims at enlightening the Nigerian society on how justice for all can only be actualised bya deliberate pro bono culture. Through its pro bono work and partnerships, the Clearing House hopes to bring sound legal advice, representation, and counselling to those who would ordinarily have access to it by reason of their financial or social status.”
The clearing house aims to connect the underserved, vulnerable and indigent persons in Nigeria, to lawyers and organisations that will be able to provide them with legal services on a pro bono basis. Their primary task is to complement the effort of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria in attending to increased demand by indigents and the disadvantaged, for Pro Bono legal services. This they do through various State Coordinators, officers and various stakeholders. They make use of all available and legitimate means to reach out to lawyers, appealing to them to take up pro bono legal cases. They also create awareness via the social media, electronic and mass media and through one-on-one engagement with the indigents the local communities, IDP camps, schools, through referrals and the like. Their mission is to ensure that indigents get justice no matter their distance from the cities.
While explaining how they set to achieve their targets, they said on their website, “We are aware that Information Communications Technology is an indispensable tool in the modern world. Therefore we have set up a portal to drive our project. Lawyers and beneficiaries are signed up on our portal which exists at http://www.probono.ng. Subsequently beneficiaries are linked to the lawyers who take up their cases and report periodically to the Clearing House via the portal by filling forms which are available on the portal. By adopting Information Communications Technology in driving the project, efficiency, speed and professionalism is brought to bear on the project.”
The Nigerian public is therefore advised to share this information to enable those who cannot afford legal service fees to exploit this great opportunity.