Practitioners launch Public Interest Lawyering Initiative in Nigeria

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Picture: L-R: Jonathan Kaufmann of Advocates for Community Alternatives , Chima Williams of Environmental Rights Action, and a participant from Niger State at the inauguration of PILIWA Nigeria Chapter in Benin City, Edo State

Lawyers, civil society, and media executives converged on Benin, the Edo state capital on Wednesday November 30, 2022, for the launch of the Public Interest Lawyering Initiative for West Africa (PILIWA) Nigeria chapter.

The initiative which was founded in 2016 has a membership that cuts across nine West African countries including Cote d’ Ivoire, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mali, and Niger, among others, and supports young lawyers interested in public interest cases technically, financially, and intellectually.

A member of PILIWA and Executive Director of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Chima Williams said that public interest lawyering is a special area for legal practitioners with passion for public good.

Williams explained that the PILIWA was particularly interested in Nigerian lawyers because of the peculiarity of environmental and human rights abuses perpetrated by big corporations aided by the state in all parts of the country where natural resources are found.  

On the Nigeria launch of the PILIWA initiative, the ERA/FoEN boss said a desk office will be set up in Benin which will receive an endowment of N250,000 (two hundred and fifty thousand naira only).

The initiative will equally train young lawyers and imbue them with the relevant knowledge on sources of evidence, how to gather evidence and how to present it before a court of competent jurisdiction. In his intervention, Jonathan Kaufman, Executive Director of the Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA) said that he owes his association with legal work and particularly public interest cases with his experience as a young lawyer, when he was conscripted into the cases filed by families associated with the Ken Saro Wiwa case as well as victims of the Parabe Oil Platform case caused by Chevron in Ondo State.

The two cases, Kaufman pointed out, encouraged him to reach out to and start associating with local lawyers that are classified as stubborn because of their quest for justice.

He revealed that many legal cases suffer because of information gathering deficit, financial constraints, and lack of thoroughness in terms of minute details. Sometimes lawyers are not able to obtain cross border information that their peers may be able to obtain and pass onto them if a platform for cooperation exists.

He said that the PILIWA platform will bridge the identified gaps to help public interest lawyers secure what they need to push and win unconventional cases.
The highpoint of the event was the inauguration of zonal coordinators for the PILIWA in Nigeria. The nominated coordinators of the South-South, South-east and North Central Zones are Courage Nsirimovu, Kalu Emmanuel Chisom and Redzie D. Jugo respectively. The coordinators for the Northwest, Northeast and Southwest will be announced later.

Participants were drawn from the legal profession in Edo, Bayelsa, Rivers, Plateau, Imo, Enugu, Niger and Kogi states, among others.

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