JEI’s community-based paralegals provide basic justice services to rural and urban poor communities, employing dispute resolution, legal empowerment, and community mobilization techniques. Paralegals work proactively with and in their own communities to identify and address areas of broad concern that include collective needs (e.g. access to basic services, environmental pollution, large-scale land grabs) and individual needs (e.g. employment disputes, conflicts over land, property or inheritance, domestic violence, and police brutality). Accordingly, paralegals legally empower others through greater access to informal and institutional (formal) justice systems. 

JEI builds upon lessons learned in Nigeria and elsewhere to develop a sustainable, community-owned paralegal model that:

  1. brings resources, training, and support directly to poor and marginalized communities;
  2. incorporates robust community engagement and ownership with strong sustainability-focused support systems for paralegals; and
  3. facilitates collaboration among paralegal programs, other civil society organizations, and pro bono lawyers.

This work is organized through the first of JEI’s community-owned initiatives in Nigeria: a membership association called the Community Legal Support Initiative (CLSI). Before joining CLSI, communities set up  ‘community legal support committees’, which join the membership of CLSI and take an active role in overseeing and implementing activities to support paralegal services. CLSI subcommittees work closely with JEI to train, supervise, and mentor paralegals who show capacity and commitment to justice. 

My zeal to work as a paralegal officer was born out of the fact that I want to help the poor and marginalized people in society to fight for their rights, and because I too am a victim of forced eviction in River State. I have also come to realize that most people do not know their rights as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that is why they are been marginalized by and oppressed by those who claim to be above the law.
— Edwin Lenyie, paralegal

A Diverse Paralegal Toolbox: JEI/CLSI paralegals are trained to employ traditional paralegal methods together with innovative and proactive community mobilization techniques, including:

  • mediation and negotiation
  • counseling on legal rights and options
  • accompaniment and litigation support
  • community education
  • community enumeration and mapping
  • community savings schemes
  • advocacy through media / social media

Kampala Declaration on Community Paralegals (July 2012)

“Community paralegals have empowered people in many parts of Africa to equitably resolve conflicts; to seek protection from violence; to navigate the criminal justice system; to exercise rights over land and natural resources; to access essential services like health care and education; to hold private firms accountable; and to participate in the economy on fair terms.”


Updates from our work:

August 2015, Port Harcourt, Rivers State -- JEI concludes its final session in its 6-month training course with paralegal trainees from across Port Harcourt waterfront communities and oil affected communities. During this final session paralegal trainees conducted a full 2-day mediation simulation to hone their mediation and negotiation skills through practical experience.

September 2015, Otodo Gbame, Lagos State -- JEI co-director Megan Chapman presents community-based paralegal Anasu Emmanuel from Otodo Gbame informal settlement with a certificate in recognition of his successful completion of JEI's community paralegal training course. After presentation of his certificate, Emmanuel led a community education program on criminal law and procedure, shedding light on the rights that everyone has when engaging with the police.

August 2015, Sabo-Yaba, Lagos State -- Group of JEI paralegals meet with JEI staff attorney Olusola Babalola during their bi-weekly case review meetings to discuss updates in the cases they are working on, raise questions about challenges they are encountering, and together strategize solutions.

June 2015, Ogunabali, Rivers State -- JEI's Port Harcourt coordinator Chike Emerueh demonstrates the variety of strategies that can be used to appeal to another party in a negotiation or mediation, including by using emotion, logic, bargaining, compromise, and arguing the law.

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June 2015, Ogbunabali, Rivers State -- Community-based paralegal trainees complete practical exercise on how to effectively engage with corporations and development projects sited in their communities. This 3 day session is of particular importance in to these paralegals working in the Niger Delta due to the prevalence of oil and gas extraction and related industries that often give rise to environmental degradation, land grab, and other negative social impacts. Depicted here, Paralegal Sunny Oshom from JEI partner organization Initiative for Advancement of Humanity, shares examples from cases that he has worked on. 

April 2015, Otumara, Lagos State -- Community-based paralegal trainees in Lagos conclude a day-long session on criminal law and procedure led by guest lecturer, Lagos State Assistant Commissioner of Police Kunle Olusokan. This lecture exemplified JEI's commitment to supporting the development of strong relationships between government officials and community-based paralegals in order to support their work delivering justice at the grass roots. At the conclusion of the lecture, ACP Olusokan gave all JEI paralegal trainees present his personal cell phone number, and committed to respond to any cases of police indiscipline or corruption reported by paralegals.  

April 2015, Otumara, Ebute Meta, Lagos State -- Alex Omorodion of the Lagos State Government's Public Advice Center (PAC) gives guest lecture to JEI's Lagos slum paralegal trainees on how to access information from the Lagos State Government, and how to report instances of corruption or public officials neglecting their duty. Mr. Omorodion's guest lecture allowed JEI paralegal trainees to develop a key connection within the government who is committed to access to justice for poor and marginalized populations.

February 2015, Port Harcourt, Rivers State -- JEI convenes introductory session on "community paralegal services" with participants from over 10 informal waterfront communities in the city as well as a number of rural oil-affected communities elsewhere in Rivers State. This training provided an overview of JEI's 6-month training course -- to continue, participants had to thereafter submit applications and letters of support from their communities nominating them to serve as community-based paralegals on successful completion of the course. This training was made possible with the support of JEI partner NGO, Stakeholders Democracy Network, and the Ken Saro Wiwa Foundation.

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January 2015, Port Harcourt, Rivers State -- JEI co-directors lead a 3-day training course on alternative dispute resolution for young community activists from across the Niger Delta, on behalf of the Stakeholder's Democracy Network. The course involved a day-long mediation simulation that focused on land rights and inter-community violence. At the conclusion of the training, participants developed action plans aimed at reducing the potential for violence in the lead up and aftermath of the February 2015 general elections.

November 2014, Ebute Metta, Lagos State -- In partnership with the Rural and Urban Development Initiative, RUDI, JEI train 20 paralegals nominated from over a dozen informal settlements in 3 different local government areas in Lagos. This 3-day training is part of a year-long training program with the same group of paralegal candidates, a select few of whom will become JEI's lead paralegals in Lagos. This training was generously hosted by Reverend Akintimehin at his church in Ilaje Otumara.

November 2014, Lagos State -- JEI partners with Heartland Alliance and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) to train and support the development of a network of paralegals supported by 7 Nigerian NGOs from across the country.

July 2014, Kano, Kano State -- JEI meets with community-based paralegals in Fagge supported by Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (IWEI) during their weekly case-review meeting. The meeting holds in a space donated by the community, in appreciation of their important work. Cases handled by IWEI's community-based paralegals range widely from individual cases of domestic violence, to issues of community-wide concern.

 

July 2014, Warri, Delta State -- JEI collaborates with a Port Harcourt-based partner NGO, Social Action, to deliver a two-day paralegal training for communities affected by oil extraction from across the Niger Delta. Participants with a range of backgrounds came from communities in Delta State, Bayelsa State, Rivers State, and Cross Rivers State. This training was the first of a longer engagement with these communities, which will involve additional trainings.

 

resources for paralegals:

NAMATI Legal Empowerment Publications Database contains numerous articles, guides, and reports on legal empowerment (search the database here)

Community-Based Paralegals: A Practitioners Guide (2010) by Open Society Justice Initiative (English)

Community-Based Paralegal Trainers Manual (2011) published by Global Rights (English) (Hausa)