Section 35 of The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria1999 (CFRN 1999) (as amended) guarantees the right of a suspect or an accused person to bail. Likely, Section 36(6)(c) guarantees the right of a defendant to defend himself in person or by any lawyer of his choice. Notwithstanding the above provisions, majority of Nigerians, particularly the vulnerable persons like women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities etc are deprived of their right of access to justice because they cannot afford legal services. This is so because according to the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA), “over 62% of Nigeria’s 170 million people still live in extreme poverty”, and as such engaging the services of an lawyer when the need arises would appear as a superfluous luxury, contrary to the Fundamental Rights provisions of The CFRN 1999(as amended).
The Legal Aid Act 2011 has taken a radical approach in addressing the needs of teeming indigent Nigerian majority by widening the scope of offences and matters covered by legal aid and introducing Criminal Defence Service among others. Pursuant to this amendment, legal aid is now available for defendants standing trial for capital offences (Murder, Armed Robbery, Etc) which according to the Director General of Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACoN) “constitute the highest bulk of the Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs)”. However, the D.G also stated that5 LACoN “lacks capacity to represent all awaiting trial persons in Nigeria” because it presently has 280 lawyers in the employment of LACoN.