Providing legal aid to indigent drug users in Nigeria through the Legal Advocacy Response to Drugs Initiative

 

 

 

Thirty-four years old Grace Femi (pseudonym to protect her identity), a petty trader and mother of two boys aged 6 and 8 was in distress when the news of the arrest of her husband got to her in February 2019. Her husband had been detained at Ikoyi Prison, Lagos in connection with alleged stealing that happened in his office. She instantly made contacts with neighbours to seek advice on how to secure the freedom of her husband.

In her desperation, Grace fell into the wrong hands, inadvertently. Her 'advisers' were members of a local drug ring of drug peddlers. She was given a piece of luggage to deliver to an inmate at the Ikoyi Prison, Lagos on one of her many visits of her husband. Unknown to her, she insists until this day, the luggage contained cannabis concealed in big tins of beverages.

Upon entry to the prison, the drugs were detected during a routine check and Grace was arrested for possession of narcotic substances and later transferred to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Ikoyi office for prosecution. In a twist of fate, the husband at the Ikoyi Prison was set free as the case against him was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Grace remained in NDLEA detention for eight months without legal representation until lawyers from the pro-bono network of lawyers the Legal Advocacy Response to Drugs Initiative (LARDI) intervened to provide free legal services to her. Depressed and traumatized, she twice attempted suicide while in NDLEA detention.

Following the legal support from LARDI, Grace was eventually charged to the Federal High Court, Lagos Division on October 25, 2019. The LARDI team was able to enter into a plea bargain agreement on her behalf resulting in a sentencing to nine months of jail time. Having already spent about nine months in detention, she was released and went home the next day to re-join her family. Her joy knew no bounds, as did her gratitude to the LARDI lawyers.

This is just one among the many cases of indigent drug arrestees who the lawyers from LARDI have helped since the network was first established with the assistance of UNODC under the European Union funded project "Response to Drugs and Related Organised Crime in Nigeria".

Founded in 2018, LARDI today counts more than 120 lawyers among its members providing free legal services to poor Nigerians across the federation accused of drug related offences. The lawyers are also advocating for access to legal aid for drug arrestees and other reforms to drug policy and laws. In 2019, the network provided free legal services in 138 cases, with 62 cases fully resolved while 78 cases are pending in several courts across the country.

The EU funded project has supported LARDI through capacity building, quarterly executive board meetings, national conferences and advocacy visits covering all 36 States and the FCT.

 

https://guardian.ng/features/lawyers-aid-138-indigent-drug-offenders/

https://thenationonlineng.net/lawyers-aid-138-indigent-drug-offenders/

 

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