Headfort Foundation offering free (probono) legal services has secured freedom for 291 defendants through its mobile offices.
Headfort offered the services through one of its projects, Lawyers without Borders, which has about 200 volunteer lawyers.
The Founder, Mrs Oluremi Orija, made the disclosure in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on Thursday.
Orija said that Headfort, founded in 2019, had also translated Chapter Four of the 1999 Constitution into Nigeria’s three major languages and put same in a handbook to sensitise the masses about fundamental rights.
NAN reports that the chapter is on fundamental rights of citizens.
“Many people in the prisons landed there out of ignorance and illiteracy.
“They are told to sign statements and plead guilty to offences.
“These are consequences of not knowing their rights.
“We have a sensitisation project called ‘My Right, My Freedom’, which moves around local governments, sensitising people about fundamental human rights in languages they understand,” she said.
Orija urged lawyers to engage in more probono services.
She said that legal services in Nigeria were expensive and there were many defendants in need of free services.
“I started this foundation to help to free from captivity, people who don’t need to be there, but preventing innocent people from entering into the prisons, in the first place, has become a focus.”
Orija also called on lawyers to render free services diligently as if they were being paid for them.
She told NAN that Lawyers without Borders was a mobile office that had a branch in front of Ebute Meta Chief Magistrates’ Court Complex and Ogba Chief Magistrates’ Court Complex, both in Lagos State.
She added that Lawyers without Borders had two branches in Ogun and Ekiti.
According to her, magistrates and court registrars often refer defendants, who had no legal representation, to the mobile office for proper representation.
She told NAN that Headfort’s other project, Lawyers Now Now, on a mobile application, was used to help Nigerians with legal issues.
She said that Lawyers Now Now mobile application was created to connect users to probono lawyers across the country.
According to Orija, more than 2,000 cases have been attended to on the application.
“I remember the birth of these projects: I was in a court at Akwa Ibom during my national service in 2014, and I saw a man about to be remanded for breaking a crate of eggs owned by a noodles seller.
“The police could not resolve the case as the man did not have money to pay for the eggs, and he was charged to court.
“I intervened and proffered a solution.
“I suggested that everyone present in the court should contribute money to pay the noodles seller so that everyone could go home happy.
“Everyone contributed more than N2,000 and the complainant went home happy. The court reprimanded the defendant and justice was served,” she said.
She also told NAN that Headfort Foundation had a project called Ex-inmate Support Initiative aimed at helping to re-integrate prisoners into the society through skills acquisition, payment of school and medical bills as well as provision of business start-up grants.
She urged the judiciary to grant more liberal bail conditions so that defendants could met the conditions.
According to her, this will decongest prisons.
She also advised that unbailable offences should be given much more accelerated hearing.
“Some defendants would face delays from series of adjournments only to be released and declared innocent years after.
“What about all the time he or she spent in prison?” she asked.
Orija told NAN that her foundation was facing challenges, including funding.
She called for partnerships with individuals and organisations to move the projects forward. (NAN)