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Nigerian NGO Receives MacArthur Foundation Award

The Nigeria-based Legal Defense and Assistance Project, a non-governmental organization says its work received a significant boost after receiving a share of $500,000 from the U.S.-based MacArthur Foundation.

The organization, based in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos offers support and legal assistance to political prisoners and defends human rights. It also works in reforming the administration of criminal justice, and training government officials as well as instilling respect for the law as a key element of a healthy democracy.

Chinonye Obiagwu is the executive director of the legal defense and assistance project. He told reporter Peter Clottey that the award puts the organization on a high pedestal.

“I personally think the summation of our efforts over the years to improve the justice system and the rule of law in Nigeria has helped. In the past ten years we have been working to provide legal services to poor people, we’ve been working to improve state policy as regard to access to justice. And we’ve always gone cup in hand begging for funding to sustain us pay our salaries, pay our rent, pay our telephone bills and so on in order to continue to do the work,” Obiagwu noted.

He reiterated the award’s importance to his organization’s work.

“What MacArthur foundation has done is to put us on the path of institutionalization to give us a course brand attempt to set us up as an organization and an institution that can now be able to influence policies in our country and to sustain democracy,” he said.

Obiagwu said the award reduces some of the stress his organization experiences for funding.

“The support would first help us to set up our head office that can enable us focus on other things apart from running cost. It will give us the capacity to provide an office space for us because we are going to use the grant to procure a head office and a resource center. The grant will also help us to provide resource information and IT [information technology] capacity for policy makers in Nigeria. So they can come to our organization, get more information about what is happening around the world in the area of criminal justice. So, it will not only help our organization, it will also help our relationship with government officials who are working in the area of criminal justice,” Obiagwu pointed out.

He said the organization has been able to significantly change policies in a positive way and helping the ordinary poor Nigerian life.

“The success story is that impact we’ve had with government officials in changing policies and laws that affect every justice and that affects the lives of ordinary Nigerians. For instance, we are working with the state government to reform criminal justice laws so that people cannot be held in prison or in detention beyond 90 days. We are working with the police service commission and police force in Nigeria to provide a mechanism where people who are abused by the police can make complain and have their complaint heard by a complaint board,” he said.