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Folusho ShadoFolusho's Story
Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Area of Advocacy: Economic, Social, Cultural Rights
Organization: Justice Research Institute, People's Advice Center
Folusho De-Grata Shado has been Program Coordinator with the Justice Research Institute of Nigeria and Programs Manager at the People's Advice Center in Lagos, Nigeria. In 2005 she volunteered with the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London, where she focused on legal issues concerning violence against women.
Folusho has also worked as a legal officer with the Nigerian Ministry of Justice at the Directorate for Citizens' Rights, where she provided legal services to those served by the ministry. While at the Nigerian Ministry of Justice, Folusho served on the editorial board of the ministry's newspaper, Justice Now, and revised and redrafted legislation for Lagos State. Folusho served as Secretary for the Prisons Welfare Group of the Lagos Corpers' Legal Aid Volunteer Group, which monitored and reported human rights abuses and violations of persons in detention. Folusho earned her LLB from the Nigerian Law School in 2002 and her LLM from the University of Pretoria in 2004. As a PILnet International Fellow, Folusho developed a comprehensive toolkit for advocating and litigating issues of economic, social and cultural rights in Nigeria.
Reading and Rights in Nigeria: A PILnet Interview
PILnet: One centerpiece of the PILnet Fellowship is the legal project each Fellow develops aimed at advancing justice in their home country. Yours is already having an impact in Nigeria—can you fill us in?
Folusho Shado: The project I developed concerns the right to education in Nigeria. This is a right that's on the books here but the requirement that all citizens receive a basic education is really just an aspiration. I wanted to address that gap and find ways to close it.
The project’s main strategies involve educational outreach, advocacy, policy analysis, and legal action. A sister organization, the Orderly Society Trust, has already taken on the educational component. They’ve started about ten alternative schools in different areas and have begun a literacy program targeted at adults. Classes are free and they’re offered at times when adults are able to attend.
The policy aspect of the project aims to help improve the way the government implements its education program. Led by the Justice Research Institute, we’ve had roundtables with principle officers in the education sector to see how we can improve the quality of education because it’s really a critical issue in Nigeria. But interest is low, and so are standards and budgets.
Because Nigeria has a very high level of public corruption, a lot of money that is intended for education is diverted with impunity to private pockets. We’ve been working with the Center for Economic Rights at the University of Denver on the possibility of pursuing redress through litigation because there is clear evidence that corruption results in a violation of the right to education as well as other socio-economic rights. There’s a federal fund that should be going to education, but it’s been established that a lot that money is embezzled by the officials in charge.
PILnet: This is a significant impact from one person’s project, isn’t it?
Folusho: It’s been great! And I have PILnet to thank for much of it, because we were working on a smaller scale and they gave me and my organization the platform to do more. Possibly we could have done this but it would have been slower and we previously had not identified the right channels and partners to work with, but being exposed to the international arena, as I was through PILnet, made things faster and it built my confidence.
PILnet: You were a lawyer for a number of years before you became a PILnet Fellow. What did the Fellowship experience add to your professional life?
Folusho: The most valuable thing I got is the amazing community of Fellows. Many times in the past I had felt that the challenges I faced were peculiar to my work, my organization, my country, but I discovered that across the continent problems and issues were the same. To hear how people are able to surmount similar challenges is so helpful.
The Fellowship has created a family and a resource. If I have any issues I can contact another Fellow in another country and ask him, let’s say, how he overcame bar resistance to introducing a new project. And then I can work with that experience and adapt it.
A very important part of the Fellowship year was spent on project development. Thinking through the project as a group opened my eyes to different perspectives. Now, when I’m developing projects I realize there’s never one way to do something. I have to look at every angle, every potential stakeholder or problem. A lot more preparation goes into my work now than before!
PILnet: You’ve been with the Justice Research Institute since 2005. What’s the focus of your work?
Folusho: Our main objective is to significantly improve the efficiency of the administration of justice in Nigeria, particularly criminal justice. We are working on ways of expanding access to justice and ensuring that the justice system works better, especially for the most vulnerable—the poor, the underprivileged, and young people.
PILnet: What do you see as the greatest weaknesses in the justice system?
Folusho: While there is a lot of effort to reform the justice sector, there isn’t a coordinated, synchronized approach. Sustainable reform strategies are missing. Another major problem is the lack of effective legal institutions. During Nigeria’s long years of dictatorship and military rule most of our institutions were degraded and destroyed, especially those aimed at promoting the rule of law and justice. So we have to rebuild these institutions.
PILnet: What approach to strengthening legal institutions do you think could be the most effective?
Folusho: Nigeria needs a vital civil society that can push for reforms and demand that they are fully implemented. Legal institutions cannot be fully reformed unless civil society insists on it. The government can try, but the geographic spread of Nigeria’s population makes it difficult to form a cohesive civil society. And so we need to start there, all of us working together.