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Strengthening The Ability Of Communities Through Legal Education

Emperor Iwuàla

Strengthening The Ability Of Communities Through Legal Education:

Area The Justice Of Peace Can Come In.

Emperor Iwuàla

Who is a Justice of Peace?

The Black’s Law Dictionary defines a Justice of Peace as a local Judicial Officer having jurisdiction over minor offenses and minor civil disputes who also has the authority to perform routine civil functions. Collins English Dictionary defines him as a lay magistrate, appointed to preserve peace in his area, try summarily such cases as are within his jurisdiction and perform miscellaneous administrative duties like to administration of oaths, attestation of legal instruments, franking of  declarations etc. In Nigeria, a Justice of Peace is a lay magistrate and a Judicial Officer appointed without legal education but has the power to preserve peace, suppress riots and affrays and disperse disorderly and tumultuous assemblies. In the performance of his duties, the Justice of Peace may call in assistance from any police officer or any person, who shall be bound to obey such directions he may give. From the above, it is very clear that Justice of Peace is conferred with both quasi-judicial and administrative powers.

The Nigerian Justice of Peace has colonial historicity. It was imported into the country from England.  Today, Justice of Peace is appointed by the Attorney-General of the State.

A Justice of Peace is expected to be a person of unquestionable integrity who seeks to promote and protect the rights of individuals and help to give justice to those persons in a particular community.Such persons are usually appointed from individuals that have attained a particular height of social esteem. They may be clergymen, lawyers, royal fathers, community leaders, well-behaved, respected and regarded persons in communities etc.

Justice administration system in Nigeria is clogged with bottlenecks and unnecessary delays. However, there exist a few in-built mechanisms in the system for resolving disputes, but that are rarely used basically due to lack of knowledge of the functions of Justice of Peace.

Aims and Objectives of Practicing Justice of Peace

At this juncture, it is very pertinent to refresh our minds on the aims and objectives of Practicing Justice of Peace. Among other things they include:

  1. To promote peace and justice education in the society.
  2. To assist in Alternative Dispute Resolution
  3. To provide effective networking in peace building, human right, human development and democracy and
  4. To carry out research, advocacy, publications, workshops, trainings, seminars and policy recommendation on ethics, peace and human right.

In synopsis, the roles of Justices of the Peace can be summarized to include:

  1. Collaboration with the state governments in bringing justice closer to the people through quality, coordinated and accessible justice services.
  2. To minimize crime in society by participating in community policing and supporting security agencies and other stakeholder to ensure peaceful co-existence in communities.

The Importance of Legal Education to Practicing Justice of Peace

As earlier stated, one of the aims and objectives of Practising Justice of Peace is the provision of legal education in communities. What then is legal education? One cannot talk of legal education without talking about law. Law isimportantin every society as it serves as a norm of conduct for citizens. Without law, there will be anarchy.

On the other hand, Legal Education is the process of getting knowledge of what the law is. According to Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Legal educationis the education of individuals in the principles, practices, and theory of law. It is an exposition to laws that prevail in a system and also how those laws are applied. Legal education is the heart and the very soul of the society for administering rule of law in a democratic country like Nigeria.

Practicing Justice of Peace is involved in enforcing the law, adjudicating disputes, arbitration, conciliation and reconciliation of disputes/conflicts. However, he cannot perform these roles well without legal education. Therefore, good legal education is very important to him just as it is to a lawyer. Generally, legal education is necessary for everyonebecause, ‘ignorance of law cannot be an excuse’. Thus, legal education not only produces efficient Justices of Peace but also creates law abiding citizens with human values and rights. Therefore, for a Justice of Peace to perform well, he must be well knowledgeable in law. It is a trite principle of law that nemo dat quod non habet. It ordinarily means that ‘one cannot give what he does not have’. Legal Education for Practicing Justice of Peace can be acquired from enrollment in law schools, attendance to seminars, workshops, reading of law texts, consulting legal practitioners etc.

Legal Education as a Duty for Practicing Justice of Peace

Now, having been well equipped with the knowledge of the law, it is pertinent that one of the duties of the Practicing Justice of Peace is to build individual and community resilience by enhancing awareness and understanding about the law in them. This is one of the ways to identify, prevent and deal with societal problems. Most communities are peopled by many who are very ignorant of the law and administration of justice. Therefore, as people who are closest to the locals, it is the major task of Practicing Justice of Peace to educate the people on information about the law and people’s rights. This will help the people understand some legal problems they are faced with and consequences of disobedience to the law. For example, many users of illicit substances in rural areas do not know the imprisonment term which they may face when they are caught up by the law. It is therefore important that enlightenment and awareness programs are held to engage the people on certain legal provision and consequences of certain illegalities. This is bearing in mind that ignorance of the law cannot be an excuse when the law catches a law-breaker. The Practicing Justice of Peace has a duty to enlighten people on their fundamental rights and advise them on to enforce their rights when they are violated. There are many incidences of jungle justice in our climes these days. This is not minding our acclaimed high level of civilization. Ironically, many people who indulge in jungle justice do so without knowing that such act is murder. Furthermore, people destroy public property without knowing that such has adverse effects to them. Many women and children suffer different degrees of abuse, inhuman and degrading treatment like widowhood practices, child-marriages, ‘ghost’ marriages, slavery, forced prostitution, child-labour etc These children and woman suffer out of ignorance. Such vulnerable persons may not have access to the services of lawyers or human right bodies. Therefore, it is the duty of the Justice of Peace who are closer to these people to give such persons legal education and also help them out. Practicing Justice of Peace should always make himself available to resolve conflicts in his community. He has a role to play to enlighten the people on the dangers associated with break-down of law and order and crisis situations.He may do so by volunteering himself to speak to the people physically or can do so through the media.

Ignorance they say is a disease. A judge once said that an ignorant judge is worse than a corrupt judge. This is a proof of how destructive ignorance can be to mankind. Therefore, the only therapy that can cure ignorance is education, hence the importance legal education for Practising Justice of Peace cannot be overemphasized. However, in carrying out legal education, the Practicing Justice of Peace is expected to carry out this sacred function with diligence, commitment, fairness and integrity. He must not be seen to support any side of the divide in conflict situation so that he does not lose people’s confidence. He must remain neutral and impartial at all times.

Problems confronting Practicing Justice of Peacein Legal Education and Conclusion

Unfortunately, Justice of Peace in Nigeria has almost been reduced to a mere status symbol, a suffix after one’s name that can garner respect and provide social and political mobility. Their impacts are now scarcely felt in our society and in the Nigerian legal system. It is not supposed to so. Justice of the Peace is not a mere title or honorary office. He is a high-ranking office with an important duty to perform in the society.

The Nigerian society is more sophisticated now. This also has adverse effect. The level of criminality, conflicts and disorderliness are worrisome. Therefore, a time like this is when the service of Justice of Peace is mostly needed. Therefore, it is recommended that for the Practicing Justice of Peace to carry out legal education effectively, the following are recommended:

  1. Constant training should frequently be organized for Practicing Justice of Peace


  1. As a voluntary, selfless and tasking function, Practicing Justice of Peace should be given certain privileges, immunities, protections, encouragements in the society


  1. Practicing Justice of Peace should be considered when appointing those who will work in commissions of enquiries, membership of customary courts etc


  1. The government should always involve them fully in peace and conflict resolutions


  1. Government, communities and well-meaning individuals should give them every assistant and facility that will enable them work effectively.



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