When Patrick’s father was detained in prison for six months without a trial date, Patrick and his family relied on the assistance of a legal aid lawyer who helped secure his release. Seeing first hand the inefficiency of the Nigerian criminal justice system and the disastrous effects of it became a life-altering event compelled him to study law to work towards building a more effective criminal justice system in his country and as a defender of human rights.
Patrick studied history and education with an emphasis on educational psychology and counseling. Afterwards he attended Nigerian Law School in Abuja and upon completing his legal degree, worked as a legal aid lawyer at a civil rights NGO where he defended those who were victims of human rights violations. He later joined the Human Assistance Initiative as a program director overseeing projects relating to legal protection, human rights and democratic development. In his work he had come into contact with many individuals who were detained by police for years without trial. Often times, detainees go days without their families being notified that they are being held. Given the plight of inmates sitting in overcrowded prisons, Patrick envisions a more efficient Nigerian prison system free of congestion.
In Lagos, Patrick did a needs-assessment of the state of lower court judges in Lagos and eventually created a judicial training program for judges to be more aware and sensitive to issues of human rights. His work as a lawyer has focused on indigent persons. With the encouragement of his mother, who often reminds him of the gratitude that they have for the legal aid lawyer who took on his father’s case, he takes on pro bono work, and sometimes even brings her to court proceedings.
Although Nigeria’s constitution says that an arrested criminal defendant is entitled to inform his lawyers and family about his arrest, this is rarely the case. Police often make arrests and secretly charge suspects without allowing them access to their lawyers or notifying their families. Additionally, many of these suspects cannot afford a lawyer. As a result, criminal defendants are unrepresented and end up in overpopulated prisons and without legal support for years, even decades.
Patrick seeks to ensure early legal counsel for indigent criminal defendants by using mobile phones to link lawyers and paralegals with defendants who have been recently arrested or sentenced. By stationing volunteers at courts daily, these volunteers will be able to speak with prisoners and call their lawyers or family members early enough to prevent the suspect from being sent unnecessarily to prison on remand custody.