Indigenous startup LawPàdí runs an online query service where users can submit a legal inquiry, and an expert will respond within 24 hours with relevant professional advice and opinions. The startup aims to educate Nigerians about their legal rights and duties and the laws of the country by providing free legal advice.
Launched in July 2015, LawPàdí’s intention is to give well researched, clear and lucid solutions, without any unnecessary jargon. “Our aim is to educate the average Nigerian about their rights and duties by giving clear and easy to understand answers to questions about the law and how it affects their daily lives.” said Babatunde Ibidapo-Obe, the founder of LawPàdí.
Babatunde Ibidapo-Obe is passionate about helping people to understand and defend their rights using technology. “We believe the way the legal system in Nigeria is set up needs to change. There is a severe imbalance against the common person with respect to access to justice and knowledge of rights. We launched LawPàdí to attempt to move the scales of justice in favour of the people who need it…the regular man or woman on the street, the fledgling startup, or even just the person trying to educate themselves on their rights,” Ibidapo-Obe said.
All of the above seemed like a noble proposition, and so we had to put LawPàdí to the test to see if their claims were true. I sent an inquiry about a police stop and search that I perceived to be illegal and an outright violation of my privacy. As promised, LawPàdí responded to my legal inquiry within 24 hours with information and advice that was lucid, backed by the constitution and quite enlightening. Here are some excerpts of their reply:
“We are sorry you have had to go through this experience. The position of the law is clear on this, and we shall explain below.
The Police Act in Section 29, states that a police officer ‘…may detain and search any person whom he reasonably suspects of having in his possession or conveying in any manner anything which he has reason to believe to have been stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained.’
Therefore they have the power, however, it is not absolute. They have to reasonably suspect that the person has stolen or unlawfully obtained property in his/her possession. That is the position of the law. To marry this to your experience, and to find out if the search was an unreasonable one, you would have to look at your circumstances. For instance, did you identify yourself, and answer all their questions satisfactorily? If you did, then it might be argued that there were no reasonable grounds for the search.
We should also note that if they physically searched you, then any search performed on you must only be conducted by a female officer, this is the position of the law, and a physical search on you by a man would be unlawful.
To answer your specific questions therefore:
Is it legal? – Yes, however if the police officer did not have any reasonable grounds for suspicion, then you might be able to sue for unlawful search and harassment.
Is it a violation of your right to privacy and human rights? – As stated above this would only be a violation of your rights if it was adjudged to be unreasonable.
How can you defend your rights if it happens again? – We always urge caution in any relation with security officials for your own safety. If this was to happen again, you should follow the below steps:
When you are stopped, make note of the officers’ names
Answer all their questions satisfactorily and do not antagonise them
If upon answering their questions they request a search, tell them that you do not believe that they have reasonable grounds to request a search as you believe you have answered their questions satisfactorily
If the officer insists, then comply, however, inform them that you will be raising a formal complaint of unlawful search of your property
If officer proceeds with search, comply fully.
After search is completed, you should look to engage the services of a lawyer to make a formal complaint and potentially instigate a suit and claim compensation for unlawful search and harassment.”
Great! If LawPàdí can continue doling out replies such as the one highlighted above, and at the timeframe promised, a lot of Nigerians stand to gain a lot from this endeavour.
There are also plans for an SMS based ‘VIP’ service on the MTN, GLO, Etisalat and Airtel networks. For a small fee, customers can subscribe to the SMS service, and will receive text messages providing informative content on several legal issues which highlight a citizen’s rights under those circumstances.
The launch of LawPàdí as a online platform is a great initiative to facilitate awareness of the law amongst Nigerians in every walk of life. Furthermore, against the backdrop of the nationwide strike of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), this service is timed perfectly, as Nigerians still need legal advice and assistance regardless of the ongoing strike.
Photo Credit: Photo credit: Tori Rector via Flickr.com (CC BY-SA 2.0)