American Public Defenders Work With Mandela Washington Fellows to Reform Nigeria’s Prison System

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A small group poses for a picture during the visit of two American public defenders to Nigeria
From left: Miss Janet Gbam Uosu, Mrs. Katumi Oboirien, Ms. Hannah McCrea, Mr. Tunde Ladipo, Ms. Nyasa Hickey, and Mr. Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem during the Visit of Ms. McCrea and Ms. Hickey to Lagos, Nigeria

American Public Defenders Work With Mandela Washington Fellows to Reform Nigeria’s Prison System

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders empowers young people to make positive contributions in their home organizations, institutions, communities, and countries. As the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative, the Mandela Washington Fellowship brings promising leaders with demonstrated achievement, ages 25-35, to top U.S. universities for six weeks of academic and leadership training, networking, and mentoring in three tracks --  business, civic engagement, and public management. This experience gives them practical training and transferrable skills that they’re able to use upon their return home. After their program, the Reciprocal Exchange component of the Fellowship provides opportunities for Americans to travel to Africa to work with Fellows to tackle critical issues such as promoting peace, stability, and economic prosperity in both the United States and Africa while contributing to U.S. public diplomacy efforts. 

One such reciprocal program recently brought two New York public defenders to Nigeria to provide legal defense and advocacy training for Nigerian lawyers, activists, and government officials. After her own participation in the program at the New York Public Defender’s Office, alum Janet Gbam, a lawyer who runs a legal advocacy NGO, applied to bring her American colleagues, Hannah McCrea and Nyasa Hickey, to Nigeria.

Ms. Hannah McCrea and Ms. Nyasa Hickey deliver remarks during their visit to Nigeria

Their visit to Nigeria included a robust program of training seminars and conference presentations in both Lagos and Abuja. A training conference for pro-bono lawyers who advocate for improved public defender services and prison reform in Nigeria taught participants about legal defense processes in the United States, strategies for making the right to counsel a reality in Nigeria, how to collaborate and expand the influence of their networks, and how to engage in targeted advocacy. Another session taught Nigerian lawyers how to set up contract legal aid organizations that can share the case load with the government’s public defenders. Finally, McCrea and Hickey visited one of Lagos’ “mobile” courts, an ad hoc organization of court system participants that moves through the city to relieve their colleagues in overcrowded courts.

This program’s benefits were many. Nigerian lawyers gained resources to help them advance prison reform efforts in their own country. Mandela Washington Fellowship alumni in Nigeria were bolstered in their own efforts, and encouraged by the continued collaboration with their American colleagues and support of the Young African Leaders Initiative. And the American lawyers who visited Nigeria came away with a greater understanding of Nigeria, its people, and its challenges.

About the Author: F. John Bray serves as the United States Consul General in Lagos, Nigeria.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.

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F. John Bray

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F. John Bray serves as the United States Consul General in Lagos, Nigeria.