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42 Journal of the Legal Profession 197 (2018)


Countries that move from authoritarianism to democracy often see increased rights-based, social justice lawyering after the transition. Given the new freedoms and opportunities present, this outcome is hardly surprising. However, relying on a literature and theoretical frame developed over the past two decades, this study argues that, in fact, such lawyering can have its historical roots in the legal activism that occurred during previous authoritarian periods. Consider Africa’s most populous country – Nigeria. Since gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria has witnessed, in total, nearly 30 years of military dictatorship. In 1999, the country adopted a democratic system of government, which continues to this day – albeit shakily. During this time, rights-lawyering has been an important access-to-justice vehicle for the poor and socially disadvantaged. Yet, as this study shows, this activity builds upon the brave efforts of lawyers who aided those unable to represent themselves during past moments of military rule. Despite being atomized and ad hoc, these pockets of legal advocacy nevertheless posed challenges to the different authoritarian regimes and, importantly, serve as the foundation for the rights-activism seen today.