Adetunji Dawodu, Director, Lagos State Public Advice Centre (PAC), in this interview with Gboyega Alaka, speaks on the roles and functions for which the centre, fashioned after the People’s Advice Bureau of the United Kingdom was created.
WHAT exactly is the function of the Lagos State Public Advice Centre?
The office of Lagos State Public Advice Centre was founded during the Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola’s administration in 2008. It was set up to be the first port of call for members of the public in distress and those seeking information as to their legal rights and responsibilities. It is fashioned after the People’s Advice Bureau in the UK and meant to serve the people by offering and proffering advice and directing them to the appropriate quarters because most people don’t know their right or how to go about it. We are created to put them through. And our role is not limited to interaction between the people and the government ministries, departments and agencies alone, as it is extended to include private organisations. Our purview cuts across board: human rights issues, family relationship, workmen compensation, child abuse, marital problems, tenant/landlord relationship.
How well has the people responded or availed themselves of the centre’s services?
Quite well. At times, people walk down to tell us their problem; sometimes we don’t have the solution but we refer them to the right quarters. Sometimes they petition us on their problems and we follow up on them. We have helped citizens of Lagos recover money owed them. I assumed office in May 2020 and between then and now, we have helped people recover about 15million, which they were being owed. We also have instances of people alleging that their landlords want to eject them illegally by removing their roof. They come in here and we have been able to mediate and sort them out. We had a case of a staff who got his three fingers chopped off while working in a factory and the company refused to take responsibility. We have been able to move in and make them set aside 3million naira to treat the fingers, which were already suffering from gangrene. We’ve had cases of child abuse and we’ve referred them to the appropriate agency…. So we basically help in resolving all sorts of matters- be it environmental, pollution; even cases of PHCN exploiting citizens. We have acted as intermediaries to help sort things out. The Lagos State Public Advice Centre is an office under the Lagos State Ministry of Justice.
Are your decisions, advice or recommendations binding or are you empowered to use force in case some party refuses to abide?
Mediation is voluntary. Parties are never forced to settle their differences. Once reconciled, a memorandum of understanding is prepared by the office for execution by the parties. Once executed, it becomes enforceable between the parties. However, if need be, we refer such matter to the appropriate government agency for enforcement. But we as a body do not use force. The nature of our work is all-encompassing, as it covers all spectra of human activities.
Which would you say is the most memorable issue or case you have resolved?
That would be the case where a father of a very young boy sought the assistance of the centre to have access to his son, whose grandmother had insisted that access could only be granted over her dead body. It turned out to be a very complex and complicated family issue involving many people… But we were able to reconcile the extended families and ultimately unite the boy with his father.
How well has the Public Advice Centre, as an initiative, helped to lighten the burden of the courts and ensure peaceful coexistence among Lagosians?
As the first port of call, citizens have benefitted from legal advice which invariably enabled them to take proper decisions. Same for our mediation role to which millions of the citizenry have submitted willingly to. This has taken a large burden off the courts.
How exactly does PAC operate?
PAC is manned by competent lawyers and a score of administrative and support staff, who are adequately skilled to provide on-the-spot advice. We receive complaints and petitions through walk-ins, written petitions, complaints via telephone, emails, social media platforms, print and electronic media. Members of the public can locate us at our office at Alausa opposite the Central Mosque. The long term plan; however, is to establish an office first in each of the three senatorial districts and later at the local government level.
Is there anything in your professional background that prepared you for this job?
Perhaps. I’m a legal practitioner and legal practitioners are by training and experience expected to know everything about the law and a little of every other thing. This coupled with my training in the art of mediation and a Master’s Degree with specialty in Human Resources Management, I believe, prepared me.
Tell us about your growing up and schooling.
I was born over five decades ago into the Sunmonu Dawodu family of Lagos Island. I grew up in Shitta, Surulere and attended Lagos Progressive School, Mba Street, off Adeniran Ogunsanya Street, Surulere. From there, I proceeded to Methodist Boys’ High School; then it was on Broad Street, Lagos. I later attended the University of Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, where l had my first and second degrees in law. I also attended Lagos State University, LASU, where I obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration with bias in Human Resources Management.