APPROVED PRICES FOR WRITING LETTERS/DOCUMENTS FOR ILLITERATES. Daily Law Tips (Tip 626) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)

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World bank rates Nigeria’s illiteracy level at 62.02%. So out of the estimated population of over 200 million Nigerians, more than half of us are illiterates. The National Bureau of Statistics in Nigeria, reports that 40.1% of Nigerians are poor, on the “average 4 out of 10 individuals in Nigeria has real per capita expenditures below 137,430 Naira per year.”

According to HIIL, there are over 25 million legal problems per year in Nigeria, with only 10% problems reaching lawyers and out of that, 28% are on land disputes. Legal Aid is very low and only few Nigerians can access lawyers. So, how are over 100 million Nigerian illiterates and the literate but poor Nigerians solving their legal problems and accessing justice in Nigeria?

The Supreme Court of Nigeria, the apex court, has defined an illiterate as “… within the meaning of the Illiterate’s Protection Act is a person who is unable to read or write in any language, that is, a person who is totally illiterate; and that a person who is unable to read or write the language in which a particular document is written but can read and write in some other language, is not an illiterate within the meaning of the Illiterates’ Protection Act.” Per, UDO UDOMA, J.S.C ( Pp. 16-17, paras. E-C) in the case of LAWAL v. G.B OLLIVANT (NIG) LTD (1972) LPELR-1764(SC)

Also, the same court in defining an illiterate, further set a yardstick to determine a document made by an illiterate. “In the absence of evidence to the contrary, therefore, the fact that a person thumb-impressed a document is regarded as prima facie evidence that he was illiterate. See Jiboso v. Obadina (1962) W.R.N.L.R. 303.” Per, SUNDAY AKINOLA AKINTAN, J.S.C ( Pp. 25-26, paras. E-A), in the case of EZEIGWE v. AWUDU (2008) LPELR-1200(SC).

Unlike in customary transactions, where documentation and written agreements are not required and needed, modern transactions require written (and electronic) receipts, agreements, notices and demands. Expectedly, illiterates are not often conversant with modern transactions, consequently, illiterates need the support of literates, including lawyers. Since legal services are expensive and there are little or no lawyers, paralegals, law clinics and law firms in villages and rural areas, ordinary literate persons, friends and family members are engaged by illiterates. In a country struggling with corruption and institutional immaturity, many are the afflictions of illiterates in the hands of few literates. Even to seek legal redress and justice by illiterates, the official language of the courts is English Language (contrary to common native languages include; Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Efik) and all court forms, notices, documentations and procedures are too complex.

However, the laws in Nigeria have not left the illiterates without protection. In Nigeria, there is a Federal Act (the Illiterates Protection Act, the Illiterate’s Protection Act (Cap. 83) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria) designed to protect illiterates across Nigeria. The said federal legislation is still in existence, although it is omitted in the latest collection of federal laws in Nigeria. The legislation has not been repealed by any law and as such it is still valid and subsisting not minding its omission in codification. States across Nigeria as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, have their own Illiterates Protection Laws, also designed to protect illiterate.

By the provisions of the said Illiterates Protection Act and its equivalent in states in Nigeria, apart from lawyers, any person that writes a letter or any document for an illiterate person must also state his name as the writer as well as state that the writer was instructed by the illiterate person to write the document, that the contents are correct and that contents were read out to the illiterate, that the illiterate understood the content before the illiterate signed the document or placed his mark and that the signature/mark of the illiterate contained in the document is truly that of the illiterate. Where this is not provided in a letter or document written on behalf of an illiterate, the letter/document is invalid and a huge waste. It is an offence for a writer of such letter/document to fail to state the above issues.

Like in the states in Nigeria, in Federal Capital Territory Abuja, there is a fee regulation and a fee/price list for writers. No writer of any letter/document is allowed to charge any fee or take any reward that exceeds the maximum fee/price set by law. It is an offence, punishable with a fine of One Hundred Naira (N100.00) or in failure to pay the penalty, imprisonment for six (6) months. This does not apply to lawyers (legal practitioners) but to any other person that writes a letter or any document for an illiterate person. Lawyers in this context, are legal practitioners called to the Nigerian bar, enrolled in the Supreme Court of Nigeria and admitted to practise law in Nigeria, as barristers and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

The maximum fee for every original letter or document is fifty Kobo (50K), per hundred words or its part. The maximum fee for a copy of an original letter or document (if any) is twenty Kobo (20K), per hundred words or its part. The maximum fee for second or subsequent copies of an original letter or document (if any) is five Kobo (5K), per hundred words or its part.

Obviously, the fee/price list and the punishment/penalty in the legislation, have lost touch with reality, although it is still binding and must be respected. The legislation came into existence on 15 December 1915, while its provisions on price/fee list came into existence on 25 March 1920. There is an urgent need to amend this protective piece of legislation even as our illiteracy curve keeps climbing.

My authorities are:

1. Macrotrends, “Nigeria Literacy Rate 1991-2020” (Macrotrends, 2020) accessed 3 August 2020 <https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/NGA/nigeria/literacy-rate>

2. National Bureau of Statistics, “Poverty and Inequality in Nigeria 2019: Executive Summary” (NBS, 2019) accessed 30 July 2020 <https://nigerianstat.gov.ng/elibrary?queries[search]=poverty>

3. The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, “Justice Needs and Satisfaction in Nigeria 2018” (HIIL, 2018) accessed 27 July 2020 <https://www.hiil.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/HiiL-Nigeria-JNS-report-web.pdf>

4. The Supreme Court’s judgement (on definition of an illiterate) in the case of LAWAL v. G.B OLLIVANT (NIG) LTD (1972) LPELR-1764(SC)

5. The Supreme Court’s judgement (on definition how to determine document made by an illiterate) in the case of EZEIGWE v. AWUDU (2008) LPELR-1200(SC)

6. Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8 of the Illiterates Protection Act 1915, Laws of Nigeria (Abuja) and its equivalents in states across Nigeria.

7. Sections 2 and 4 of the Legal Practitioners Act,1975.

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