The Bertelsmann Transformation Index describes a number of challenges confronting Niger’s judicial system, including widespread corruption, inadequate staff and resources, and a lack of trained legal aid outside the capital (Bertelsmann, 2016). High-court rulings that contradict executive decisions are routinely ignored, and high-ranking politicians enjoy broad impunity. One of the country’s highest-profile legal cases, in which former Prime Minister and National Assembly President Hama Amadou and other government officials stand accused of smuggling babies, is decried as politically motivated – though others cite it as evidence of an independent judiciary (Newsweek, 2016; Bertelsmann, 2016).
How do Nigerien citizens perceive their access to justice? Core elements that define citizens’ access to justice include: 1) a supportive legal framework, 2) citizen awareness of their legal rights and responsibilities, 3) availability of legal advice and representation, 4) availability of affordable and accessible justice institutions, 5) the practice of fair procedures in those institutions, and 6) enforceability of decisions (American Bar Association, 2012). Afrobarometer Round 6 surveys included a special module that explored individuals’ perceptions of the legal system, their access to it, and their experiences when engaging with it. (For findings across all surveyed countries, please see Afrobarometer Policy Paper No. 39.)
Survey responses show that Niger’s court system enjoys the highest level of public trust among 36 African countries surveyed in 2014/2015. Perceptions of corruption among judges, while substantial, are lower than regional and continental averages. Among the 9% of Nigeriens who report having contact with the judicial system in the previous five years, the most common problems were long delays and the system’s complexity.