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AD174: Despite challenges, Niger’s court system enjoys high level of popular trust

Pauline M. Wambua and Carolyn Logan 27 Nov 2017 Niger
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Key findings
  • More than eight in 10 Nigeriens (82%) say they trust the courts “somewhat” or “a lot” (Figure 1). This is the highest rating among all 36 African countries surveyed in 2014/2015, and far above the West Africa1 average of 48%. Like the courts, the police are among public institutions that enjoy a high level of public trust (86%) in Niger, surpassed only by religious leaders (93%), the army (92%), and traditional leaders (88%)
  • About one in four Nigeriens (23%) say that “most” or “all” judges and magistrates are corrupt. This is one of the best ratings among 36 countries, well below the West Africa average of 40%
  • About one in 11 Nigeriens (9%) say they had dealings with the court system in the five years preceding the survey (2009-2014), somewhat below the 36-country average of 13%
  • Men are twice as likely (12%) to have contact with courts as women (6%) (Figure 5). Economically well-off respondents (i.e. those with “no lived poverty”) are less likely to have dealings with the court than their poorer counterparts.
  • When asked why people might not take cases to court, Nigeriens say that people often prefer to take disputes to traditional leaders or local authorities (23%), they don’t expect fair treatment from the courts (14%), they don’t know how to take a case to court (13%), or they don’t know their legal rights (13%)

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.

Pauline M. Wambua
Carolyn Logan

Carolyn is the director of analysis at Afrobarometer.