Alumni Launch New Organization to Foster Lasting Justice Solutions in Nigeria

Three Recent Graduates Launch 'Justice & Empowerment Initiatives - Nigeria'

Three recent graduates who connected through the law school’s Human Rights Brief are using their skills and passions to launch a new NGO in Nigeria.

Megan Chapman ‘11, Anna Maitland ‘12, and Andrew Maki ’12 have joined forces to develop Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) - Nigeria, an organization that aims to build innovative and lasting justice solutions alongside poor and marginalized communities in Nigeria.

(Pictured: Maitland with a group of women evicted from the Badia East Community in Lagos)

After working for several years in Nigeria, Chapman, Maitland, and Maki envisioned an organization that would take a sustainable approach to community-owned, community-led, and community-sustained grassroots legal services and collective advocacy.

“We’ll provide them with basic training in the law, community organizing skills, and supervision as they begin to provide services in their communities,” said Chapman. “JEI will also serve as link to a broader referral network for those more complicated cases that require work of a lawyer or higher level advocacy.”

“We are not doing this because we want to start an organization," added Maitland. "We are doing this because we believe in the communities we are working with. We know that with the right tools, they will lead the change they need.”

“We’ve been chasing that moment ever since.”

JEI’s approach will first be piloted in urban slum communities in Port Harcourt and rural Ogoni villages in the Niger delta—an area where the alumni have worked and witnessed the need for their services firsthand.

One powerful experience, recounted by Chapman and Maki, involved working with a community facing a large-scale land grab backed by the Nigerian government. Chapman and Maki joined locals on a motorbike tour of the land to be taken. While the group was stopped next to a survey marker, a community leader who had worked closely with Ken Saro-Wiwa, an activist executed in 1995 by the Nigerian government, recited one of Saro-Wiwa’s speeches. This leader, in his effort to carry on Saro-Wiwa’s work, had memorized every public speech he had made.

(Pictured: Maki rides through the creeks of the Niger Delta near Port Harcourt.)

“It was so powerful,” said Chapman. “Going against the government is a challenging thing, but the ability to be there in solidarity against huge obstacles is inspiring. We’ve been chasing that moment ever since.”

Chapman, Maitland, and Maki were also involved with and inspired by the many human rights opportunities at American University Washington College of Law. Through their collective experiences in the United Nations Committee Against Torture Project, International Human Rights Law Clinic, and Human Rights Brief, Maki says they have been able to “bring something different to Nigeria.”

“The law school is so international and very plugged into the UN system,” said Maki. “We have been able to use our acquired knowledge of the international human rights system to push forward human rights in Nigeria.”

For example, they have been working on a case before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a body which draws inspiration and jurisprudence from the Inter American System.

“Be bold.”

Recently, Chapman and Maki (a newly-married couple), returned to D.C. and AUWCL for the first time since moving to Nigeria.

“We have had wonderful meetings with people in the law school community who have given us great advice and we hope to foster strong institutional relationships,” said Chapman, who hopes to also eventually take on interns from her alma mater.

(Pictured: Chapman interviews women evicted from Njemanze community in Port Harcourt)

Maki advises current students interested in a similar career path to “be bold.”

“This endeavor is by no means the easiest path toward working in human rights, but it’s something we’re really passionate about,” said Maki of JEI. “As soon as we started articulating this plan and idea, a wealth of contacts, friends, mentors, and AUWCL got behind us and supported us. Be willing to go out on a limb and be committed and excited to tackle a challenge—that’s the best advice I can give.”

“Building an organization with two of my best friends, two people who view the world in terms of possibility for positive social change and collaborative justice, is shaping me as a human rights advocate and as a person who fights for social change," said Maitland. "This is one of the most exciting things I have ever done."