In 2009, Suleiman Bashir’s elder brother had a brush with the law while working at a local bank over made up allegations.
He was arrested and spent three days in a cell and later released without any charge preferred against him. His mother could not afford a lawyer. She knocked on various law firms in Garissa where they lived, seeking legal representation for her son in vain.
The helpless mother went to the extent of selling a couple of goats the family owned to raise part of the legal fees demanded by the lawyer to secure her son’s freedom.
Despite taking part of the fees, the lawyer still was a no show in court, and didn’t bother to refund the money paid to him.
Bashir felt a lump develop on his throat, one that demanded action. The teenager couldn’t help pondering why the less fortunate can’t access justice. Then he settled for sweet revenge. He vowed to pursue a career in law so that he could be of help to individuals who go through a hard time trying to access justice.
“I was in form two at the time. It’s one of those things that touched my heart and I still remember it like it was yesterday. My brother suffered because we could not afford the high legal fees that lawyers charge,” recalls the 27-year-old lawyer.
“I meet the culprit (lawyer) as we go about our business in court, but I have never reminded him of this particular incident. I chose to take the experience positively, at least, it contributed to my becoming a learned friend,” the advocate says.
Growing up, the second born in a family of nine had the passion to protect the oppressed and stand up for the weak in the society, which was fulfilled in being a lawyer.
But that dream could have come to a naught had his father’s wishes carried the day. The old man wanted his son to pursue a course in medicine after emerging third best student in Northern Kenya in the 2011 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education with a mean grade of A minus, just a point shy of an A plain.
“My father knew that our area suffered from lack of medics, even though many locals were in need of healthcare services. For them, the best career was medicine because doctors save lives,” Bashir recalls.
He is from a remote village called Iftin – Somali word for light – but the drought-stricken hamlet was a sharp contrast with its lack of electricity.
“My childhood memory was laced with a lot of challenges. We used to trek everywhere, including to school and in search of water. I therefore lived wanting to change things around myself and my family,” narrates Bashir.
The ambitious young man would go ahead to place medicine as his first choice, followed by civil engineering with law coming third at the University of Nairobi.
He went home feeling uncomfortable with the choices he had made as he had law at heart.
A chance meeting in a mosque with a village mate who studied law made him tear up his father’s wishes.
“He asked why I chose to pursue what I did not want to become. I pondered over the question that night. And when I arose, I stealthily revised the courses and made law my first choice, without telling my father.
Luckily, I was admitted to UoN School of Law at Parklands,” he recalls.
While in the university, he got an opportunity to work for a lawmaker, as well as organisations that dealt with issues of corruption and human rights violations – Transparency International, Article 19 East Africa and the Commission on Administrative Justice- Office of the Ombudsman.
“I gained a rich exposure on various sectors and approaches, adding value to my quest to offer services to the citizenry,” Bashir offers.
His family would again suffer another injustice when Garissa municipality took away a small shop that his father was operating in Garissa town, rendering the old man jobless. That left the young student with the burden of providing for the family.
To make ends meet, he would have to attend classes during the day and work for the MP up to late in the night. His reward was rich, a monthly salary of Sh110,000 .
“I was left with the burden of paying school fees for my siblings. I ended up becoming the pillar for my family. I had to work hard to put food on the table,” recalls the advocate.
After completing his studies, he did pupillage at Ebosso and Co Advocates, honing his skills in civil and criminal litigation.
In 2019, he was admitted to the bar before getting a job in Parliament as a legal officer, but resigned within months as he wanted to spread his wings and be his own boss to realise his dreams in the spectrum of human rights.
“I thank God that I am now a managing partner of Bashir and Associates Advocates with three associates working for me. It is a young, growing firm. This is the vision I have always had,” says Bashir.
The longest he has served at any job is nine months. He was unsettled by the desire to forge his own destiny.
Bashir and Associates Advocates was set up in July 2021, and then came the Northern Watch Network in August 2021, a non-governmental organisation he co-founded with three advocates from North Eastern to offer pro bono services to marginalised residents.
“Each of us has their own law firm, but the aspirations we share is to help those who cannot afford legal services. Legal services in our country are only affordable to those who have money contrary to the expectations of the Constitution which expects everyone to afford such services,” he explains.
The organisation deals with human rights violations like police brutality, land injustices, wrongful dismissals, the administrators denying locals Identity cards and other forms of injustices.
“We subdivide the cases amongst ourselves and litigate them for free, right from filing to the conclusion of the case,” Bashir says.
They’re currently running 19 active land-related cases before Garissa court and another 20 cases in other fields.
Some of the success stories include getting a reinstatement order for three county government employees who had been irregularly laid off.
In another case, they have sued the Kenya Red Cross Society over a case in which their volunteer, shot on her waist and breast by the Al Shabaab assailants in Ijara in 2017, failed to get treatment while other Red Cross staff received medical attention.
The advocate says they intend to venture into other parts of the country as they grow their personnel and bring more lawyers on board.
From Bashir’s perspective, the poor face challenges in accessing justice due to the high cost of filing cases, complex process of recording pleadings and lack of respect of court orders as well as corruption in the justice system.
“Corruption is real, from the clerks, lawyers to the judges. Money can buy justice and that locks out the poor, who cannot bribe their way,” he avers.
“The Constitution anticipated access to justice in a very reasonable manner but contrary to expectations, access to justice in the country is a very expensive affair,” Bashir points out.