“Hembe-lembeh!” yells Ahmad Isah, the host of Nigeria’s “Brekete Family” radio program.
“Olo-lolo!” shouts his audience — more than 100 people who have crammed into his studio, looking for justice.
“Brekete Family” is a show which promises to help Nigeria’s downtrodden redress wrongs — a format, says Isah, born out of frustration in an official legal system beset by bureaucracy and mismanagement.
One of the first members of the public to speak is a man who says he was unfairly sacked. Instead of going to a tribunal, he has decided his best chance of getting his rights is to appear on the talk show, broadcast out of the capital Abuja six mornings out of seven.
Isah puts the man’s case to a government official sitting in the crowd, who promises to look into it — and the show moves on to two groups of relatives arguing over a bequest, the next in a long line of plaintiffs waiting in the wings for a hearing.
“We have bad governance, bad leadership,” says Isah, who styles himself “Ordinary President.”
“The laws are there, but the enforcement is nothing — implementation: zero. It is as good as not being there. The laws only favor the rich and the mighty in the country, ordinary Nigerians are not being protected by law.”
Nigeria’s justice ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“Brekete Family” does not release listener figures. But the crowds waiting outside the gates of the Human Rights Radio station are there to see — proof of an audience so established that it has developed its own slogans and language.
The call and response that starts the show has no relation to any of Nigeria’s official tongues, but Isah says its listeners know it means: “One who has nobody has God, and one who has God has everything” — a reference to the program’s central promise to help the helpless.
The show puts its callers in touch with government departments and tries a measure of mediation — the family dispute seems settled after an on-air debate, with an apology from one side.
In the past, it has delivered a measure of its own “justice” by naming and shaming officials it says have failed its audience. On occasion it has also published the phone numbers of government functionaries and asked its audience to badger them for a response.
After his studio appearance, the first speaker, former university professor Idris Isiaku Abdullahi, is confident it will have some impact on his dismissal.
“I am optimistic, I am hopeful, I have every hope that redress will be sought here,” he says.