Creation of law school campuses should not be seen as constituency projects (2)
Last week, I discussed the Senate’s recent decision to create six additional law school campuses for geopolitical areas which, as decipherable to a discerning mind, is nothing more than an intrusion into the duties of the Council of legal education and a superfluous business to politicize the process. As I had noted in some previous editions, there is a recent wave of politics in the education sector where politicians see higher education institutions as their constituency projects and, perhaps, as a means to secure their legacy in the annals of history. I have fully lent my voice in condemning the creation of additional institutions amidst the dilapidated infrastructure of the current institutions, the lack of funding and of course the wave of strikes that has plagued the healthcare sector. education. It is rather unfortunate that the Senate directed its unwanted attention to the sole institution responsible for overseeing the qualification of lawyers for admission to the Nigerian Bar – the duty of which rests with the Council of Legal Education.
The Legal Education Council is a creation of the Legal Education (Consolidation etc) Act 1976. Under section 1(2) of that Act, the Council is responsible for the legal education of persons wishing to become members of the legal profession, and it discharges this function through the Faculty of Law Nigerian. Section 2(5) of the Act provides that “the Council shall have power to do such things as it deems expedient for the purpose of carrying out its functions…” To this end, the Council on Legal Education has the administrative discretion to establish the number of law schools in different locations, as required, to discharge effectively its statutory function of undertaking the training of future members of the legal profession. There is no doubt that the Nigerian Senate’s foray into creating additional law school campuses is a clear usurpation of the powers of the Legal Education Council under the law. This therefore raises the question: if the Nigerian legislature could intervene in the creation of additional campuses for law schools, what else could parliamentarians do to immortalize themselves? What then prevents the legislative or executive branch of government from interfering with the process of presenting certificates of qualification to those who, in the opinion of the Council of Legal Education, may not be suitable and suitable? The intervention of the legislator in the process of creating additional campuses for law schools is akin to the self-invitation of a leper to a sacred table of guests; which must ultimately be rejected by the collective voice of all concerned.
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If the Senate really wants an improvement in the Nigerian law school, or indeed in the Nigerian education sector in general, the focus should be on the renovation of existing structures, adequate research funding and implementation of brilliant innovations to revitalize the sector. In fact, the creation of the new law school campuses betrays a clear disconnect between our legislators and the true state of law school, or willful blindness. Professor Earnest Ojukwu, SAN, former Chief Executive of the Nigerian Law School, while commenting on the deplorable state of the law school, noted that:
“The other aspect of the infrastructure at the law school, and especially the campuses, is a disgrace. Hostels are terribly overcrowded. Looking at how the government has so underfunded the existing Nigerian law school campuses; it will be fair to wonder about the thinking of the sponsors of the bill to introduce additional campuses. Something is wrong. This clearly shows a terrible disconnect between our legislators and our governance. Before embarking on this type of legislative proposal, a legislator should undertake careful study and research into the history, purpose and experience of the institution for which he is proposing to make fundamental changes, such as legislating on additional campuses.
Similarly, MuizBanire, SAN, in his reaction to the announcement of additional campuses, reportedly said, “The school operates a multi-campus system in Lagos State, Adamawa State, Kano State, Enugu State, Bayelsa State, Federal Capital Territory and most recently Rivers State.To date, only the Lagos and Federal Capital Territory branches are used comprehensively This is even in the face of collapsing infrastructure. None of the campuses are sufficiently equipped. In virtually all campuses, there is clear evidence of dilapidated infrastructure. This has resulted in the begging of leaders through donations to sustain the campuses Even at this much is still much desired in the upgrading of the infrastructure A visit to the oldest of the campuses, the one in Lagos, will testify eloquently to this. of the creation of these campuses, I do not remember any legislation q who gave birth to them. They were created administratively by the Council of Legal Education out of necessity and convenience. One then immediately wonders why such legislation is necessary now!… Do legislators want to plead ignorance of the insufficient funding of current campuses? How then can this bizarre decision of the Senate be justified? In my opinion, it’s just myopic
Certainly, one can only agree with the statements of Professor Ojukwu, SAN and Muiz Banire, SAN. It has never been seen anywhere in the world that the admission of candidates to the legal profession or the creation of law schools has been born out of a political process or to win political “trophies”. In this regard, I intend to shed some light on practice in the UK regarding legal training and bar qualification. To become a solicitor in the UK, a person must first become a solicitor. A lawyer must first obtain a law degree or an unrelated degree followed by a graduate degree in law. A barrister candidate then undertakes a bar course aptitude test (BCAT) which is basically a compulsory aptitude test, and if he passes, he joins a court inn, i.e. Middle Temple , Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn or Lincoln’s Inn.
Thereafter, the candidate undertakes the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which is a postgraduate course which enables candidates to practice as solicitors in England and Wales. However, once a candidate is called to the bar, he becomes an unregistered lawyer. He can practice the profession of lawyer only after having completed the final state, which is pupillage. Pupillage is a one-year practical apprenticeship under the guidance of an experienced lawyer. Upon completion of the pupillage, the supervising attorney then makes a recommendation which then qualifies the new attorney to apply for licensure. Generally, only vocational training institutions, which are private, exist in the UK.
Rethink the process
I recommend reform of the entire bar qualification process in Nigeria to create an avenue for the selection of excellent candidates for admission to the Nigerian Bar. In fact, Professor Ojukwu, SAN noted that the federal government in 2006 set up a Legal Education Reform Committee headed by the late Professor Jegede, SAN. The Committee had recommended the “deregulation” of the Nigerian Law School to allow for the establishment of private training providers side by side with the Nigerian Law School with a strengthened Council of Legal Education to run the exam for all. However, the recommendation was dropped. Similar proposals were made by the Nigerian Bar Association in 2012 and 2018, both of which introduced brilliant ideas including strengthening the Council of Legal Education to manage the level of professional legal training and bar exams. , and private law schools to exist side by side. alongside the Nigerian Law School.
Undoubtedly, the implementation of the previous recommendations will improve the level of legal education in Nigeria. If, really, the interest of the Senate lies in revitalizing the Nigerian Law School to meet the required standard, it goes beyond the mere construction of campuses which, in time, will become the object of the same neglect suffered by current campuses. Instead, there should be legislations that introduce private law schools that will operate side by side with the Nigerian Law School, both of which are strictly regulated by the Council of Legal Education which will establish a Bar Qualifying Examination unified in all institutions. This will most certainly herald a new era of improving legal education in Nigeria, rather than having law school campuses as mere “constituency projects”.
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AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, FCIArb., FNIALS, LLD. D.Litt.