For teeming students in the Law Faculty of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), the possibility of getting admission into the Nigerian Law School after graduation has remained a matter of conjecture. Though the university authorities have given assurances that it would happen, there is no evidence it would happen soon. Interestingly, in this interview with former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Chairman, Council of Legal Education (CLE) (the body vested with the power to admit students to the Law School), Chief O.C.J. Okocha (SAN), insists NOUN students can’t be admitted into the Law School for now until certain issues are addressed. He also spoke on the falling standard of legal education and the last Call to Bar ceremony held in November 2013 in Abuja.
ON why the CLE is dilly-dallying in approving the National Open University of Nigeria Law graduates for the Law School, he stated: “It is because of the way we teach at the Law School, which is clinical. We do not believe that law is a course that should be learnt by correspondence. You have to be physically there and interact with the teacher, interact with your fellow students, participate in what we call moot and mock trials; see how court operates, go to law firms and see how lawyers operate in their firms. You can’t do those by correspondence. You can’t see a lawyer addressing a court by correspondence. Even if you see it on television, it is not the same as seeing it actually happening in the open court. So that is the reason we said we cannot allow the National Open University for now to run courses in law. Things may change later when we are satisfied that they would be able to give their students what we think students at the undergraduate level need to obtain a proper LLB.”
Responding on the argument that the Law School is a leveller, which admits from different law faculties and allows them to compete among themselves, he objects: “Worldwide, for you to be admitted into the Nigerian Law School, we have to be satisfied that the university that awarded you the LLB degree is a proper university. We don’t admit people who got their LLB degree by correspondence course. We have the list of accredited universities worldwide. And if we are in doubt, we may even write to the universities and ask them to furnish us with a full list of their curriculum and the core subjects they offer for the LLB degree.”
Talking about allowing NOUN students to be admitted into the Law School and see if they would pass the examinations there, he said: “We are already having difficulties in the number we are admitting. Each university has a quota so that the facilities of the six campuses can accommodate them. So if we allow a floodgate, everybody comes into the Law School, where will they sit to receive tuition, where would they sit to participate in mock trials and moot. So things are being rationalised such that we can take in what we can manage.”
Why can’t the NOUN be given quota as well? He responds: “No, no, no as long as they are running correspondence course, they can’t get a quota; they can’t get accreditation from the Council of Legal Education to operate a law faculty. And because their teaching is by correspondence, we do not think that that should be the standard of teaching for anybody obtaining an LLB degree.”
On the fact that Open University law faculty has jettisoned correspondence and electronic examinations, he responds: “I don’t know about that. But I am telling you that Open University is running its courses by correspondence and we will not accept that; and we will not accredit them until they have proper teaching method that the Council of Legal Education can be satisfied that it is adequate and sufficient to ensure that a student coming with an LLB from an Open University is duly possessed of that degree.
His impression about the call to Bar ceremony, which took place recently, he said: “This is a very important ceremony in the life of any lawyer. The day that he is admitted into the Bar and in terms of the profession, we call it call to Bar. By this, you are admitted as a legal practitioner and you are now entitled after due enrollment in the Supreme Court to practise as a barrister and as a solicitor. The authority that is the highest in the legal profession is the Body of Benchers and it is by the authority of that body that these young lawyers are now being admitted into the profession.”
On the number admitted to the profession, he said: “You know the total is 5,016. There will be three Call to Bar ceremonies. One will take place this morning, another in the afternoon while the last one will take place by 10.00 am tomorrow. During that period, all the 5,016 students would have been admitted to the legal profession.”
On the Law School Endowment Fund, he said: “The endowment fund is expected to be a veritable resource. Worldwide have we discovered that leading institutions in medical, legal and engineering, that their alumni in such institutions who have made good in life had endowed funds. Funds to develop physical structures, funds to develop human resources in the universities; endow chairs for professorship and all that and endow scholarships to fund the education of less-privileged students. So the hope is that with that endowment, we can do this here and do the other there. I am glad that most of the alumni of the Nigerian Law School cheerfully rose to the occasion. The Senate President’s own class; the class of 88, gave us N150 million and the class of 85 topped their own to N155 million. Worldwide government may fund the institutions by about 30 to 40 per cent, then donations come in like this endowments and what we called collectibles – tuition fees and accommodations fees paid by the students themselves. Hopefully, the Law School would be sustainable for the foreseeable future.
The general understanding is that the standard of legal education is falling. When he was asked about this, he said: “It is true that the standards are falling but it is the same with the standard of education in Nigeria generally. We have always maintained that what the computer bug says – garbage in garbage out. If someone does not have the foundation from primary school, did not remedy that foundation in the secondary school, went through the university without that basic foundation, what do you expect? So we have always been that anxious about elevating the standard of education in this country. I remember when I left primary school in 1964, I could compose an essay. People in my level of education – the primary school where competing in international essay competition. People in the secondary schools were competing in the JFK essay competition. And that was how we entered the university. Law requires two basic courses. The first one is English Language and the second one is Mathematics because that is a general requirement for all Nigerian universities. But the core subjects are English and Literature – courses in the humanities such as history. But I have Chemistry, Physics and Biology and you will see that most of the most successful lawyers have Mathematics as their background.
Dr. Akiola Aguda of blessed memory was a Mathematician. The great Lord Denning was also a Mathematician. For us, education needs to be beefed up and the spoken words – English language, which is the basic tool of our trade, because we communicate in English Language needs to be paid attention to. This is because we study in English, write letters and briefs in English and address the court in English. So these are core subjects that need to be paid great attention to in order to ensure that the standard, which we expect from lawyers is maintained.”
On what the Council of Legal Education (CLE) is doing about uplifting the dwindling standards, he stated: “The CLE has adopted what is a clinical approach to teaching. If you know what the meaning of clinic is; it is taken from the medical profession. When those students go to the hospitals and really see big patients, they are beginning to learn how to be doctors by actually being doctors in training. So this is what we are doing now – ensuring that practical knowledge is emphasised during the training in the Law School. We have also tried to establish a committee to review the curriculum of law studies in all the Nigerian universities. We have also established a quality assurance committee to ensure that the standard in all the campuses remain the same so that when a student comes out of the Law School, you can be certain that he has all the basic qualifications to start off as a practitioner.”
What becomes of students who have foundational problems but managed to get themselves into the Law School, he explained: “Learning never stops. The hope is that everybody who knows that he is deficient will try and remedy his deficiency by reading more English books and books that deal with compositions and things like that. You can enhance the limited abilities that you have because learning never ends.”