Recommendations for improving Legal Education in Nigeria

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The recommendations for improving Legal Education in Nigeria can be championed by the regulatory bodies of the legal profession especially the CouBenchers and the Nigerian Bar Association. The quality of lawyers produced in Nigeria in recent times is worrisome and retired Justice Ebenezer Adebajo of the Lagos state High Court lamented that the quality of lawyers is low when he said:

Your knowledge and ability to perform in the courtroom as a judge is not without the reflection of the quality of lawyers who appear before you. That is what we have to look at. The qualities in recent years are down to the extent that I think we can make a case for it that the NUC and Body of Benchers should look again at the number of lawyers that we produce in our Universities. It is too much. We have left quality aside. We are just producing quantities and we are producing quantities because of the school fees law students are paying. It doesn’t do our profession any good when a law graduate is looking for admission into the Law School three years after graduation.[1] 

A situation where a law graduate cannot write a formal letter can be quite disheartening. Though some of the problems in relation to the quality are attributable to the general crash of the educational system in Nigeria. However, the profession can be saved of the rot if the entrcan be saved of the rot if the entrants into the profession are well screened before the entrance and well taught and monitored in the most efficient system of education. If lawyers should join the bandwagon of ignorant and fools in the nation, then such nation is doomed without any glimmer of hope.  Some quarters are advocating for law to be taught as a second-degree course, a position which is not entirely negligible. It is recommendable on the basis of the fact that majority of the applicants for the undergraduate course are now very young as they are between the ages of 15-18 owing to the pace of primary and secondary education resulting from the neglect of the 6-3-3-4 system which in turn was as a result of the proliferation of the private education sector.

For law course, speaking good English language is not enough, a student of law must possess some sense of maturity to cope with the volume of knowledge to be acquired, matured enough to understand the society and determine the role of law in it by way of research, criticism and analysis of the laws that are already enacted and construct new situations for what is to be a new development. This maturity seems to be lacking in the current breed of Nigerian students who tend to be laid back. They rarely make use of the Libraries and prefers to read only the lecturer’s handout or class dictations. For some students, they are simply not interested in the course: they are perhaps forced by their parents to study the course and the lack of interest would negatively affect the performance of such student. Where law is made a second-degree course, it would perhaps be taught to a more matured and independent mind. It would also help the system manage the quantity of lawyers produced and improve the quality since only those who seriously want to study law would pursue it as a second degree. Lord Denning was first a mathematician before he turned a lawyer and see how wonderful he was as such.[2] When first degrees are taken, the ability to reason; dedication to study; and understanding of the workings of the society which are prerequisites for understanding the law would perhaps have been possessed.

On the contrary, however, one would take a second thought on recommending law as a second degree in Nigeria for some systemic reasons including the fact that the tertiary education in Nigeria is terribly slow and most unsuitable at the moment for attempting to pursue two degrees irrespective of the passion. A situation where a student writes the Joint Matriculation examination four times and yet cannot secure admission into the Federal Institutions, for those (the majority) who cannot afford the cost of private institutions, not because the students have not passed the exam but because the number of students applying are excessive and by far higher than the institution and facilities available. Worse still, upon being admitted, the student will end up obtaining the degree of a four years course in six years without any fault of his. A situation where it would take up to twelve years to become a lawyer after leaving the secondary school is also not so healthy.

These contrasting ends are perhaps what the committee set up by the NBA to review the standard of the legal profession will bear in mind when considering one of the issues on the agenda which is that:

Given the current size of the legal profession, its exponential growth in recent years in relation to the needs of the Nigerian economy, the committee will consider the desirability of candidates seeking admission to the law faculties in Nigeria to possess a degree in another discipline as a condition for the admission[3]     

The Committee involves renowned legal practitioners including the current Director-General, Olanrewaju Onadeko[4] of the Nigerian Law School who is also a member of the Council of Legal Education whose contribution in this area will be most appreciable.

 

Having said that, it is noteworthy that whichever position is taken by the regulatory bodies, the following are the recommendations for improving Legal Education in Nigeria which will have a major impact on the current system of legal education.

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1.1.1 Provision of Nigerian Law School Annexes in the Law Faculties of  Universities.

Whether the law is to be taught as a first or second degree, the Council of Legal Education needs to have more presence in every law faculties across the country to have a firsthand impact on how the Nigerian prospective lawyers are moulded. The Council of Legal Education is authorised to accredit a University (law faculty) after the National University Commission accredits the University for law.[5] This means a university must comply with the National University Commission Minimum Standard for law[6] as well as the Council of Legal Education guidelines. These include a minimum library building as drawn up by the Council of Legal Education; a standard law Librarian who preferably is a lawyer; a Professor of law must be Dean of the Faculty; the staff to student ratio of 1:20 must be maintained. The faculty must teach all the prescribed law courses and end lectures by 04:00 pm daily. Also, certain infrastructures are required such as moot and mock trial courtroom and conducive lecture auditorium.

The Council carries out visits to the faculties to inspect the suitability of the facilities in relation to the population of the faculty and based on this, determine the accreditability of the faculty and also the quota of students to be admitted from the faculty to the Nigerian Law School. The inspection is made periodically. Upon being satisfied, the accreditation may be granted. The accreditation may later be suspended if the institutions fall below standard. As at 2003, when the Nigerian Law School was celebrating its 40th Anniversary, the Director General of Nigerian Law school between  1979 -1993, Chief Babatunde Ibironke commented that:

what we found, apart from few cases, astonished us. Some had hopelessly inadequate classrooms that many students had to stand to receive their lectures. A few did not even have functional loudspeaker system to reach students standing or sitting at the rear of the lecture room. Consequently, some cloistered around the windows near the lecturer’s stand starving students therein of proper ventilation. Many had no tutorial rooms and had to go to lecturers offices to receive what they describe as tutorials, this notwithstanding that there was another lecturer sharing the same room. Lecturers were in many cases inadequate and some had no special knowledge of the subjects they teach. Some use Youth Corpers to lecture on basic subject and, in one particular case, the Corper was yet to pass the Bar Final Examination at the School. Many had no Professors and the Faculty Dean was a Senior Lecturer. Many Libraries were several years behind in their editions of basic law books and Law Reports. If Law School had insisted on the strict compliance with the criteria for accreditation, the faculties that could have cleared the hurdle could be counted by the fingers of one palm and this would have generated serious uproar in the country. What it did was to lower the notches in all cases and demand substantial compliance within one year.[7] 

While it was regrettable that the Council managed the situation for fear of uproar, which played a part in the downturn of the quality and responsible for the rise in quantity, the Council is yet to fully fix the problem for as at 2017, only one (1)[8] institution has fully complied with the Council’s requirement and therefore fully accredited. Twenty-six (26) are still with provisional accreditation which means the faculty has so far substantially complied with the requirements while thirteen (13) have been given mere approval to commence the law program. Three (3) institutions have their accreditation suspended while five (5) institutions have interim accreditation which has a similar characteristic with the approval to commence the law program subject to further accreditation.

The Nigerian Law School may be attempting to do its best to patch the deficiencies that some university graduates bring along with them to the four walls of the Law school, but it must realize that a dry fish that was folded when fresh cannot be straightened without breaking. The effort of the law school in attempting to manage, regulate and oversee that quality and strong legal foundation is offered to the undergraduate must be overseen more proactively.

To do this, the Council of Legal Education should have annexes in all law faculties for the purpose of monitoring the quality of education offered to the students and student reception of the modules. This will have the advantage of preparing the student for what would follow in the Law School. Also, it would reduce the bulk of the makeup contents in the law school curriculum which till date still makes the law school curriculum largely theoretical and demands students to memorise a huge volume of information. In a broad way, it would provide job opportunities for teeming unemployed lawyers out there. The moot and mock system that is the practical aspect of learning law ought to be taken more seriously at the university level because at the law school, only a few students participate actively in the process. No medical student becomes a medical doctor without passing the practical; same should be for lawyers to a reasonable extent.

 

1.1.2. Number of Students in Law School.

The latest quota for number of students to be admitted into the Law School from 36 universities as released by the Law School[9] totalled 4,470, even though the Universities still fail to comply with the quota as the current Director-General lamented over the failure of universities to comply with the quota. He described the extent of non-compliance as profound and that many institutions who fail to comply have had their accreditation suspended.[10]

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The Law school must have put its own facilities to accommodate the students into consideration as well, as there are currently six campuses.[11]

What seems to be the challenge here is that Lagos and Abuja take almost 50% of the students admitted yearly while the remaining 50% or so remaining are spread across the remaining four campuses. The 2016/2017 session had an alarming total of 1,713 students in the Abuja campus alone. The lectures are handed to the students in either the auditorium or multipurpose hall. Though the hall has functional air conditioners, sufficient seats for the students and loudspeakers that make the lectures audible from the four walls of the hall. The shortfall of having 1,713 students in one hall is the rate of impact level. If the Council has recommended a teacher-student ratio of 1:20 for Universities, then it should be in better position to know that having 1,713 students in one class, addressed by 3 lecturers is far out of proportion. Throughout a session, only about 10% of the students from Abuja campus participate actively in class presentation, moot and mock trial and other activities which would have made up for the deficiencies the student carried forward from the University.

But for want of staff, the Law school in Lagos and Abuja campuses should operate up to four classes. Which would put just about 430 students in one class and attended to by 4 lecturers at least. This would make the connection between teacher and student more impactful.

1.1.3. Creation of More Campuses.

Where the Council along with other regulatory bodies adopts the position of making  law a second-degree course in the universities as a condition for admission to the law school, there may be no need to increase the number of Law School campuses since the position would most likely reduce the number of applicants at a time in which case the current six campuses can accommodate the applicants conveniently.

However, where law is retained as a first-degree course, the establishment of more campuses becomes necessary owing to the number of applicants or optionally, to improve the facilities in the existing campuses focusing on the teacher-student ratio that is ideal and impactful.  

1.1.4. Law School Curriculum Into Two Semesters

The current law school courses are taught for about 18 weeks. That is, the five (5) courses taught at the law school are delivered Mondays to Fridays (one course a day) for eighteen weeks. Students are examined with a one-time multi-choice questions examination and a one-time theoretical examination on all the topics of the curriculum which contains a wide range of information. By this, a lot of students end up merely memorising (cramming) a huge lump of information simply to regurgitate them in the exam hall without necessarily understanding nor being able to apply what they have been taught. Some students merely read synopsis and simplified notes[12] (which at the law school premises flow around like viruses), others rely solely on past questions and the ready-made answers or marking scheme.

While it is not in doubt that a lot of those who rely heavily on these deficient[13] materials do so out of laziness, it should also be recognized that the curriculum spread across one year does not allow for detailed learning. These, including the fact that other activities which would have made the student a complete lawyer such as the moot and mock, attachment at law firms and courts and portfolio assessment are not even part of the grading system. The focus of many students is therefore simply centered on passing the exam. And if merely cramming the synopsis will make that happen, the student is satisfied. Such student ends up as mediocre lawyers even though he or she has passed the law school they end up having difficulty exhibiting what their certificates portray.

The law school curriculum should be split into two semesters, whereby students can write two examinations at the end of each semester. Each semester focusing on 70% theory by way of essay exam and the  30% focusing on practical which depends on the externship and moot and mock trial.

1.1.5. The Grading system of the Law School.

There has been the notion amongst lawyers and the regulatory bodies that the grade a lawyer makes from law school are insignificant; that it is the practice and manifestation of the capability of the lawyer that matters. Some would even tell you that the Late Gani Fawehinmi (of blessed memory) did not graduate with a first class. Yet, the Nigerian Law School graduates students with the grading of First class, second class upper, second class lower, pass and fail.

With regards to the notion that grade is insignificant, one can counter, that grades are important as many students either earns or loses out on academic scholarships on the basis of their grades. Also, in recent times, some top law firms do not invite lawyers with second class lower or pass grades for an aptitude test or job interviews.

While the issue of significance or otherwise is one thing, the systemic issues relating to the grading itself needs to be reviewed. Presently, the Law school grading for a law student is the lowest score of the examination result. That is, students passes or fails with their lowest score. By illustration, a student who earns four (4) ‘A’s and one (1) ‘C’ will graduate with second class lower as he is graded with the ‘C’ result. This is quite different from what obtains in the university grading that is computable to determine the grade point (GP) perhaps because the courses in Law School are rightly so, not unit based. This nevertheless should not warrant the student to be judged on his weakest link. What the grading system is implying is that the student who for several reasons may have scored ‘C’ in a course, having scored ‘A’ in four other courses is presented to the world as an average student which of course is fallacious. Also, the students are not clearly informed on what scores generate their grades, The grading the students are generally aware of is that which earns ‘A’, i.e. 70.

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Furthermore, upon writing the exam, the students are required to pay certain fee if they intend to see their grades and pay a separate fee if they require a transcript to be sent to an institution for any purpose. This means the students are simply informed if they earned a first class, second class upper, second class lower, pass or conditional pass (which means there is a course or two that such student is to re-write) or fail (which means the student has to write all the courses again). At this stage, only a student who earns a first-class understands how he earned the result, that is, the student made all ‘A’s in the five course. Others, including the student who failed, will have no idea how they failed and to find out, a student has to pay a certain amount and apply in writing, to know the grades.

In view of these, the following are suggested with regards to the result and grading of the Law School exam:

  1. Law School should offer every student along with their admission pack, a breakdown of the grading system. That is, inform students what scores earn a student what grade. e.g. 70 and above = A, 60-69 = B, 50-59 = C, 40-49 = D etc.
  2. Law School should abolish the pass-by-lowest-grade system and create a computation system that will put the general score of the student on percentage such that if a student earns four ‘A’s and one ‘B’ yet earns 70%, he can be graded based on the percentage rather than the singular lowest grade, because it simply means the effort of the student in other grades are worthless which is grossly inequitable. As a matter of fact, many students sing it as a song that they just want a pass because they realize their result will eventually not reflect their effort upon slipping at any point.
  3. The requirement of payment of certain fee to sight one’s grade should also be abolished. The result of the student is not supposed to be in secrecy and neither is it supposed to be a means of revenue generation. If law preaches transparency, it is ideal that the bodies producing lawyers should practice it. Therefore, result grades of the students should be released online along with the class of grade.

 

1.1.6. Creation of Jobs For Lawyers Through The Law School.

The regulatory bodies of the legal profession need to do more than produce lawyers. Creating a system of meaningful engagement for the exceptional students from the law school should be considered by the legal profession. Presently, Law School has a system of employing students who graduate with first class as lecturers within the Law school. This category of first-class is usually of a very small number of the graduates. In the 2016 session, out of 5,517 students who sat for the Examination, 24 students made first class while 568 were graded with second class upper. 1,359 were graded second class lower while 2,227 were simply graded pass and 359 with conditional pass.

In other to make the grades worthwhile, the regulatory bodies, particularly the NBA can work with the Council of Legal Education through the Law School to have the students with first class and second class upper gain meaningful work experience without necessarily having to seek job employment upon being called to Bar.

In the light of the above, the following are suggested as the recommendations for improving Legal Education in Nigeria:

  1. Students with first class and second class upper who have flair for litigation can be posted to selected law firms as organized by the NBA with a predetermined salary scale. The student may seek employment elsewhere after the first year.
  2. The students with a knack for teaching can be posted to the Law faculties of various Universities and campuses of Law School as Graduate-Assistants for one year after which they may seek another employment or remain as a full-time lecturer.
  3. The ones who have the passion for researching and writing can be recruited as Research Assistants for judges at the various high courts.

 

 

REFERENCES:

[1] http://thenationonlineng.net/quality-lawyers-low-says-retired-judge/ accessed June 2017.

[2] http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred­_Denning,_Baron_Denning accessed June 2017

[3] http://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/01/nba-proposes-law–second-degree-nigerian-varsities/ accessed June 2017.

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://nuc.edu.ng/about-us/ accessed June 2017. See also National Universities Commission Act CAP N81, LFN 2004.

[6] The current Minimum Standard for Law is that of 2007 as at the time of this work. See http://fuwukari.edu.ng/wp-content/uploads/2015/04BMAS-Law.pdf accessed June 2017.

[7] Chief Ibironke, B.A. Mission Statement as Director General of Nigerian Law School, December 1979 to

December 1993, Nigerian Law School, Four Decades of Service to the Legal Profession., 1963-2003 (published by

the Council of Legal Education to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Nigerian Law School, 2003) p. 68. Cited in Onalaja, M.O. Problem of Legal Education in Nigeria. available at http://www.alimiandco.com/publications/ACCREDITATION%20AND%20LEGAL%20EDUCATION%20IN%20NIGERIA.pdf accessed June 2017.

[8] University of Lagos. See http://thenigerianlawyer.com/accreditation-status-of-faculties-of-law-of-nigerian-varsities/  accessed June 2017

[9] http://mynlsp.com/uploads/notices/2t0h1r451faukeit0pkp5a5519149522498.pdf accessed June 2017

[10] http://punchng.com/law-school-dg-laments-non-compliance-admission-quotas-/ accessed June 2017

[11] Ibid.

[12]Adaji Rose, Easy Read, Benakol etc.

[13] Some of the materials contained repealed laws and reversed principles.

 

 

Written by:  Ganiyu Ajibola Bello. LL.B, BL. DRS. LL.M 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Recommendations for improving Legal Education in Nigeria

  • September 4, 2017 at 11:21 pm
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