Mr. Kingsley, Osinachi Nnanna Onu is currently a full-time Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Adeleke University, Ede. He has a very tall ambition of reaching two prestigious peaks in the legal profession and is currently on the right path towards achieving that. He is a passionate law lecturer who believes that being a lecturer is akin to being a priest and goes beyond just imparting knowledge.
He is currently a Ph.D. student of the University of Ibadan, a Chartered Manager and a Professional Negotiator and Meditator, a Member of the Nigerian Law Teachers Association (NALT), African International Economic Law Network, and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). He holds an Advanced Diploma in Theology, Certificate in Fundamentals of Digital Marketing, and International Water Law and is currently the Coordinator of the Adeleke University Law Clinic. Mr. Onu is a rapacious researcher with particular interest in Environmental and Energy Law. He has published in several learned peer-reviewed journals.
He had an interesting conversation with ‘Tosin Ajose, Popoola.
DNL L& S: You’re a Professor in the making?
Mr. Onu: Yes
DNL L& S: You started off your career in core Litigation? What led to the transition to Academia?
Mr. Onu: Passion. I have a strong passion for academia. Firstly, I was dissatisfied with the face of the academia that I met as an undergraduate student so I want to effect changes. Secondly, I want to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a Professor of Law someday, but I can’t become a Professor of Law without venturing to academia and publishing research papers. Hence, I had to quit active law practice to join the academia. I hope to balance the two after some years in this new career path.
DNL L& S: What was the transition like? Any major difference, similarities between Academia and Litigation?
Mr. Onu: It was smooth, being that it was led by passion. Academia is different from litigation, but they complement each other. Since my aim is to reach the peak of the two areas of law practice, I decided to blend the two, but 80% goes into academics and 20% into litigation for now. I discovered that my 20% involvement in litigation does sharpen my delivery in the classroom, being that I can bring theory and practice to bear which makes the students to benefit more.
DNL L& S: What does it take to thrive in Academia? What does a Career Path in Academia entail?
Mr. Onu: The golden rule of academics is ‘Publish or Perish’. So to thrive in academia, you must write and publish quality papers with reputable journal outlets (especially, institution-based journals). Your promotion is mainly based on research output, then classroom performance, and community services. For you to move from one grade level to another in academia you must present proof of publication of a certain number of papers. (The number varies from one grade to another, and from one institution to another).
A career path in academics demands hard work. Academia is very demanding if you want to be exceptional. You must keep yourself abreast of the latest development in the law, especially in your area of research. The law is a living being and grows, a little sleep or slumber, the glory of law departs from you and you become moribund and outdated. From my little experience, students tend to pay more attention when they are exposed to contemporary issues of law and the same being linked with past positions.
One also need to attend conferences and present papers in those conferences.
Some researchers focus solely on publication of papers. This is good, but not the best because they tend to focus more on promotion than in imparting knowledge and the students suffer it. A good lecturer should strike a balance between his research, teaching, conferences and community services.
More importantly, you must have a mentor. It is easier and safer to climb on the shoulders of great minds that have gone ahead of you. You must also seek research collaboration with other researchers, one, the holy book says can chase a thousand, while two can chase ten thousand.
DNL L& S: Do you see any marked difference in your relationship with your lecturers and your present relationship with your students?
Mr. Onu: Yes. In my days, our lecturers were seen as demi-gods. Many of them instilled fear in us and we trembled at the sight of them. This was one of the reasons I joined academia to effect a change. I believe that a good social relationship with students makes them relaxed and aide understanding of the course. I have a good relationship with my students and they are free to share their academic, social and spiritual challenges with me. I am a confidant to many of them. I see academics as a calling that requires commitment, contentment and discipline. However, I still maintain the needed boundary with the students. I had made up my mind from the beginning not to betray the confidence bestowed on me by God. I see academia as a trusteeship, and as the trustee, I owe God, my students, my institution and the general public a duty of care. Upon assumption of duty as a lecturer, I discovered that many of my students were finding it difficult to balance their enormous academic workload with their extracurricular responsibilities. I, therefore, decided to use my daily one hour break periods and 2-3 extra hours after the close of work to do academic counseling and tutorials for the students. I also divided them into academic-groups that I monitored. Their academics improved. I have been awarded Best Lecturer, Faculty of Law consistently by the Law Students Association of Nigeria Adeleke University Chapter between 2017 and 2019
DNL L& S: Do you then consider the new crop/set of lecturers in our Institutions accessible, in terms of building relationships with their students?
Mr. Onu: It is relative, but if I should access my colleagues, I will say that the new crop of lecturers are more accessible. However, accessibility is an individual thing, but if you must maximize your impact as a lecturer, then, you must be accessible.
DNL L& S: What roles can persons in Academia play in the mentoring process?
Mr. Onu: Lecturing is a calling and not just another job. A lecturer is more like a priest with a big congregation. A priest (lecturer) does not stop at preaching (teaching) but also guiding the parishioners (students) to their expected zeniths. The lecturer plays an important role in the mentoring process. They share quality time with the embryonic lawyers hence, they stand a better chance to guide the young minds aright. The students see their lecturers as role models being that they represent the reality of the dreams of these students. They, therefore, stand a better chance to guide the students into their desired dreams.
DNL L& S: How has Technology been utilized in Academia? Do you consider it a distraction? Is it helping the Process in any way?
Mr. Onu: Technology has revolutionized the academia. It has made research very much easy. It has helped academics in a lot of ways. We can deliver classes with digital aides which makes understanding a lot easier. Currently, we deliver online classes in my school. We are also working on running a paperless campus in no distant time. Technology is a big blessing to the academic world. Some have considered it a distraction, it is not. And even if there is any distraction at all, it is indeed a needed distraction. I will just advise that people strike a balance with the use of the internet and technology in other not to activate its disadvantages.
DNL L& S: How does Academia contribute to the growth and development of Law?
Mr. Onu: Yes. Many innovative principles of law were birthed in researches. Many at times, the Courts and even the Apex Court of the land have had to rely on the Textbooks of Academia in reaching their decisions. Writings of academia have also influenced the enactment or amendment of legislations in Nigeria. Writings of eminent scholars like Ben Nwabueze, T. Elias, Umozuike, Sagay, Dakas, Ladan, and a host of others have all become secondary sources of law in Nigeria.
DNL L& S: You’re aware that over the years several First Class students have been produced at the Nigerian Law School, compared to the numbers we had in the past. Do you consider this growth in terms of numbers of First Class student a feat for Academics, can it be credited to the prowess of our lecturers at the Various Law Faculties?
Mr. Onu: The rise in first class can be attributed to the revision of the Nigerian Law School grading pattern which was announced by the Director-General of the Law school during the institution’s statutory report to the 2019 AGM of the Nigerian Bar Association. However, the various faculties of law are also contributing to this new trend. Many Faculties of Law have gone beyond the substantive laws which ought to be taught by them to procedural laws which prepares their students ahead for exploits at the Bar examination.
DNL L& S: How do you then reconcile the above, with the slogan in the Work Force and indeed the Bar that Standards have fallen? Have standards truly fallen?
Mr. Onu: I do not agree with the notion that the standards have fallen. Though some lawyers are misbehaving it has not gone beyond what the profession can control internally. We are in the transitional stage of the legal profession. The law training is fast moving from the orthodox 20th-century practice to a smart 21st-century practice, which ruffles the reasoning of the older generation of lawyers. The population of lawyers is increasing and cannot be adequately regulated by obsolete rules. Law grows with the people, the legal professional must also grow with society.
DNL L& S: What’s the quality of research works in our Institutions and more importantly Law Faculties?
Mr. Onu: A lot of innovative researches done within the various Faculties of Law in Nigeria. This is evident in the law journals published by these faculties. I think that one of the major problems militating against research in Nigeria is the issue of funding. Researchers pay through their noses to get their works published. People pay between N20,000-N50,000.00 to publish a single article in a local journal in Nigeria. There are not many research grants for law researches like in the sciences. Unfortunately, research funding by TETFUND is only available for researchers in Public institutions. Those of us in the private institution do not get to benefit from such fund.
However, the ‘publish or Perish’ syndrome in academia is not helping the quality of research works. Many researchers tend to publish to be promoted and even go as far turning out 10-20 publications within a single year. This affects the quality of research. It is my view that people should be promoted based on the quality of research they have done, and not just on the number of research papers turned out.
DNL L& S: Do you think we’re a ‘grade chasing’ and or ‘certificate acquisition’ generation?
Kingsley: I think that we are both. Some times in class, the student will request that you only teach them the topics that will come out in their examination. They will tell you that they just want to graduate. That is why as a personal policy, I don’t give students areas of concentration for their examination. I believe that the world is already a global village, and a student in my class is not just preparing to compete with his peer at Bowen University or the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; but also with his peers at Oxford University, Harvard University and so on. Students must look beyond the grade and aim at acquiring the needed knowledge.
DNL L& S: What major challenges do you encounter in Academia? What’s the way forward?
Mr. Onu: One, lack of funding for research, which I have explained earlier. Second, poor electricity power supply and internet in the country. One can hardly carry out meaningful research outside the walls of our educational institution because of the lack of power supply and internet. Third, academic politics. In most institutions of learning, you will see factions and caucuses. Those of us who are not used to unholy alliances get stuck in the middle of their rivalries. Four, dishonest gains by some staff and students. Five, Tribalism and nepotism. Sometimes, people are denied their promotion or other entitlements on the parochial basis of tribalism.
On the way forward, the government and spirited organization need to fund research in Nigeria. Without funding, the institutions will continue to deteriorate. The government must introduce alternative energy options to support the current national grid. Stronger measures must be put in place to check staff and students’ excesses in our citadels of learning.
DNL L& S: A lot of Private Universities have emerged over the years; what major factor do you think is responsible for this increment?
Mr. Onu: Inconsistency of academic programs of the public institution due to strikes and lack of funding; secondly the growing population that has made it practically impossible for public institutions to absorb all their applicants yearly.
DNL L& S: Has the emergence of this privately owned Institutions benefitted the Law Profession, in terms of its output, structure, and facilities?
Mr. Onu: Yes. It has. Private institutions emerged with so many innovations and gigantic structures, they are giving the public institutions a good run for their money. They have made most public institutions to sit up based on the exploits of the graduates of these private institutions at the law school and in the corporate world. However, some private institutions are run based on sole proprietorship and not as an institution with a governing council.
DNL L& S: Where are our Institutions headed?
Mr. Onu: The right direction but at snail speed.
DNL L& S: Would you encourage a fresh law school graduate to embrace a career in Academia? How would you advise such a lawyer?
Mr. Onu: Yes. But such a person must understand that academia like litigation is very jealous, hence it demands hard work and your time. Persistence and perseverance are also needed.
First of all, you must like reading and writing. You must enroll in your masters and Ph.D. programs as soon as possible. You may be bright, but you need these degrees, at least your master’s degree to join the senior academic cadre. You must also have a mentor who will guide you as you climb the ladder of academic success. Have the fear of God in all that you do, because, without Him, you can do nothing.
Oluwatosin Ajose,Popoola is a Lawyer, Content Creator and Blogger. She practices in Ibadan, Oyo State.