By Onyema Sylvester Ikechukwu
It is extremely difficult to fault the precision, timing and genuineness of purpose of the bill sponsored by Senator Sam Adeyemi representing Kogi West in the 9th senate titled: ‘A Bill for an Act to Amend the Legal Education (Consolidation, Etc) Act by Establishing the Campuses for the Nigerian Law School and for Other Related Matters’. The bill is detailed and progressive in intendment and purpose. In summary, it seeks the establishment of six more campuses to augment the existing six, bringing the total number to twelve campuses. What seems to have slipped the mind is the new Port Harcourt campus of the Nigerian Law School under construction, funded by the Nyesom Wike-led River state government.
The bill named the proposed locations for the campuses, and specifically itemised the cost of the construction, establishment, and one-year overhead cost of running the campuses, which altogether sums to about N32billion. It goes further to elucidate the benefits to the nation in general and importantly the quality of legal education in Nigeria. Unequivocally, the sponsor brought to mind the impending catastrophe awaiting legal education if the Bill is not promptly passed into law and implemented. Intentions don’t get nobler than this and I agree with the sponsor absolutely.
Incidentally, this is a capital project that ought to be considered side-by-side with the strength of the nation’s treasury which is a major factor particularly the debt profile alongside imminent crises inherent in the continuous proliferation of Nigerian Law School campuses in the distant future.
For emphasis, Debt Management Office (DMO) shows that the federation’s debt stock stands at N33.1 trillion ($87,239billion) as at March 31, 2021. FG alone is responsible for N26.91 trillion of this debt, and it represents a 658% increase since the return to democracy in Nigeria. External borrowings skyrocketed from $7.3 billion in 2015 to $26.57 billion as at December 31, 2020, with an additional domestic debt of N7.63 trillion at that time. As at July 2021, the senate has approved loan requests of N2.343 trillion, approximately $6 billion, another $8.3 billion and E490million. In all, the present administration has recorded an increase of 366% in debt since 2015, and the president has presented to the senate a further loan request of about $4.054billion. The point is that as far as finances go, the nation is impecunious.
Arguably, the present template of legal education run by the country has a rich history, part of which was alluded to by the lawmaker, which later culminated in the implementation of the recommendations of the 1959 Unsworth Committee. The committee then approved a faculty of law at the University of Ibadan and a Law School at Lagos for vocational training but today, there are about 70 accredited law faculties operating in Nigerian universities and six campuses of the Nigerian Law School.
While highlighting the shortfall of the six existing campuses for the teeming fresh law graduates alongside the number of candidates for re-sits, the official figures as adumbrated by the senator didn’t exactly reflect the situation. For instance, besides the re-sit candidates, several law faculties admit above the admission quotas allocated by the Nigerian Law School. These excesses automatically create backlogs. The resultant backlog when graduating sets run into others is a constant source of anguish to a law graduate of a Nigerian university. Of course, the universities are culpable in this, but the law graduate bears the brunt. With sundry glitches including ASUU strikes and delay in accessing admission to the law school that also contribute negatively, after completion – call to bar for practice, most times, those delays compound, and ultimately, deprive the students’ employment opportunity by age barrier considering that most vacancies for employment come with age clause hunting for young persons.
Prudently, a good alternative to spending N32billion of the scarce resources for six new campuses is to grant approval to deserving universities to run law schools, by adding law school curriculum to faculty of law in universities, however under strict supervision of the Council of Legal Education. This will make law graduates from universities to also undergo their vocational training immediately after completing a Bachelor of Law degree. The Legal Education (Consolidation, Etc) Act L10 LFN 2004 should be amended to accommodate these adjustments. For foreign law graduates, two options can serve – either to be factored in the universities or the Abuja campus as done presently to cater for them. Then, the federal government can convert the rest of the campuses to other purposes.
Of course, there will be no loss of employment as the existing workforce of the Nigerian Law School will be immediately absorbed by the federal universities’ law school and the demand for capable law school personnel will be high. As for revenue, registration fees for Bar I and II will still generate revenue for the federal government. This is not heterodox that we need to grope in the dark to try. It is a system that works in the United States, several countries of Europe and Asia, as well as the United Kingdom, the home of Sir Edgar Unsworth, the committee chairman.
With the exponential increase in the number of law graduates from universities, the need for an additional six campuses indeed confronts us, unfortunately, at a time when the economy is limping. This is 2021, about 22 years from the multi-campus concept, yet the problems are still unresolved. If the universities could effectively train doctors, pharmacists, architects, and other professionals, they can also deliver on lawyers.
Thus, the bill is timely in addressing pertinent questions in legal education in Nigeria, but it should for all intents, content and purposes be titled; ‘A Bill for an Act to Amend the Legal Education (Consolidation, Etc) Act by Empowering Universities to Operate Law Schools for Vocational Training and for Other Related Matters’. Convincingly, this will provide relief to the federal government from further impecuniosity, and spontaneously, permanently solve the problems presented by the present multi-campus arrangement.
Onyema writes from Lagos.