A bill for the establishment of six additional campuses of the Nigerian Law School – one each in the six geo-political zones – is before the Senate. But stakeholders believe the move is a misplaced priority unless and until the government first remedies the infrastructure and funding neglect at the existing six campuses, ADEBISI ONANUGA reports.
A couple of weeks ago, the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters held a public hearing on the Legal Education (Consolidation, Etc.) Act L10, LFN (Amendment) Bill 2021 (SB.820). The bill, sponsored by Senator Smart Adeyemi, representing Kogi West, is seeking to amend the extant Act to provide for an increase in the number of Nigerian Law School Campuses from six to 12. If enacted, the six additional campuses, one each in the six geo-political zones, would be established. He listed the location the proposed law schools would be sited to include Kabba in Northcentral, Maiduguri in Northeast, Argungun in Northwest, Okija in Southeast and the one already under construction in Port Harcourt, having been approved by the Council for Legal Education (CLE).
Existing Law School campuses are in Bwari, in Abuja which also serves as the headquarters, Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Yenagoa and Yola.
The six campuses accommodate 5,800 students. When the one being constructed in Port Harcourt by the government comes on stream, it would care for an additional 1,200 Law students, fresh from the universities.
Why new campuses are necessary
Presenting the bill to stakeholders at the public hearing, Adeyemi shared the experience of his daughters stranded at home after graduation for about 18 months, waiting for a call up to the Law School three years ago, ditto for his neighbour’s children, to buttress the bill.
“I hold the view that if as a Senator, my children cannot get admission, what about the less-privileged Nigerians?” Adeyemi said.
He said when he took the matter up with some principal officers of the Senate, a good number of them objected to it, but after he gave superior arguments and analysed the statistics, they agreed that it was a necessary exercise.
Adeyemi got support from Senator George Sekibo representing Rivers State East senatorial district who told stakeholders that his state was interested in the amendment to the bill because it was in tandem with the objectives of the ongoing Law School project in Port Harcourt.
Others who supported the bill included Senators Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti South) and Kashim Shettima (Borno Central).
They argued that the establishment of the campuses would enhance access to legal education in the country.
Falana backs Senate
Activist-lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) agreed with the lawmakers. He, however, tasked the lawmakers to address the issue of underfunding so that the new campuses would not suffer the same fate as the existing ones.
“The capital vote for the Law School is meagre, but we have about 5,000 students on average, annually at the Law School.
“The current fee per student is N296,000 and N20,000 for an application form, that is, N316,000 per student. If we multiply by 5,000 you get about N1.5 billion per annum. Students also pay for accommodation and others,” he said.
Opposition to the bill
The intention of the sponsor of the bill, notwithstanding, some senators, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Body of Benchers and the Council of Legal Education (CLE) have rejected the proposal.
To them, the dilapidated state of existing campuses due to neglect and insufficient funding should be of concern to all.
Also, worried by the situation, friends, associates, groups, and companies rather than present birthday gifts, undertook to rehabilitate faculties in various Law School campuses at the behest of and to honour the Chairman of Council of Legal Education, Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), during the celebration of his 60th birthday in July.
The senators who opposed the Bill included Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu West) and Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa West).
Creation of new campuses unnecessary – Akpata
NBA President Olumide Akpata said the move was unnecessary as the existing six campuses were grossly underfunded.
“With required infrastructure, the existing law schools across the country are enough to accommodate thousands of law students graduating from the various universities.
“Besides, the resources of the Federal Government which are wearing out cannot help in putting in place such campuses let alone, sustaining them.
“What is required from the Senate and by extension the National Assembly, is to by way of Appropriation, team up with the executive for an adequate funding of the existing law schools,” he said.
Move by Senate is usurpation of CLE’s power – Ngige
CLE Chairman Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) said the council was opposed to the move to create six new Law School campuses.
He said the CLE’s position was informed by the deplorable condition of most of the existing ones due to gross underfunding.
“For instance, the deplorable condition in which students at the Yenagoa Law Campus are studying is worse than what prisoners in Ikoyi Prison are experiencing,” Ngige said.
“The move by the Senate through this Bill is, more or less, subtle usurpation of the functions of the CLE,” he added.
‘Backlog of students not good reason’
In their memorandum to the Senate Committee, signed by Ngige and the Director-General of the Nigerian Law School (NLS) Prof Isa Chiroma (SAN), they said the backlog of students from the law faculties of universities must not be adopted as a reason for additional campuses.
They assured that every student from any accredited faculty of law will come to the CLE/NLS as and when due.
A former NBA President, Onueze Okocha (SAN), shared Ngige’s views on the CLE’s powers, adding that the extant law empowers only the CLE to establish NLS campuses.
‘Bill oppressive, discriminatory’
Rivers State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Prof Zacchaeus Adangor (SAN), in a memorandum submitted to the committee, urged the National Assembly to reject the Bill because, according to him, it was oppressive and discriminatory against the government and people of the state.
“In any event, a law is not required to establish new campuses of the Nigerian Law School as that exercise is purely administrative and the CLE has already exercised that power with respect to the establishment of the Port Harcourt Campus of the Nigerian Law School,” Adangor added.
The position espoused by the CLE notwithstanding, there is worry about the fate of students passing out of Law faculties.
Some stakeholders wondered if the CLE’s submission took into consideration law students who graduated abroad and also have to be admitted into NLS.
They expressed concern that even when the Law School still under construction in Port Harcourt comes on stream, the NLS might still be inadequate in the nearest future given the rate at which private universities are being established without adherence to admission allocation by the CLE.
Lawyers, however, offered a way out. They included a former NBA President, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Co-Chairman, Legal Education Committee of the NBA and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Afe Babalola University of Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), Prof Damilola Olawuyi (SAN), Chief Wale Taiwo (SAN), Chief Louis Alozie (SAN), Jibrin Okutepa (SAN) and Kunle Adegoke (SAN). They all advised against the establishment of new Law schools.
Agbakoba – Privatise Law School
Dr. Agbakoba said he was not in support of the establishment of new campuses.
“I don’t support it as it is unnecessary bureaucracy,” Agbakoba.
He suggested that the “Law School ought to be within the province of government. So, I would rather see privatisation of the Law School like the accountants.”
Modernise existing campuses
Prof Olawuyi canvassed the modernisation of the NLS.
He said: “If the chief aim of the proposed new Law School campuses is to provide access to more people to attend the Nigerian Law School, then there are better, cost-effective and more productive ways of achieving this aim. If the current campuses are well-maintained, modernised and expanded, then they will be in a position to accommodate more students, without the need to build new campuses.”
According to him, financing new construction projects without properly maintaining the available ones is not only counterproductive but a potential waste of limited resources.
He reasoned that lawmakers should therefore be discussing how to inject more money for the repurposing and overhaul of campuses to bring them up to global and contemporary standards.
The don also stated that quality control was important for Nigeria to sustain and improve the quality of entrants into the legal profession.
“Legislators should not usurp the authority of the Council by attempting to create new campuses via legislative fiat. Only the Council of Legal Education has the competence and authority to establish new campuses of the Law School and to oversee them for quality control,” Olawuyi added.
Address quality of new entrants
Taiwo also objected to the establishment of new campuses of the Law School.
He argued: “Legal education should not be used for pork-barrel or political influence peddling. Legal education is too important to be the subject of such parochial consideration.
“The idea is not welcome to me and I urge all well-meaning individuals interested in the legal profession in Nigeria to speak out against it. The proposal should be rejected.”
He described the idea being championed by lawmakers as projects designed to please voters and win votes in the respective locations of the proposed campuses.
“Should this current effort succeed, expect another round of legislation in the near future to create more campuses,” he cautioned.
He said the fundamental issue of dwindling quality of new entrants into the profession trained at the existing six campuses was not being addressed.
“Except this is addressed, the legislation is a mere pork barrel,” he added.
Underfunding, bane of law schools – Alozie
Alozie identified underfunding of existing NLS campuses, resulting in the collapse of infrastructure, as the main problem. He argued that if the existing campuses were adequately funded, their capacity to accommodate more students would improve.
“I believe in quality, not quantity unlike the proponents of the bill for the establishment of new campuses. The Law School is not political largess to be shared amongst the six geopolitical zones of the country. The proliferation of the campuses of the law school will affect the quality of legal education in Nigeria. Teaches in the system will be split and posted to man the new campuses. The quality of those to be called to the bar will drop, just like the teaching staff.
“So, it is not advisable to establish more campuses of the Law School for now. The proponents of the bill should rather push for sufficient funds to be appropriated for improvements and renovation of facilities…hostels, classrooms, libraries and qualified teaching staff in d existing campuses.”
Improve facilities – Okutepa
Okutepa also argued against the establishment of more campuses.
“Indeed, if I had my way, the existing multi-campuses should be merged and we have one Law School with well-furnished and well-equipped facilities to meet modern legal needs of Nigeria and Nigerians.
“Since the creation of additional campuses for Law School the quality of legal practitioners being produced seem to have diminished in knowledge and legal scholarships.”
“Instead of creating additional law school campuses and politicising the legal profession, we need to make the existing campuses habitable, functional in terms of facilities for teaching and learning,” Okutepa said.
Improve existing campuses, guarantee quality – Adegoke
For Adegoke, establishing new campuses was not only unnecessary but also a waste of resources that could otherwise be used to put the existing ones in good shape to guarantee quality legal education.
He said: “It is terribly poor that whatever Nigerian politicians touch, they devalue. It is not consistent with logic to argue that simply because the universities are turning out too many graduates of law, there must be as many Law Schools to absorb the graduates.”
Adegoke advised that admission of students to study Law as a course must be properly regulated and the number of faculties or universities offering Law as a course ought to be reduced.
He said: “The idea of schools of science and technology offering Law as a degree course is reckless and having as many Law Schools as there are universities offering Law would soon devalue the profession beyond redemption.
“This is a time we are criticising the establishment of universities when the existing ones are hardly better than glorified secondary schools in terms of infrastructure and welfare of lecturers and workers. People in government, both executive and legislature, ought to be more reasonable and sensible with the business of governance and should not see everything from the angle of politics.
“I completely disagree with the establishment of new Law Schools as it will not be to the advantage of quality legal education. Rather, funds that will be deployed into this misadventure should be channelled into upgrading existing ones while the number of Law graduates from universities should be considerably regulated.”
‘New law school campuses, additional burden’
A professor of Jurisprudence and International Law at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Yemi Oke, does not think new Law School campuses are necessary.
He told The Nation: “There is no rationale or justification for having additional Law schools in Nigeria. The existing ones are not being well-maintained, so why have new ones?
“There has been an argument that the Federal Government is subsidising legal education while other professions are not subsidised. Why would the government continue to subsidise legal education?
“New Law schools will be an additional burden to the Federal Government at a time the government is broke.
“Proliferation of Nigerian Law School campuses is needless, just as we have well over 200 universities, which is unreasonable. All these will further water down the quality of education.
“We could have a few good, sound, solid, globally-competitive universities, and two or three Law School campuses that are properly established and their facilities strengthened.
“Duplicating the campuses needless will mean duplicating the manpower and infrastructure, and I don’t think that’s the way to go. Well-endowed countries would not have more than one or two law schools, at best three. The way to go is not to keep duplicating law schools,” Oke said.
‘More campuses, not a bad idea’
But, a professor of Private and Property Law at UNILAG, Babatunde Oni, believes having more Law School campuses is not a bad idea.
“I align myself with the position of the CLE and Body of Benchers to the extent that the existing campuses are in a deplorable state due to underfunding.
“However, the carrying capacity of the campuses are below 60 per cent. Many Law graduates cannot be admitted to Law School due to lack of space. NUC continues to accredit more universities to run Law degrees.
“The existing Law School campuses are inadequate to accommodate the number of law graduates. I think we need additional campuses.”