Eight years after, the Law faculty of the National Open University of Nigeria has yet to receive recognition from statutory bodies for the training of lawyers in the country, CHARLES ABAH writes
Life has not been the same at the Lagos headquarters of the National Open University of Nigeria for some time now. The verve accompanying the hallowed and serene academic community has given way to uneasiness for many of its students and members of staff for some 15 days now.
Perhaps, in the inner recesses of the NOUN Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Vincent Tenebe; its Registrar, Mrs. Josephine Akinyemi; the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Prof. Justus Sokefun, and many other principal officers of the 14-year-old distance learning institution, all indeed is not well.
Beyond these principal officers, despair, despondency – just name it – are all apt description of the fate of hundreds of law students of the university across the country. Suddenly, they are not only looking crestfallen, they are also disconsolate.
A final-year law student, Uduak Godwin, succinctly captures the feeling of the majority of the students of the faculty nowadays. Her initial optimism of becoming a lawyer in the next couple of months is gradually melting into darkness.
“It is disheartening to hear that after sacrificing so much time and money, among others things, to obtain an LL.B degree, one suddenly hears that one is not eligible to go to the Law School,” she adds.
For Jare Ajibore, frustration best expresses the feeling of many of the Law students. The 1979 Economics graduate of the University of Lagos, who has completed his Law programme at NOUN, notes that latest happenings in the faculty is disheartening. According to him, there is the need to amend the Act establishing the university in order to address urgently the concerns of the students.
The reason for this display of despair is not difficult to decipher: a terse advertorial by the Council of Legal Education penultimate Tuesday was all that was needed to fling this population of intellectuals and aspiring barristers into a community of the miserable.
The statement entitled, ‘Non-recognition of the LL.B degree programme of the National Open University of Nigeria’ read, “The Council of Legal Education again announces for the benefit of the general public that the LL.B degree programme offered by the National Open University of Nigeria is not approved.
“The policy of the statutory bodies responsible for the training and admission of aspirants to the Nigerian Bar, i.e. the Council of Legal Education and the Body of Benchers, is that the study of Law must be undertaken on a full time basis, in recognised institutions for the provision of undergraduate studies. This is also the position of the professional body of lawyers in Nigeria – The Nigerian Bar Association.
“Consequently, the regulatory bodies have long proscribed the study of Law through part time, distance learning or correspondence studies and it was in consequence of this that part time LL.B programmes run by the faculties of Law of accredited universities were abrogated. The position of the bodies has been that every aspirant to the legal profession must undertake an undergraduate study on a full time basis, in a recognised faculty of Law. This is because the study of Law transcends knowledge acquisition; it involves the moulding of future entrants into the Bar in learning, character and attitudes.
“The National Open University of Nigeria is not within the ambit of institutions envisaged by these bodies to offer a Law degree programme. Indeed, the NOUN has always been informed of this position; and its decision to commence and run the Law programme was in defiance of this policy.
“Any person, who undertakes the study of Law at the National Open University of Nigeria is to note that the qualification obtained is unacceptable for admission to the Nigerian Law School for the Bar vocational training.”
Whereas the resuscitation of the NOUN took place in 2001 after the military government shut the institution in 1984, its Law faculty came into operation in 2007. Yet, more than eight years after the birth of the institution’s School of Law, it has been a harvest of controversies surrounding the accreditation of the programme. The Chairman of the CLE, Chief Onueze Okocha (SAN), had hinted two years ago that there would be no admission for Law graduates of the university to the law school.
Now, even with the graduation of two sets of students at NOUN, there is still no admission provision for these aspiring lawyers to the Nigerian Law School. The Law graduates of the university have been kept in limbo, with no hope of receiving the NLS tutorials and exposure preparatory to becoming full-fledged practising lawyers. Of course, the NLS is the final vocational training ground for would-be barristers in the country.
Last year, there was outrage at the law school, as only 3,418 out of the 7,176 registered students passed the examination. In fact, whereas only four students obtained a first class, 3,100 others handsomely failed the examination that later became a subject of discourse among lawyers and educationists.
Even as the CLE rolls out this recent directive, some other law students of the university have remained unruffled. In fact, on Saturday, many of them sat for a course, Alternative to Dispute Resolution 518, at the NITEL Training School, Oshodi, Lagos; and at many of the study centres across the country. The Vice-President of the association, Mr. Winner Okereke, who spoke to our correspondent moments after the examination, said he hoped that the issues would be resolved soon.
According to him, the issues at stake are all things that border on law.
He added, “Though I felt disturbed on seeing the publication, I think all hope for reconciliation of the differences is not over yet. As far as I am concerned, the university is still operating within the ambit of the Act establishing it. I know also that the faculty has received the NUC’s accreditation. The concern of the Council of Legal Education is that the university operates a correspondence law programme, but I can tell you that we have gone beyond that level. We have tutorial centres, facilitators, lecturers and we sit for exams. Even today, we sat for an examination. So, what is the correspondence in all of these that I have mentioned?”
For Godwin, the publication is capable of frustrating a person and putting his career at stake.
He said, “ NOUN is a federal university established by an Act of the National Assembly and has all its academic programmes fully accredited by the NUC, Law inclusive. I believe the school management/authorities will get back to us (students) with something positive because people are already asking questions.”
But for the President of the Law Students Association of the university, Mr. Ganiyu Akinleye, the publication is in bad taste.
He explained, “It is a satanic and devilish publication when viewed from the background that it came when the semester examination is ongoing.
“Secondly, it is a sign that there is no synergy between the two or three Federal Government important agencies i.e NOUN, NUC and CLE.”
Akinleye, who noted that NOUN students came first in Moot Court Competition in 2013, added that the university had the material and personnel to run the programme.
He said, “I know that the course materials of NOUN are being used by students in most of the conventional universities. Lecturers from the conventional universities developed the materials. They also participate in facilitations and lecturing in NOUN. Even NUC had acknowledged that the electronic lecturing facilities of NOUN were one of the best in the country.”
Noting that students would be at the receiving end, the LAWSA leader urged the university authorities, the NUC as well as the CLE to resolve the issue amicably. He added, “NOUN has graduated law students with the Federal Government and the CLE in the know. Why wait till now for this publication? Nigerians must come to the aid of the students and members of staff.”
But as students express their displeasure over the CLE publication, the NUC’s Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Ibrahim Yakasai, told our correspondent that the Law faculty of the university received the approval of the commission to mount the programme.
He was, however, silent on whether or not the programme had received partial or full accreditation from the commission.
According to him, it is one thing to receive approval to run a programme; it is another to get accreditation.
Meanwhile, the Director, Media and Information at NOUN, Dr. Ronke Ogunmakin, who initially said she was not going to respond to any inquiry about the programme on the telephone, advised our correspondent to forward his enquiries to her email address or to visit her office.
She added, “I cannot respond to your inquiry on the telephone. Please, you can come to my office or send the inquiry to the office so that I shall forward it to the necessary department. All I know is that all programmes in the university have received accreditation. You can as well attend the university’s inaugural lecture on May 12 for further clarification.”
Even at that, she had not responded to the correspondence sent to her email as of 5 pm production time on Monday.