Establishment Of Law School Campuses Should Not Be Regarded As Constituency Projects By Aare Afe Babalola, SAN
The Senate recently approved the establishment of six additional campuses of the Nigerian Law School, in addition to the seven existing ones. By this development, two campuses, i.e., the Jos Law School Campus, Plateau State and the Kabba Law School Campus, Kogi State have been established for the North Central geo-political zone; two campuses, i.e., Yola Law School Campus, Adamawa State and Maiduguri Law School Campus, Borno State for the North East; Kano Law School Campus, Kano State and Argungun Law School Campus, Kebbi State for the North West; two campuses, i.e., the Enugu Law School Campus, Enugu State and Okija Law School Campus, Anambra State for South East; three campuses, i.e., the Yenogoa Law School Campus, Bayelsa State, Port Harcourt Law School Campus, Rivers State, and Orogun Law School Campus, Delta State for the South South Zone, two campuses, i.e., Lagos Law School Campus, Lagos State and llawe Law School Campus, Ekiti State for the South West, and Bwari Law School Campus, Abuja FCT.
The establishment of these new campuses has come in the wake of the proliferation of Nigerian tertiary institutions by the federal government, state government and legislative houses with little or no plan for sustainability. Rather, the creation of tertiary institutions is now regarded as a hallmark of achievement of an incumbent administration. I have, in the course of previous editions, lent my voice together with few others who see the unwholesome development of the proliferation of ‘mushroom’ universities for what it truly is, i.e., universities are symbolisms of political achievements rather than serving its primary purpose.
Justifying the establishment of the new law school campuses, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters reportedly noted that the move was premised on the “exponential increase of law graduates from our universities and foreign ones, coupled with the backlog that existed over the years’ and further that “existing campuses are overstretched and the infrastructures are not enough to accommodate thousands of law students graduating from the universities.”
Besides a consideration of the proliferation of tertiary institutions all over Nigeria, and the recent extension of this unfortunate premise to the Nigerian Law School, perhaps, more alarming is the decision of the legislature to intervene in the creation of the said additional campuses, particularly as the previously established campuses were by the administrative decision of the Council of Legal Education.
This therefore leads to the irresistible conclusion the intervention of the Senate in a function which is otherwise reposed in the Council of Legal Education is nothing more than an attempt to politicise the process and score political points. The Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, last year while the ‘Bill for an Act to amend the Legal Education (Consolidation etc.) Act by establishing campuses for the Nigerian Law School, and for other related matters’, by which two campuses of the Nigerian Law School will be cited in each of the geopolitical zones, was passed, he rightfully noted that it was politically motivated. He further rightfully noted that it is unfortunate that some senators want to politicise the establishment of Nigerian Law School campuses, even when there are glaring evidence that the Federal Government cannot adequately fund existing ones.
Truly, unfortunate reports have been heard of the dilapidating structure of the oldest Nigerian Law School campus, the Lagos Campus, as well as the underfunding and poor infrastructural state of other existing campuses. In 2021, the Bayelsa State Governor reportedly decried the poor state of infrastructure in the Bayelsa Law School campus, stating that the Federal Government had not done much in terms of infrastructural development of the campus since 2011. In fact, the Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, in his comments on the deplorable condition of the Bayelsa Campus, reportedly noted that “…the deplorable condition in which students at the Yenagoa Law Campus are studying is worse than what prisoners in Ikoyi Prison are experiencing.”
It therefore comes as an indication of acquiring cheap political points towards the 2023 general elections for the proponents of the Bill at the Senate, perhaps out of oblivion or total indifference as to the current situation of underfunding of the existing schools, to sponsor such a Bill for the creation of additional law school campuses. From the records, there was even an indication that such moves did not have the blessing of the Council of Legal Education which is the primary body concerned with the management and control of the Nigerian law school.
Unsurprisingly, the direct stakeholders, being the Nigerian Bar Association, the Body of Benchers and the Council of Legal Education, rejected the proposal for the creation of the new campuses. More specifically, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata, while stating that the move for the creation of the additional campuses was unnecessary, further reportedly noted that: “With required infrastructure, the existing law schools across the country are enough to accommodate thousands of law graduates 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.”
Professor Ernest Ojukwu, the erstwhile Director General of the Nigerian Law School and erstwhile head of the Enugu Campus, also condemned the unsolicited intervention of the Senate which has now led to the proliferation of the law school campuses. In his interview reported in www.thenigerianlaw.com he very rightly stated thus: “No legislation establishes the Nigerian Law School or its campuses. So, what are you amending? Why do you need to establish additional law school campuses by amending a law that did not establish the school in the first place?
“The next issue is the archaic and outdated policy of continued running in-school-publicly funded vocational and professional legal education at this time of civilisation. That policy has failed and trying to expand it by legislating additional campuses is retrogressive and backward. The current thinking is that we should rather review the policy and the existing Legal Education Act by focusing on an empowered Council of Legal Education that will only prescribe a vocational/professional legal education curriculum benchmark, accredit private training service providers and administer bar examinations. It is actually time to abolish the Nigerian Law School. It has outlived its usefulness and it will never rise above its present incapacity due to continued government approach to its funding. The Nigerian Law School is terribly underfunded and under supported. Its training is still conducted as stadium lectures because the school cannot fund infrastructure, classrooms and facilities for small class lessons. The school cannot employ the required number of teachers because the government does not permit the employment of at least over 200 additional teachers and adjuncts that will make a success of small class lessons. There is no way you can prepare a lawyer in a 1500 stadium strength class to one teacher and achieve any useful outcome for standard legal education and competent professional. But that is the current state of the law school generally.”
The foregoing aptly describes the poor state of the current law school campuses which, unfortunately, are being rendered as mere constituency projects by the instrumentality of the Bill which has called for the creation of additional six campuses. The intervention of the legislature in the establishment of these additional campuses is not only an act of usurpation of the functions of the Council of Legal Education, but is ill-advised, considering the history and purpose of the institution.
To be continued…