Light at the end of the tunnel for shunned law students?
The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) is awaiting the outcome of its bid to amend the act in terms of which the university was created, in the latest attempt to resolve a five-year-long imbroglio preventing the university’s law graduates from gaining access to the Nigerian Law School – a prerequisite for any law graduate seeking to practise law.
In July 2013, the Council of Legal Education, a state agency which regulates law schools, ruled that law graduates from NOUN were not qualified to go to the Nigeria Law School because these graduates were not adequately trained.
The interdict, which has now been in place for over five years, has generated considerable tension over the years. Frustrated at the lack of a resolution, students have recently attempted to gain international attention over the crisis by appealing for the intervention of UNESCO.
According to a local news report, a statement signed by Carl Umegboro and Samuel Adegbola, president and secretary respectively of the Law Graduates Forum of NOUN, said the group made this call in a letter to the National Commission for UNESCO through its Nigeria Commission dated 23 July.
They faulted the position of the Council of Legal Education, pointing out that “the law programme in NOUN was accredited in line with the National Universities Commission (NUC) Act CAP L.81, sub-section E3”.
“Since 2013, the first set of graduated NOUN law graduates are unjustifiably forced to be roaming the streets for doing nothing wrong …”, they wrote.
The following month (August) students threatened to shut down the nation’s capital, Abuja. According to reports, the National Association of Nigerian Students issued a notice of mass actions over the crisis.
Confusingly, despite the existence of the injunction on NOUN students, which has caused hardship and uncertainty, the NOUN law faculty continues to be accredited by the National Universities Commission and graduates are being produced yearly – but without any hope of proceeding further.
Struck off the court roll
A legal solution out of the quandary was attempted by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) but on 4 October 2017, High Court Judge Hilary Oshomah struck the “highly sensitive” case off the roll, declaring her intention to “leave the matter for academia to resolve”.
A Nigerian professor of law, who requested anonymity, told University World News it was instructive that the judiciary had failed to make a decisive pronouncement on the matter which was of both national and academic interest.
“While I respect the judgement of Hilary Oshomah, I must also state that I am alarmed that she deliberately prevaricated. The issue is clear and the question must be answered. Are these graduate lawyers entitled as a right to gain access to the law school? That is the question. The judge should have delivered a fundamental judgement that would become a landmark in the history of [the] Nigerian judiciary system. She preferred to play safe.”
In exclusive interviews with University World News, senior law teachers in Nigerian universities commented on the crisis.
‘More than meets the eye’
Professor Abdullahi Wadallah in the faculty of law at Bayero University, Kano, said the rejection of law graduates from NOUN by the Nigerian Law School appears not to be backed by law. “How can we rationalise that a group of students graduated from a recognised institution in Nigeria whose programmes from a supervised, examined and accredited [by NUC] faculty … are not allowed into the law school which is another creation of law in this country? Honestly, there is more to it than meets the eye,” he said.
Professor Cosmas Uduak from the faculty of law at the University of Uyo said he was troubled by the incident and urged the two bodies – both of which are creations of the law – to come together and resolve the delicate issue.
Legal reporter, Samuel Adesanya, in an article published in The Nation daily newspaper, also called for a resolution of the lingering conflict.
“The imbroglio over the status of the law graduates of NOUN should be quickly resolved by this administration. The embarrassing situation has lingered … for many years, the authorities wringing their hands in self-inflicted helplessness.
“The simple question which NOUN must answer is whether it obtained the requisite approval from relevant authorities before running the programme. If it did, why are the graduates being [discriminated] against…? And if it didn’t, why has it not obtained the requirement for the programme? Furthermore, if the university had applied for approval, why has it not been granted?”
Modes of delivery
In an attempt to shed light on these knotty problems, NOUN Vice-chancellor Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, told University World News that terms contained in the Act which established the open university (and the faculty of law), such as “correspondence” and especially “part-time” in reference to modes of tuition delivery, were apparently against the rules and regulations of the Council of Legal Education.
He said the Council of Legal Education is seeking a full-time campus-based residential law programme instead, and that “conservative” members of the Council did not seem ready to embrace the use of information and communication technology in distance learning.
“When I came on board as the vice-chancellor in 2016, I initiated a process by which we are trying to amend the Act in the National Assembly … by removing any expression that would give the impression that NOUN does not offer full-time modes of instruction”, he said.
He accused the Council of Legal Education of subverting the authority of the National Universities Commission. “This is clearly illegal because it subverts the authority of NUC which has given the NOUN law programme full accreditation. Thus for another agency to disavow recognition of another statutory body is unfair,” he said.
According to Adamu, the amendment of the Act passed through the Senate on 4 September 2017, and on 6 August 2018 it passed through the House of Representatives. It is currently being finalised and will be presented to the president for signing.
“If it is signed, we intend to confront the Council of Legal Education and demand that our law graduates be allowed to attend the law school and be called to the bar,” he said.
The Council of Legal Education declined to comment on the issue.
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