Fu­ture of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion in Nige­ria

Daily Trust - - LAW - Prof. Muhammed Taw­fiq Ladan

Le­gal ed­u­ca­tion in Nige­ria is pat­terned af­ter the sys­tem in Eng­land ex­cept that whereas lawyers in Eng­land are so­lic­i­tors or bar­ris­ters, all lawyers in Nige­ria qual­ify and can prac­tice as both bar­ris­ters and so­lic­i­tors.

Le­gal ed­u­ca­tion in Nige­ria con­sists of aca­demic study for 4 to 5 years (depend­ing on the mode of en­try) in a law fac­ulty and a year in the law school fol­lowed by call to the Nige­rian Bar and en­roll­ment as a le­gal prac­ti­tioner at the Supreme Court.

It is the Na­tional Univer­si­ties Com­mis­sion (NUC) that es­tab­lished min­i­mum aca­demic stan­dards for the con­fer­ment of law de­grees (LL.B).

Like­wise, the Coun­cil of Le­gal Ed­u­ca­tion has es­tab­lished re­quire­ment which a law de­gree must sat­isfy be­fore it can qual­ify its holder for ad­mis­sion into the Nige­rian Law School for a BL. This there­fore sub­jects law fac­ul­ties to two ac­cred­i­ta­tions: one by the NUC and another by the Coun­cil of Le­gal Ed­u­ca­tion (CLE).

In re­cent times, there has been grow­ing con­cern about the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of Nige­ria’s ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem stem­ming from the qual­ity of our univer­sity grad­u­ates, which has be­come less than sat­is­fac­tory and the law grad­u­ates are no ex­cep­tion. Hence the grow­ing de­mand for re­forms not only in le­gal ed­u­ca­tion but of the en­tire ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem in the coun­try.

Since lawyers are re­quired to have le­gal ed­u­ca­tion be­fore they can be called to the Bar, what con­sti­tutes the pur­pose of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion?

Ac­cord­ing to NUC’s doc­u­ment on Min­i­mum Aca­demic Stan­dards for law in Nige­rian univer­si­ties: “Aca­demic le­gal ed­u­ca­tion should there­fore act, first, as a stim­u­lus to stir the stu­dent into the crit­i­cal anal­y­sis and ex­am­i­na­tion of the pre­vail­ing so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sys­tems of his com­mu­nity and, se­condly, as an in­tel­lec­tual ex­er­cise aimed at study­ing and as­sess­ing the op­er­a­tion, ef­fi­cacy and rel­e­vance of var­i­ous rules of law in so­ci­ety.”

Un­doubt­edly, all hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties in their so­cial, eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­texts, take place within a le­gal frame­work. It is there­fore nec­es­sary, ac­cord­ing to the NUC re­vised Min­i­mum Aca­demic Stan­dards for Law, “that the stu­dent of law should also have a broad gen­eral knowl­edge and ex­po­sure to other dis­ci­plines in the process of ac­quir­ing le­gal ed­u­ca­tion.”

In line with con­tem­po­rary global prac­tice, the NUC con­sid­ered the merger of the re­vised Min­i­mum Aca­demic Stan­dards (MAS) with the Bench­mark Style State­ments into one new doc­u­ment known as (BMAS), wherein, “the train­ing in law is specif­i­cally aimed at pro­duc­ing lawyers whose level of ed­u­ca­tion would equip them prop­erly to serve as ad­vis­ers, so­lic­i­tors or ad­vo­cates to gov­ern­ments and their agen­cies, com­pa­nies, busi­ness firms, as­so­ci­a­tions, in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, etc.”

The above aim un­der­scores the fact that “the role of lawyers is a per­va­sive one, strad­dling the po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial life of the so­ci­ety. Af­ter all, lawyers are in­stru­men­tal to what­ever sit­u­a­tion any coun­try may find it­self. Lawyers, as judges, in pri­vate or cor­po­rate prac­tice, in the aca­demics or in gov­ern­ment, shape the so­ci­ety and the lives of their fel­low hu­man be­ings.”

How­ever, a lawyer can only be as good as the sys­tem of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion that pro­duced him. Le­gal ed­u­ca­tion (both aca­demic and vo­ca­tional) is a vi­tal in­gre­di­ent that af­fects the qual­ity of our jus­tice sys­tem and the role of lawyers in the po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment of our coun­try.

It has been rightly ar­gued that “the study of law must not end with the im­bib­ing of gen­eral prin­ci­ples of law; it must in­volve law in ac­tion; in all its ram­i­fi­ca­tions. The re­la­tion­ship of law to so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties of life must be en­com­passed.”

Im­prov­ing the qual­ity of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion and of young lawyers

A num­ber of le­gal scholars, ju­rists, le­gal prac­ti­tion­ers and the Nige­rian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, have, in re­cent times, re­peat­edly pointed out the fol­low­ing stan­dards in le­gal ed­u­ca­tion and in the per­for­mance of young lawyers and all have iden­ti­fied var­i­ous fac­tors re­spon­si­ble for this dis­turb­ing phe­nom­e­non. These fac­tors in­clude: lack of con­sis­tency on the part of both NUC and CLE in en­sur­ing com­pli­ance with the Bench­mark Min­i­mum Aca­demic Stan­dards (BMAS) for law in

Nige­rian univer­si­ties and other stip­u­lated re­quire­ments by the Coun­cil for Le­gal Ed­u­ca­tion; grossly dis­hon­est peo­ple adopted by some univer­si­ties/law fac­ul­ties to se­cure ac­cred­i­ta­tion (full, pro­vi­sional and in­terim) when in re­al­ity they are yet to meet the min­i­mum re­quire­ments (in terms of staff mix, fa­cil­i­ties, stu­dent- staff ra­tio, li­brary hold­ings etc) stip­u­lated by both NUC and CLE; poor qual­ity and scope of the teach­ing and learn­ing pro­cesses; lack of com­pul­sory pupil­lage for young lawyers; in­ad­e­quate men­tor­ing and ridicu­lously low wel­fare pack­age for young lawyers and poor fund­ing/fi­nanc­ing of ed­u­ca­tion (le­gal ed­u­ca­tion in­clu­sive) in Nige­ria.

Hence the need for im­prov­ing the qual­ity of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion and of the per­for­mance of young lawyers in Nige­ria. As of how, sev­eral pro­pos­als have been of­fered at sev­eral fora rang­ing from: - mak­ing the Nige­rian Law School pro­gramme a two-year pro­gramme, to in­tro­duc­ing prac­ti­cal/clin­i­cal train­ing into le­gal ed­u­ca­tion, mak­ing law a post­grad­u­ate de­gree pro­gramme, scrap­ping the Nige­rian Law School en­tirely and mak­ing the Coun­cil of Le­gal Ed­u­ca­tion an ex­am­i­na­tion board (the USA sys­tem) etc.

Strate­gies for im­prov­ing the qual­ity of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion and of the young lawyers in Nige­ria

From the above anal­y­sis, the out­stand­ing ques­tion re­mains unan­swered: what are the ef­fec­tive strate­gies for im­prov­ing the qual­ity of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion and of the young lawyers in Nige­ria?; are we to con­tinue with our re­ac­tionary and cu­ra­tive ap­proach to the chal­lenges at hand or are we de­ter­mined to be more proac­tive in our ap­proach to ad­dress­ing same and in earnest search for durable so­lu­tions to ad­dress­ing na­tional prob­lems us­ing law.

For ex­am­ple, does the an­swer to the fall­ing stan­dard of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion or de­clin­ing qual­ity in the per­for­mance of young lawyers lay nec­es­sar­ily in the pro­posed two-year pe­riod at the law school?

Re­spect­fully, the an­swer is no, be­cause for a durable so­lu­tion to the cri­sis at hand, we must col­lec­tively ad­dress the need for more skills­based and prac­tice-ori­ented syl­labus and scope of learn­ing within the ex­ist­ing cal­en­dar; pro­mote com­pul­sory pupil­lage for young lawyers af­ter grad­u­a­tion from the law school be­fore grad­u­ates can prac­tice on their own; en­sure ad­e­quate men­tor­ing and a dig­ni­fied and sus­tain­able wel­fare pack­age for young lawyers to mo­ti­vate them to work harder; ad­vo­cate for im­proved fi­nanc­ing for qual­i­ta­tive aca­demic le­gal ed­u­ca­tion and pru­dent man­age­ment of re­sources at the univer­si­ties/law fac­ul­ties.

Un­doubt­edly, the in­tro­duc­tion of Clin­i­cal Le­gal Ed­u­ca­tion (CLE) in law fac­ul­ties will lay the foun­da­tion for law stu­dents to carry with them through­out their pro­fes­sional ca­reer a great sense of pro­fes­sional com­mit­ment to the ethics and val­ues of public ser­vice, sub­ject how­ever, to the avail­abil­ity and man­age­ment of ba­sic and rel­e­vant In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Tech­nol­ogy re­lated in­fras­truc­tural fa­cil­i­ties.

This leads to our next dis­cus­sion on the fu­ture of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion in Nige­ria.

The fu­ture of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion

Un­doubt­edly, the fu­ture of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion in Nige­ria lies es­sen­tially, though not ex­clu­sively, in the fol­low­ing:

I. Our col­lec­tive ef­forts to de­velop a plan of ac­tion and strate­gic im­ple­men­ta­tion frame­work to ad­dress the iden­ti­fi­able fac­tors re­spon­si­ble for the fall­ing stan­dards of le­gal ed­u­ca­tion and the qual­ity of per­for­mance of young lawyers. This re­quires us to care­fully de­velop the rel­e­vant mea­sur­able/ver­i­fi­able in­di­ca­tors and bench­marks for durable so­lu­tions to the prob­lems.

II. Our col­lec­tive re­solve to ad­dress­ing the threats, op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges that ICT poses to law, the leg­is­la­ture, the Bar, the Bench and the academia; and to our un­der­stand­ing of the im­pact of ICT on le­gal ed­u­ca­tion in the 21st Cen­tury.

ICT has come to stay and Nige­ria is fast be­com­ing a heavy user of the in­ter­net for in­for­ma­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, re­search, elec­tronic com­merce and bank­ing trans­ac­tions; it is spend­ing mil­lions of naira on the in­ter­net. There are grow­ing in­di­ca­tions that along with the ex­pan­sion of le­git­i­mate in­ter­net use, Nige­ria is ac­knowl­edged to be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a ris­ing tide of cy­ber­crimes and cy­berin­se­cu­rity and this fol­lows a global pat­tern that has be­come glar­ing. Hence the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the com­ing into force of the Cy­ber­crime Act, 2015 and the Cy­ber­se­cu­rity Pol­icy and Strat­egy, 2014.

CJN Jus­tice Mah­mud Mo­hammed

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