COUNCIL of Legal Education,CLE, was established by the Federal government as a body to administer vocational training to all law graduates from universities accredited by the National Universities Commission, NUC, aspiring to practice as advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The Nigerian Law School, NLS, wholly-owned by the Federal government is earmarked for that purpose under the management of CLE. By statute, powers of the Council are delineated to training of law graduates while NUC Act exclusively vests powers of regulations and accreditation of universities programmes in NUC. Categorically, all universities are licensed by the federal government; academic programmes are accredited by NUC while professional bodies carry out supervisory roles. Nevertheless, all work harmoniously towards efficient service-delivery.
In Section 4 of Legal Education (Consolidations etc.) Act, “subject to this Act, the Attorney-General of the Federation may give the Council directions of a general character with regard to the exercise by the Council of its functions and it shall be the duty of the Council to comply with such directions”. Thus, the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice; a representative of the federal government oversees operations of the Council. Regrettably, the AGF had in futility issued directives to the Council to grant admission quota to National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN.
In a similar vein, all professional bodies overseeing respective university programmes statutorily queue under the NUC and thus report to the regulatory body. Where noncompliance vis-à-vis ethics of any of the professions is detected, the respective professional body could give directions to the university or where deviance is intense, a petition to the NUC and or recommendation for sanctions may follow suit. By this arrangement, professional bodies including the CLE unequivocally lack powers to sanction or reject accreditation-status on universities by the regulatory body, unfortunately, NOUN’s accreditation by the NUC was arbitrarily snubbed by the Council despite clearly demarcated functions.
Splendid, the federal government pursuant to the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, and United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, on education through Open and Distance Learning,ODL, established NOUN, and today, the institution which kicked-off with ten schools including the faculty of Law has become the largest in the country. Unfortunately, the CLE glowered on ODL disregarding the fact that the world is now in a digital age especially, the unrestricted admission-policy unlike the conventional universities where admissions are based on nepotism and monetized; and in most cases purchased in huge sums thereby depriving the underprivileged the right to get admissions in disciplines of choice.
Apart from that, ODL offers unique opportunities different from the conventional techniques chiefly on flexibility thereby enables citizens get quality education amidst obvious conundrums. NOUN’s first set graduated with high hopes since 2012 but while awaiting admission quota to the Law School, met a shocker from CLE discrediting their certificates and arbitrarily denied them of entry into the facility wholly-owned by the federal government. Meanwhile, CLE is made up of practicing lawyers similar to lecturers in NOUN faculty of law. Resplendently, these graduates; mostly matured and engaged in various endeavours ignored the provocations, instead succumbed to allow justice prevail over the intimidations. Basically, the position of CLE cannot be justified on account that practicing lawyers from conventional universities lecture and examine NOUN law students with the same books and course-outlines.
Without a doubt, the key factor presented by the Council which centred on standardisation of the noble profession is long overdue, unfortunately, it was narrowed to ODL which is akin to ‘divide and rule’ approach whereby the deteriorating values in the profession so far are from products of the conventional universities. In other words,
CLE ought to look lengthily on how to improve the standard of legal profession instead of parochially tagging a particular university’s modes. The world is changing swiftly and Nigeria cannot be socially quarantined. Interestingly, on the one hand, most stuff from distance-learning are distinguished in the profession while on the other hand, several law-graduates from the conventional universities are still unable to get rid of the law school studies; hence, it goes beyond designation of universities but a cogent need for broad reforms.
Even if degree in law is to be pursued as secondary degree, it should be conceptualised on general applications. By the Council’s delays in admitting NOUN law graduates, innocent citizens who spent time and resources to complete course-modules comparable to their fellows in the conventional universities have been spitefully hindered from undergoing training for practice and enrolment to the bar knowing that in Nigeria, advocate and solicitor are fused, hence without enrolment to the bar, the basic tool for practice is denied.
This is the height of injustice, despotism and perniciousness. NOUN graduates should as of right be granted admission into the law school while the CLE and other stakeholders work concertedly towards improving on the system. The long years the innocent-victims have wasted at home after graduation is no way justifiable, rather jeopardizes their intellect when eventually cleared from the muddle. NOUN as a new innovation of the Nigerian government cannot exist without inadequacies; however, remedies shouldn’t be at the detriment of innocent third-parties.
Mr. Carl Umegboro, a public affairs analyst, wrote Lagos.