By Adesina Wahab & Shina Abubakar
PEOPLE go to school to train to become professionals in different fields, and some professions require extra training and even qualifying examinations (after university education) to be recognised and accepted as a professional in such fields. One of the professions is law. Attending a university to obtain a degree in law does not suffice for one to be able to work as a lawyer in Nigeria. One must attend the Nigerian Law School to be called to the Bar and be recognised as a lawyer in the country.
However, those who read law at the National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN, are in a dilemma over what will eventually become of their certificates after spending five years to study law in that institution.
Current situation of NOUN law graduates
As at now, law graduates from NOUN are not being mobilised for the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps Scheme, NYSC, and are also not allowed to go the Nigerian Law School to be able to be licensed as lawyers. This is despite the signing into law in 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari of the NOUN Act that allows them to observe the NYSC scheme and go to the Law School.
While some graduates of the school opined that not being allowed to participate in the NYSC is not a problem for them since they have their own businesses, they expressed concerns about young adults that now see NOUN as their only option having spent years at home without being offered admission by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB. Abubakar Abdullatib Danharee and Olawoyin Olumide are some of the NOUN graduates who feel for the young ones to whom NOUN has become the only option to obtain university education.
Position of NOUN law graduates
Few days ago, NOUN students at the Osogbo Study Centre held a protest during which they called on the Federal Government and other appropriate authorities to mobilise them for the NYSC and also admit their law graduates to the Nigerian Law School. Addressing journalists after the protest, the President of the Students Union, Basiru Omotayo, asked the Federal Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission, NUC, to direct the managements of the NYSC and the Nigerian Law School to comply with the NOUN Act.
Act of injustice
He said the Act allows graduates of the distance learning centre to participate in the NYSC scheme and also gain admission into the Law School. The students threatened that they would embark on mass protest across the country should their demands be ignored. Omotayo said it was an act of injustice that graduates of NOUN could not have the same rights, benefits and privileges like their mates in conventional universities.
According to him, “Statistically, we (NOUN students) are the ones paying the highest amount of money as a federal university compared to other federal universities in the country; anything about National Open University is always delayed unlike our mates in other universities. It is no more news that the bill that allows National Open University graduates to participate in NYSC Scheme/Law School has been signed by President Muhammadu Buhari since December 4, 2018 but nothing has been done so far to implement it.
“The National Open University of Nigeria is a Federal Open and Distance Learning institution accredited by the NUC; the first of its kind in the West African sub-region. It is Nigeria’s largest tertiary institution in terms of student population. We pay heavily to afford National Open University terms and conditions as directed by NUC but we are denied certain things enjoyed by graduates of other tertiary institutions. I have seen a Nigerian graduate from National Open University from Republic of Benin serving in Nigeria, even with international treatment. I have also seen a graduate of NOUN that was denied employment due to lack of NYSC discharge certificate; it is not fair at all. This must stop. How can we spend heavily to get our degrees and companies within the same country would not recognise our certificates?
“We plead with the Federal Government to meet our demands in order to prevent spontaneous agitations across the country. NOUN has about 515,000 students and this country will not find it funny should we storm the streets in protest. We want NOUN 2020 graduates to be mobilised together with the 2020 Batch A. We have made efforts to meet with NOUN Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Abdalla Adamu but he has not been giving us audience. The VC recently replied to a mail we sent him and told us to approach some quarters and make our grievances known.”
Also, a graduate of law from Enugu Study Centre, John Ikechukwu, said it was unfortunate that despite promises from the vice-chancellor of the university, students have not been able to attend law school.
Why the current deadlock
A lawyer, Mr Tolu Ayodele, told Vanguard that the current deadlock could be attributed to a number of factors and issues. He listed the factors to include administrative and legal ones. “The Nigerian Legal Education Council wants law graduates from NOUN to come to the Nigerian Law School and start from Bar Part One, instead of the Bar Part Two that graduates of conventional universities do start from. The Bar Part One is usually for law graduates from outside the country, that is those who graduated from foreign universities. With that, they will spend one more year in the Law School.
“Also, the National Universities Commission wants them to spend seven years for their law programme because it is treated as a part-time programme. Like the first issue, the students are opposed to that too. They argue that they attend lectures almost on a daily basis. Recall that the NUC in 2013, cancelled all part-time law programmes run by universities in the country. Moreover, the issues of being mobilised for the NYSC, being admitted to the Law School and whether or not to extend the tenure of training to seven years are already in court. The matter is before the Supreme Court now and until it is finally decided, nothing may be done.”
With the situation now, a graduate of law from NOUN cannot metamorphose into a full blown lawyer.