The 4th October, 2017 judgement of the FHC Port Harcourt is a big halt to the journey embarked by the NOUN Law graduates to their dream land the NLS.
A halt because the plaintiff were not expecting such a devastating judgement from the judiciary which they ran to for succour as the last hope of the common man, believing that their plight will be resolved by the court on grounds of equity as innocent students who were assured of admission into NLS by NOUN after NUC’s accreditation.
A thorough perusal of the judgement presented three key issues for determination
1. The Legal Education (Consolidated) Act which empowers the body to admit students into NLS.
2. NOUN operated a “Part time, correspondence and distance learning law programme” contrary to CLE’s regulations and standard.
3. Matters of academic should be handled by academicians
Without prejudice, issue one is being arbitrarily exercised by the CLE to frustrate a lot of institutions and students because no one monitors and controls its powers. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is what many have suffered in the past, presently and in the future to come. This singular act has made prominent lawyers and Nigerians to call for each school to have its law school so that CLE will not operate as a monopoly to continue to inflict pains such as regulating the number of students to be admitted, exorbitant fees, wrong marking scheme, unjust treatment of students etc.
NOUN as it stands has the capacity of establishing its law school if need be and that will suffice the problem once and for all.
On issue two, most of the outstanding lawyers in Nigeria did correspondence law programme to become what they are. The world is fast embracing ITC based studies and yet the court aligns with the CLE’s conservative approach to education. The National Assembly in a bid to sustain and improve NOUN recently amended school’s Act which should be appreciated by all.
The question that borders me so much is that did the NUC take cognizance of the Part- time programme operated by NOUN before it accredited the law programme? Furthermore, did the CLE past any “emptor” in its blog to guide prospecting students, sponsors, parents and the general public? If this was done earlier, no student would have enrolled in the programme as prevention is better than to cure. The NLS came to realise this of recent and pasted it on its blog in 2015 after the successful graduation of NOUN Law students in 2013.
NOUN and NUC having realised this costly error and the challenges involve honourably suspended the programme to give room for an amicable resolution but snubbed by CLE.
On issue three, that “matters of academic should be handled by academicians”. Does this implies that even in the face of intimidation, unfair treatment and injustice meted out to innocent students, the court will not exercise its statutory role as an obiter in the temple of justice to resolve disputes? This is worrisome.
The most shocking aspect of the judgement was the court’s silence on the poor innocent students who have spent money and time with the aspiration of becoming lawyers. Even though the court is not moved by emotions or sentiments, the future of the students should be a matter of concern to the judiciary and the nation.
A judgement of this nature should have a direction towards correcting identified irregularities with a view to improving the system for the good interest of the affected law graduates and the society at large. Therefore, for his lordship to be silent on the future of the law graduates is very heart touching.
In the suit: BETWEEN KAYODE BELLO V. COUNCIL OF LEGAL EDUCATION AND INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE, His lordship, Justice Quadri of the FHC professionally advised the parties to reconcile and inter lia.
The above judgement has a purpose. Obviously, he did that for the future good of the student and to save the CLE from embarrassment what seems to be a fight between David and Goliath before the world.
With due respect , the least l expected from the his lordship was a similar one in the interest of the innocent students even though CLE was right and NOUN, NUC were wrong based on the irregularities mentioned and adjudicated on.
This is a clear case of a conflict between the” Common law and Equity” where equity ought to have prevailed to rescue an innocent party from drowning.
As it stands the NOUN Law graduates are in a quandary on how to further approach the matter to a logical conclusion.
Finally, it is worthy to state that law is not like engineering and medicine that people should envisage fear of risking lives. It is purely an art that lies on talent for a practicing lawyer to survive. You win cases base on self development, therefore l see no much importance of the NLS as a mandatory prerequisite for lawyers. If a fake lawyer who did not pass through the NLS could practice and win cases in the Supreme Court, others can even do better.
However, the CLE should not view the suit as a challenge or test power by the NOUN law graduates, rather as a noble institution it should allow room for administrative settlement.
GIBSON OGBEINIAMA writes from Otukpo, Benue State.
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A Report Of The Judgement Of The 16 Divisions Of The Court Of Appeal In Nigeria