Olanrewaju Onadeko of Nigerian Law School

Cheating in public examination is one evil still treated with kid gloves in the country. The upshot is that the phenomenon has moved from the lower to the upper reaches of our educational ladder, such that even the Nigeria Law School is now hobbled by it.

The Director-General of the NLS, Olanrewaju Onadeko, put this in the front burner at the Nigerian Bar Association’s recent annual general meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where he lamented that some lawyers were caught sitting this year’s final bar examination for students in the school. He urged the NBA to invoke the necessary sanctions against such errant lawyers. The number of the cheats involved is not known as yet. The public needs to know as this may not have been the first of such malpractice.

Whatever professional chastisement that might be visited on the culprits, it is obvious that a clear case of impersonation has been established; and the law should be made to take its course, as enshrined in Section 484 of the Criminal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990. It states, “Any person who, with intent to defraud any person, falsely represents himself to be some other person, living or dead, is guilty of felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years.”

The Director of Administration of NLS, Bwari, Abuja, Elizabeth Max-Uba, said that those found cheating faced dismissal, citing the case of a male student nabbed copying pre-programmed answers from his wristwatch. She observed, “We have had candidates involved in exam malpractice being barred for five to 10 years by the Council of Legal Education…. You will have to serve out your punishment before you are allowed to re-sit the exam or, depending on duration of the punishment, you will have to reapply to the Law School.”

But such measures do not go far enough. This is a matter that ought to have come to public knowledge through criminal proceedings in court against both the lawyers and students involved, rather than as a report to the NBA. This action should be initiated without further delay, if only to embed in our system, the rectitude of punishment for criminality and for it to act as a deterrent to such depravity in future.

However, the law school is not the only place where academic fraud is perpetrated. School certificate examinations conducted by the West African Examinations Council are regularly soiled with leakages. The most notorious was that of 1977, which was investigated by a Federal Government tribunal. Massive cancellation of results trailed its report. Routinely, universities sack lecturers and expel students for being involved in examination malpractices.

Despite these revulsions, the vice is still very much with our educational system, evidenced in the WAEC ban of 193 schools nationwide in 2012 from participating in its examinations for two years. Still, 60 schools in Lagos State were indicted for the same offence this year. It is unfortunate that the shock and outrage the 1977 fraud elicited do not happen again each time students dabble in malpractices to pass their examinations because of the collapse of societal values and involvement of parents. For Nigeria to get a handle on this quagmire, moral rearmament and de-emphasis on paper qualification have to be embraced. In other societies with strong institutions and values, the problem is not solved by mere dismissal of a culprit from school. In China, the offence attracts a seven-year jail term.

No doubt, cheating in the bar examination bodes ill for the future of legal education and practice in Nigeria. Senior lawyers have been complaining of the declining standard of legal practice, ranging from poor advocacy and unethical behaviour from members of the bench and the bar. This corrodes the integrity of the legal profession.

However, given the critical role of the legal profession in national development, everything should be done by the NLS, Council of Legal Education and the NBA to arrest this drift. A cheat in law school is likely to continue doing so in practice, even as a judge. Therefore, the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, was spot-on when he advised the CLE in July to restructure legal education for it to be at par with international standards. He said, “This is an institution where we teach the law, teach character and teach discipline. But the declining rate of law education in the country calls for concern.”

Established in 1962 to provide professional training for would-be lawyers, the NLS has undergone politically inspired metamorphosis, evident in its present multi-campus structure located in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Enugu, Yola and Yenagoa.

There has been a disturbing high rate of failure in the bar examinations, especially in 2014, when over 3,500 students failed, which might have driven the indolent to resort to cheating in order to pass. But the authorities are quick to warn those who simply regurgitate what they have been taught, immerse themselves in social media and other trivia at the expense of hard work, not to expect to be rewarded with unearned certification.

However, this ugly trend can be checked if restraint is evinced in approving law faculties. Certainly, the proliferation of universities, which churn out the entrants to law school, has not helped matters.

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