Allegations of examination malpractice at the Nigerian Law School were all in the realm of speculation until the Director General (DG) of the School, Professor Olanrewaju Onadeko (SAN), confirmed that some lawyers wrote examinations for law students, during the last annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital. Though he was criticized by senior lawyers for doing so openly, he said he rather deserves some commendations. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, the DG insisted that there was no better place to make the exposure than the largest gathering of lawyers in the country. He also spoke on other sundry issues involving the school.
Law students graduated this year without the certificate and this is happening for the first time during your tenure. What do you attribute it to?
Students who are called to the bar are given two certificates – one is called the qualifying certificate, which is issued by the Council of Legal Education after passing the final bar examinations at the Nigerian Law School. That is what the Body of Benchers considers in determining your initial eligibility to be called to the Bar. Then the second certificate is the Call to the Bar certificate and it is issued by the Body of Benchers. Without being unduly inmodest, the Nigerian Law School system works very well and everybody works to keep the institution running. It is the only institution you get into and you know the date you are graduating. It is also the only institution you leave with all your certificates. I am surprised at the allegation that students were not issued with certifcates. Certainly, not qualifying certificates that are issued by the Council of Legal Education. I am aware though that some students had issues with their Call to the Bar certificates in spellings and wrong insertions of names. Those were the issues we had, not that students were not issued with certificates. Out of the about 3000 that were called to the Bar at the ceremony (in July),those affected would be under 50 candidates put together. It is not an issue at such.
We have the council in place. When the Council of institutions were dissolved, the Council of Legal Education was excluded along with university councils. We got a letter from the government in respect of that, excluding the Council of Legal Education. What we don’t have in place right now is the chairman, and it is being attended to.
Without the chairman, how does the council run?
We have an acting chairman. The NBA president acts as the chairman. That is the tradition. We have had a meeting chaired by the immediate past president of the NBA, Mr.Austine Alegeh, SAN.
In Port Harcourt, during the last annual conference of the NBA, you announced that some people wrote examinations for law students and was criticized by some senior lawyers. What effort is the school putting in place to ensure that such things don’t recur?
The issue of examination malpractice is not a rampant issue at the Nigerian Law School and I will tell you why. Most of our students are well behaved. I think in the last few years, the level of diligence of our students has been visible and they have been well commended including by their lecturers. Students are now more sober, focused and they do what they are asked to do. On the issue of members of the legal practitioners coming to write examination for students, the school should be commended for discovering this. We cannot prevent malpractice totally, but we can curtail it. What we have done is that those who are affected have been reported to the Police and we are giving them every support, including financial support to ensure they are able to conclude their work. Investigation is still going on and we are in touch with the Police. We hope that the investigation will conclude and the matter goes through the judicial system.
Do you think it was an auspicious time to make such revelation at the conference?
I think that it was an auspicious time. That was the conference of all Nigerian lawyers. The core of the professionals gather once every year to discuss matters of interest to them and we don’t hold anything back in telling ourselves of the goings on in the profession. Where else could it have been said? I can’t think of a better occasion. And should there be those who may be tempted in future to go into such venture, they would have known that it is not the right thing to do because they would be discovered.
Why can’t we make law to be a graduate programme?
In my personal opinion, I think that the study of law is okay at it is. If you look at our heritage, we took this profession from the British where law is not a graduate programme. I have heard people mixing things up, even experienced people who should know well. In the United States, Canada, South Africa and some other jurisdiction, law is a graduate programme. Not only law, also medicine. You will need some other degree before you enroll for these courses. All well and good, they have their reasons for making it that way. For us here in Nigeria, law as we have it was never a graduate programme and has never been in the UK. So, I cannot understand why some people want to draw a parallel for two things that are not exactly the same. Americans have chosen to do as I noted and I think that it works for them. Imagine what it would be like to subject a Nigerian to four years in the University and then another four years in the law faculty and another one year at the Law School? It would take almost a decade studying law! The issue is for us to strengthen things by ensuring that standards are kept and that we produce lawyers that can function effectively in the 21st century.
There are backlogs of law graduates waiting to be admitted to the Law School. Would you still subscribe to the idea of assembling students together in campuses for the purposes of preparing for the bar examinations? Can’t faculties of Universities run the examination?
The issue as I said is one of tradition and also of statute. We are not operating by the rule of the thumb, we are guided by law. I don’t think that it is advisable that we do things the way it is done elsewhere, where the system works. Why do we need to leave the British system which works well here for a system that is alien to us in terms of mode of training? There is nothing wrong in what we are doing. Going back to your question that Universities should take on the job of the Nigerian Law School, how well have they fared in what they do? They are trying their best but we must not forget that the Unsworth committee of 1959 recommended the setting up of law faculties and the Nigerian Law School. Mr.Unsworth was the Attorney General of the federation then. Now, that mode of training has met its purpose. I do not think that the issue of changing it really arises.
But the Law School cannot accommodate all the law graduates
Yes, we can! We have six campuses and the existing and projected capacity of the Nigerian Law School can accommodate all the students expected to attend the institution for the foreseeable future.
But you still have a quota system. What is the reason for the quota?
I believe that what you are referring to is the quotas ascribed to the various law faculties by the Council of Legal Education. The quota is a product of an accreditation visit. The Council of Legal Education does accreditation visit and so does the NUC. The NUC approves the establishment of law faculties in the first instance. And when they go, they inspect the facilities in those faculties,including their libraries, their staff and other facilities. At the end, they determine the number to admit for training. That number is a product of what the facilities in place can accommodate. This is a professional endeavour and it is akin to what the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria and Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria do to Medicine and Pharmacy respectively.
If there is to be a legislation to improve the capacity of law faculties, to run this examination, would you subscribe to that?
It is not just about examinations. Law is a profession that encompasses attitudes, ethics, mannerisms, mode of speech, mode of dressing and interactions. These are things that are taught. It is only in the law school that we teach students table manners. We teach even how to propose a toast. We teach things that may appear mundane elsewhere but are very vital to our profession. Even the mode of dressing of Lecturers and Students of law stand them out. Moulding of true lawyers transcends the examinations in classrooms. That is the least. We are talking about a total person, a perfect gentleman, a member of the bar and a conscientious lawyer. That is what we do at the law school.
Why has it become very difficult for all the bodies in the legal profession to understand the difference between the open and distance learning programmes that the National Open University of Nigerian runs and the part time programmes?
That is a matter for the regulatory bodies in the first place. The two major regulatory bodies in the legal profession in Nigeria are the Council of Legal Education and the Body of Benchers. We also have the General Council of the Bar. It was the decision of those two bodies that law should be studied in the proper way and in an educational setting on full-time basis. That was the reason why part-time programmes were scrapped in regular universities in the 1990’s. Regulatory bodies regulate the professions and being creations of statutes, their decision should be respected.