Why do many students fail the Bar examination at the Nigerian Law School? Director-General Olanrewaju Onadeko tells Eric Ikhilae how to improve performance and plans to modify the school’s curriculum.
What is your assessment of the performance of students in this year’s Bar examinations?
The results of the Bar examinations were released last Thursday. There were two examinations. One was held in April. That was the Bar re-sit examinations. The second was Bar examination for the April 2014 set.
What was responsible for the improvement?
One factor that we believe had contributed to this improvement was the mandatory eight-week revision course. The Council of Legal Education (CLE) prescribed that every student, willing to undertake the re-sit examination, should come back to school and go through the eight weeks’intensive coaching period.
That was held between February and April of this year, before their examination. I think the result was because of the intensive training for those who are yet to pass the Bar final examinations after one or more attempts.
What are the details of the results?
For the regular students, that is, those who came in April 2014, their performance was 68.5 per cent outright pass, 2.9 per cent conditional pass, with 28.6 percent not making it.
The total number of those who sat for the examination is 2,852. Of that number, four made First Class, 109 Second Class Upper, 418 came out with Second Class Lower and 1, 422 passed. Eighty-three had conditional pass, while 815 were unsuccessful.
That is a good result. Put together, a little over 70 percent passed. We are happy for the First Class candidates in particular and other candidates that passed the examinations.
Their Call-to-Bar will be held here in Abuja from October 20 to 22. Interestingly, of the four First Class candidates, three are women. So, it appears the women are doing better than the men at the top level. We hope the men will not allow the women to overtake them outrightly in the near future.
What major innovations have you introduced in the training of students since you assumed office as the DG?
Yes, we have put in place several improved mode of training. There is what we called class room solution, which is being put in place for us by the Nigerian Communication Satellite,which is a parastal of the Federal Government, to enable us have total link with our campuses.
That means, no campus will be deprived of the expertise of the members of the profession, who may come to the school, in a structured manner. We plan to do it to interact with the students. The presentation will be held and the students from all the campuses can be part of it, no matter which of the campuses, irrespective of the campus the programme is being beamed out.
Now, that is going to be useful for us. Hitherto, some campuses have been at a disadvantage, while others are so lucky. Expectedly, Lagos and Abuja campuses have always had the benefit of the senior members of the profession, either from the Bar or the Bench coming to share ideas with our students.
Other campuses have not been so lucky. Though they do have their own fair share. Most law firms in Nigeria are located in Lagos, Abuja, Port Hacourt and Kaduna. It is always easier for practitioners and other members of the profession to be in Lagos and Abuja for obvious reasons.
So, we are bridging that gap now, in which case, all students of the Nigerian Law School will have the same level of exposure to the expertise of these senior members of the profession.
Are there plans to modify the school’s curriculum as well?
Yes, we are also restructuring our curriculum, to enable the students to benefit more. The important thing is that, we want to ensure that those lawyering skills, which they need to function as legal practioners are transferred to them. This is now being done in a manner that involves them.
We are going to enhance the internship period, during which they are assigned to law firms and courts to understudy the rudiments of the profession in a manner that can be considered as practical. You will find out that it is useful.
We are doing it in a more structured manner, with adequate supervision, to be sure that those three months, within their programme here at the Law School, is productive.
We have, during debriefing exercise, which we conduct after the period of internship, found that there is a disparity in the level of exposure that our students get when they go out.
For the courts, it is easier to monitor. We must commend our judges; most of them have been very wonderful. They take on the students. They even pause to explain to them what is going on in the courts and they ask them questions at the end of the day. Some even set examinations for them.
The same goes for law office attachment. We commend the law firms for their input and cooperation.
We have now decided to engage law firms to know what they expect of our students at the point of leaving the law school. This came about when we realised we are doing what the law wants us to do. We feel we should not cut out the recipients of our products.
There is a committee in place to engage law firms in Nigeria. They have been divided into three tiers. Specifically, we are looking at the expectations of the law firms about our students after their call to Bar. When we get the information, we will come back to the drawing board to analyse them.
Parents are concerned that their wards do not do well in Bar exams, whereas the same students came tops in their universities’examinations. Are differences in the mode of learning at the universities and the Law School?
I don’t think there is really any disconnect between the performance of a student in the university and the Bar vocational training stage at the Nigeria Law School.
Indeed, if you take a look at our top students here, they take a similar pedigree from their universities. And if you go further to their secondary school, you will discover it is a consistent pattern of self-evolution and development in the legal studies.
In the university, questions are asked in ambivalent manner, they (students) may be given a particular scenario or event and be asked to comment or discuss.
But here, the questions come in a way to draw your knowledge to solve problems. You must understand the principles and then, of course, the relevant case law and statutory law to proffer logical answers that will stand you in the good stead.
So, if you don’t migrate from the ambivalent way of answering question in the university, where you can regurgitate what you are taught in the classroom, it may be difficult. From the regurgitation, the examiner in the university can find some answers relevant to the questions, but here, it is very empirical and the marking scheme is there to guide us. We have a standard marking scheme that is prepared by the examiners. That is what every marking script uses.
So, if you are off point, or you do not understand what the question is or your response is devoid of the content expected, you are not likely to do well. Here, you must acquire the knowledge. It is not a matter of crash programme or working on past questions.
What other factors, do you think, hinder students’performance here?
You will see some students, who, rather than reading legal books or literature, go about with past questions and answers. By that, you are already limiting your scope of advancement.
What this has shown us is that some students decide to rewrite questions; they answer what they have already ingested. You know, when you are dealing with an examination that is empirical in nature, you are going to run into challenges. I think that is one of the reasons that affect the students at that stage.
The first thing we advise them, when they are coming in, is the difference between the approach in the university and the approach in the Law School. When you comprehend that, the rest will be smooth sailing.
You must work hard. You cannot shy away from that. You must understand what you are taught, to give solutions to any given problem. Every examination at the Nigerian Law School is akin to a lawyer sitting down with a client and listening to the client’s story and proffering solutions to get relief for the client.
As much as possible, we ensure that students understand what they should be doing well before examinations.
What is your reaction to the observation in some quarters that the standard of legal educations is falling?
Well, that is correct. We heard commentaries and other suggestions in like manner. I think there is no doubt that, when we look at the past, we are likely to conclude that the standard is falling. I will not contest that totally.
Whichever way we look at it, the lawyers of today have access to more information and knowledge than those that preceded them for obvious reasons. It easier now to undertake research in Law, materials are available online. You can visit several legal platforms from where you can garner knowledge. And it is so easy; even cases decided in our courts here in Nigeria are available on some of these platforms almost immediately.
Knowledge has become common place and copious in nature than what it was in my own time. To that extent, and for those who are hardworking, diligent and interested in learning, the horizon is very broad and they have all at their disposal.
Are there challenges that inhibit the school’s effective performance?
There are a lot of challenges. Funding is there; we love to have uniform infrastructure in all our campuses, but that is something we are yet to achieve.Some campuses, especially the younger ones still need to be assisted to come up.
In the last 12 months, we have had to focus on security in our campuses, especially Yola and Kano campuses. I am happy to tell you that the two campuses are now fully fenced and we have adequate security now.
We need more infrastructure. Apart from Lagos and Yenagoa, most of our other campuses are not located in the heart of the city. It is a distance to law courts and law firms. We have lost a number of students to road accidents, which we are not happy about.
So we encourage our students to avoid moving around, except it is necessary. Accommodation in the campuses far away from the city becomes imperative. We need more vehicles for our students. Water supply is another problem. Poor staffing is another issue.
Our new campuses started without recruitment of new staff and that meant we have to deploy staff in existing campuses. There are manifold issues to discuss in this realm.