By Anthony S. Aladekomo
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), has again re-stated his controversial call for the barring of law graduates of Nigerian universities who had third class and ordinary pass from admission into the Nigerian Law School.
This is the second time in about a year that he would be making the controversial call. He also added that the present practice wherein Law School graduands having 40% cut-off point are called to the Nigerian bar is unhealthy for the profession, thereby calling for a stop to it. If this call is heeded, it means that thousands of students in the Law School and our universities whose cumulative grade point average (CGPA) is currently abysmally low will have their hope of becoming lawyers dashed.
Mr. Mahmoud spoke on Tuesday, July 3, 2018, during the ongoing 51st Annual Conference of the Nigerian Association of Law Teachers (NALT) Conference taking place at the Nigerian Law School Headquarters Campus, Bwari, Abuja. He had been invited by NALT to contribute to the discussion of a session of the programme titled, “Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility: The Foundation of a Good Lawyer” presided over by Professor Epiphany Azinge (SAN). Other invitees who spoke during the session included Mrs Miannaya A. Essien (SAN), the Chairman of the NBA Section on Legal Practice; Mr. Seun Abimbola, the Oyo State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice and Vice Chairman of the NBA Section on Legal Practice; Mr. Yemi Candide-Johnson (SAN), the President of Lagos Court of Arbitration; and Mrs. Boma Alabi, a former President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association. The general theme of the conference is Justice, Law and Society, with the July 3 morning sessions majoring on legal education and ethics. Earlier in the day, a somewhat related topic, “Reimagining Legal Education: A Clinical Legal Education Workshop for Law Teachers” had been discussed, during which eminent law teachers like Professor Ayo Atsenuwa, the Dean of Law of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), and Professor Ernest Ojukwu (SAN), a top contender for presidency in the upcoming NBA elections, made some important contributions. Another contestant (for the office of the General Secretary) in the upcoming NBA elections, Mr. Jonathan Gunu Taidi, was also sighted at the sidelines of the event.
Demonstrating his determination and commitment to his stand, Mr. Mahnoud even disclosed that he had written to the Director-General (D-G) of the Nigerian Law School on the need to begin to implement his said recommendation barring such a category of university law graduates. He stated that the D-G has however replied that the Law School coul not do that, because there is no enabling law to that effect. But the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) said he strongly disagreed with the D-G because, according to him, the Law School could set its own standards. Apparently referring to some jurisdictions where only graduates can pursue a degree in law, he said it was time for Nigeria to upgrade its legal education like some other countries. He further said that an NBA committee on the reform of the legal profession in Nigeria has not only started working but gone to the UK, where it has met many legal profession regulatory bodies. He disclosed that their trip abroad showed that it is not only the Nigerian legal profession that has of recent times faced some challenges of misconduct. He nonetheless decried the high rate of alleged misconduct of lawyers in Nigeria as he disclosed that 1,800 disciplinary cases are on hand now. According to the NBA President, 120 of them are being treated while 81 have been referred to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC).
While most of the conferees believe that not just legal education but the legal profession and even the entire educational system in the country need urgent reform and sanitization, Mr. Mahmoud’s somewhat extreme call was probably a shocker to many of them, as many of them shouted “Aha! Aha!” when he threw the bombshell. Indeed, most of the conferees who spoke advocated the inclusion of professional ethics in legal education in Nigeria right from the university level. It was also agreed that not just the Law School and the university law faculties but the National Universities Commission (NUC) must collaborate in the current efforts to sanitize the general educational challenges in the country. Time will tell whether the extreme call of Mr. Mahmoud will be sustained by his successors or be implemented by the Council of Legal Education.