First and foremost, Justice H.I.O. Oshomah of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt deserves encomiums for doggedly concluding the long-drawn suit filed by law graduates of the National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN which challenged the Council of Legal Education over their obstructed admission into the Nigerian Law School. However, the judgment, archetypal of well-orchestrated calligraphy, is glaringly unpragmatic and aggregately falls below the bar of justice. It is a verdict against the beleaguered common man with colossal manipulations and dangerous implications.
Without mincing words, his lordship erred in his position that two accreditations; one from National Universities Commission and another from CLE coexist for Faculty of Law unlike other faculties in the universities. Indeed, this is strange, fallacious and aptly burlesque.
Perhaps, as NUC uncompromisingly and audaciously maintained that NOUN is duly accredited to run LL.B, the two-fold accreditation stratagem suddenly was conceived.
The court also goofed that the council does not share its powers with any other person, body or institution. The question is; could CLE discretionally admit persons without a law degree? If not, then, no absolute powers.
In Okonjo v Council of Legal Education, (1979) Digest of Appeal case: FCA/L/16/1978 delivered on the 12th March 1979 which his lordship largely relied upon, the contention was on ancillary requirements and not accreditation. Of course, the council has powers to refuse admission where applicants have substantiated records of gross misconducts prejudicial to the noble profession.
The above scenario is akin to a university refusing admission to applicants that meritoriously met JAMB benchmark in any faculty but with criminal records, and therefore unlike with NOUN’s case. The council’s powers to admit are restricted within the list of universities with NUC’s accreditation. For emphasis, Nigerian Law School is a federal institution and usually, NUC accreditations take into consideration all professional bodies’respective rubrics and standards, hence they function cooperatively contrary to the position of the court.
More worrisome are the submissions of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubarkar Malami, SAN against NOUN, a federal institution which the court relied upon to zero the plaintiff’s prayers. The AGF’s written address diplomatically paved the way for the incongruous verdict, sadly without adducing any previous memo to NUC or NOUN against the programme. This is the height of sabotage and betrayal.
Above all, the court strategically overlooked the taciturn war between NUC and CLE; instead, it magnanimously fashioned dual accreditations to skillfully play out the script in axing the plaintiffs.
Without a doubt, CLE makes regulations for the Nigerian Law School, but, such rules exist for its students whereas admission requirements are never different from provisions NUC earmarked for the legal profession. The basic academic requirements to become a lawyer, medical doctor, architect, engineer, accountant and other disciplines through Nigerian universities are clearly outlined by JAMB alongside professional bodies, including CLE.
Interestingly, all the above professions also undergo professional examinations for certifications akin to enrolment in the bar. It is therefore illogical, grossly partisan and extremely bizarre to regard or classify any degree obtained from universities whilst accreditation subsists to be deficient for career advancement or certification in Nigeria.
There is no doubt that the council sets standards, regulations and recommends candidates for practice, it is stringently through its bar examinations and code of conducts. Generally, any applicant with LL.B from any university accredited by NUC has met the basic prerequisite for admission into the law school. The primary duty of the law school is to train and scrutinize law graduates for practice. If after the training, bar examinations alongside the code of conducts assessment, a candidate performed below benchmark; that is a different ballgame. Admission into law school doesn’t guarantee call to the bar.
The decision of the Court of Appeal in Albert Omobolaji Adeogun v University of Ibadan & Anor (2012) LPELR-7825 (CA) that academic matters should be left for the academicians’ does not apply in this case; the dissimilarities are apparent. The contention specifically bothered on the fate of bona fide students that studied a law programme accredited by NUC. It wasn’t a battle challenging the council’s powers to review curriculum in the law school but alleged autocracy as CLE anachronistically refused their admission despite subsisting accreditation.
By generalizing the statement, it implies that students in distress can no longer run to the court but at the mercies of their management. By that impression, political matters should also be left for politicians; matrimonial issues for married folks and business transactions for businessmen.
On the way forward, President Muhammadu Buhari as the overall head could resolve the matter. Section 4 of Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, for example, provides thus: “Subject to this act, the Attorney General of the Federation may give the council directions of a general character with regard to the exercise by the council of its functions and it shall be the duty of the council to comply with such directions.”
Thus, the President can competently oblige the AGF to issue a directive to the council for NOUN’s admission especially for existing graduates while a roundtable with all stakeholders is set up for ultimate resolution of the quagmire.
Written By: Umegboro, a public affairs analyst from Lagos, Nigeria.