CHUKWU DAVID reports on how the move by the Senate to create six additional campuses for the Nigerian Law School met stiff opposition during a public hearing in the National Assembly
There are presently six campuses of the Nigerian Law School scattered across the different geo-political regions of the country, to serve the needs of Law graduates from various universities within and outside the country, who have to attend the Law School for a compulsory one year professional training in order to qualify to practice.
The Act that originally established the Law School in Nigeria in 1962, only set up one Law School in Lagos but as the country’s population increased and more people opted to study Law, the campus became grossly inadequate, leading to establishment of other campuses to meet the need. However, with the ever-increasing number of Law graduates from Nigerian universities as well as foreign universities, who endlessly struggle to secure admission into the Nigerian Law School for them to qualify as legal practitioners in the country, it further became manifest that the existing campuses can no longer sustain the demand.
Consequently, some members of the Senate saw the need for a corresponding increase in the number of campuses, to clear the backlog of Law graduates waiting to be admitted to the Law School for their professional training as well as to cater for the upsurge in the application for intake into the Nigerian Law School on yearly basis.
This explains why Senator Smart Adeyemi (APC, Kogi West) came up with the bill which is seeking to amend the Legal Education Consolidation Act 2004, titled, “Legal Education (Consolidated etc, Amend-ment) Bill 2021,” to amend the extant law to address this need When the Senate wanted to pass it for Second Reading, Adeyemi, in his lead debate on the bill on October 15, 2021, said that it had become necessary to establish six additional Law School campuses to cater for yearly increases of law graduates seeking admission into the six available law school campuses.
He said: “According to the admission quota of Law Students allocated to all these universities per year, 5640 students are admitted yearly into their Law faculties. In his remarks at the public hearing on Monday November 15, 2021, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, explained that the amendment would also bring about reform in the legal education and encourage conducive learning environment for both the students and teachers at the Nigerian Law School.
He also noted that one of the salient intentions of the bill was to ensure that the establishment of additional campuses for the Nigerian Law School should be in line with statutory requirements in order to guard against proliferation of campuses across the country without due process. However, this proposal by the Senate to create additional six campuses of the Nigerian Law School, faced serious opposition, and indeed outright rejection by some stakeholders during a public hearing on Monday at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja.
The bill proposing to establish the campuses were practically rejected by the Council for Legal Education, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and some senators who attended the public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters. Former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and a former governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Seriake Dickson, in their contributions at the hearing, called on their colleagues to be cautious on the bill.
Ekweremadu particularly warned against politicising legal education in Nigeria, saying that establishment of new campuses or law schools should be left at the discretion of Council for Legal Education as empowered by the Act that set it up in 1962. Also, the National President of Nigeria Bar Association, Olumide Akpata (SAN), said that the move was unnecessary as the existing six schools were grossly underfunded before the intervention of Rivers State Government, which constructed a well-equipped campus in Port Harcourt. “With required infrastructure, the existing campuses of the Law School across the country are enough to accommodate thousands of Law students graduating from the various universities.
“The Council for Legal Education is the institution empowered by law to set up a new campus on the basis of need assessment and not political considerations driving the move for establishment of additional six across the six geo-political zones. “Besides, resources of the Federal Government which are wearing out cannot help in putting in place such campuses let alone sustaining them.
What is required from the Senate and by extension the National Assembly, is to by way of Appropriation, team up with the executive for adequate funding of the existing law schools,” he said. Another strong opposition against the bill came from the Chairman of the Council for Legal Education, Emeka Ngige, who said that the Council is totally opposed to the idea because of the deplorable conditions of most of the existing Law School campuses due to gross underfunding.
“The deplorable condition in which students at the Yenagoa Law School Campus are studying is worse than what prisoners in Ikoyi Prison are experiencing,” he said. He told the lawmakers that they would shed tears if they visited some of the existing campuses and see the deplorable conditions in which students and lecturers were living. Ngige also accused the National Assembly of trying to subtly usurp the powers of the executive, vested in the Council for Legal Education to create campuses of the Nigerian Law School, where necessary.
“The move by the Senate through this bill is more or less subtle usurpation of the functions of the Council for Legal Education. Any need for establishment of a new Law School campus, should by law, be routed through the Council for Legal Education as exemplified by the Rivers Model,” he stressed.
Earlier, chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, who spoke in favour of the bill, explained that the legislation sought to amend the extant Act in order to make provision for increase in the number of the Nigerian Law School campuses from the current six to 12. Other Senators who spoke in favour of the bill including Abiodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South) and Kashim Shettima (APC, Borno Central), argued for the establishment of the proposed campuses for accessibility of legal education by concerned Nigerians.