Some judges no longer in control of their court these days, says Fagbohun
With the emergence of COVID-19 and the approval of the use of virtual court hearing by the Supreme Court, the need for justice sector reform has become more imperative. A professor of environmental law and the Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU), Olanrewaju Adigun Fagbohun (SAN) in this interview with Assistant Editor, Law, and Foreign Affairs, JOSEPH ONYEKWERE declares that the reform is critical to ensure cases are not unduly delayed among other topical issues he expressed views on.
What is your opinion on justice sector reforms? How do we address it?
Justice sector reform is a critical issue that should be concern to every legal practitioner. A core reason why we have so much challenge with corruption and other vices in Nigeria today is that a person who has transgressed and fallen foul of the law knows that when he is eventually caught, he will use the magic of the court to escape justice, particularly if he is rich and able to afford a retinue of lawyers.
If a man is aware that when he engages in corrupt activities, within six months of his being arraigned in court, judgment would be delivered without him having an opportunity to delay the case for several years, while praying for the judge to die or be elevated so the case starts de novo, he would have a change of heart. All that time, some witnesses are already dead, or some other mishaps would have destroyed crucial evidence.
A lot of that is happening. Our justice system is one where a man who has stolen a goat gets severely punished because he cannot use the rigmarole of injunctions, adjournments and preliminary objections to circumvent the process. But the person who has stolen billions will get a slap on the wrist. That is the justice system that we have now. For as long as that is prevailing, it will be very difficult for the country to move forward. That is why reforms are critical. Reforms to ensure that cases are not unduly delayed.
We must give credit to our judges. Some people are quick to say that the judiciary is corrupt: you will always find the good, the bad, and the ugly in every system. In terms of the bad, it is that rotten apple that is, unfortunately, discrediting all. We have so many decent people on the bench. So many of our judges are overworking themselves. How do you explain a situation where a Judge has on his cause list on a daily basis over 20 cases, yet, we want him to be effective? It is difficult. At a point, it will become overwhelming. The judge will become tired because he is human.
In the context of reforms, we should bring technology to bear in support of the judiciary. We should sustain virtual court hearings where possible. Aside from bringing technology to bear, let us ensure that judges are given a decent life and a decent environment to function. If you go to some states outside Lagos, you will marvel at where judges are living. There was a time the plight of a Court of Appeal Judge was shared on the platform of Justice Reform Project of which I am a member. The premises were far from what you will call decent. How do you expect the judge to function? It will be extremely difficult.
A Judge should not have to worry about meeting bills for his basic essentials and living a decent life, otherwise, the system will be subjecting him to temptation. This is the reality of life. I am not saying that hardship is a reason for a judge to violate his oath of office. My emphasis is, it will be difficult for a judicial officer to remain focused and not be distracted if his standard of life is abysmal.
The NBA has a major role to play in advocating for a minimum standard of decency for judicial officers because it is only to whom much is given that much is to be expected. A judge will most likely develop health challenges because of the nature of the work, sitting in one place from 9 am to 4 pm, writing 24/7.
What medical insurance do we have for them? If a judicial officer knows that insurance is there to sort out his medicals and his car would be changed every five years, among others, he would not be under any pressure. If you make reasonable provisions for his dependents, these will insulate him/her from temptation. These are part of the things that justice reform should focus on. We should also give judicial officers, judicial assistants to do their research. As judicial officers are appointed, judicial assistants should be assigned to work with them.
A judge who has 10 judgments with so many other rulings to deliver with no support in terms of basic research work, it will be difficult to crucify him for regurgitating contents of documents filed and only writing one page of analysis. His/her goal is just to meet the “Returns” requirement of the NJC.
Another area that judicial reform must look at is the way judges are treated when allegations are made against them. We all know that some practitioners are bad losers. They feel that a case must be won by all means. When they lose an application or they lose a case, instead of going on appeal, the next thing they do is to write a petition on the very frivolous ground. These days, a number of judges are no longer in control of their courts. Unless a judge is fearless, he will be cowed by the antics of some unscrupulous counsel. Many judges are over careful just to avoid petition against them. When a petition is written against a judge, he would be responsible for his air ticket to Abuja whenever he is called to defend it. If he goes to Abuja and the sitting is aborted on that day, he will have no choice but to return to Abuja on the date to which the matter is next adjourned, all at his expense. How do you think a judge will give his best in such circumstances? It will be very difficult.
About financial autonomy, the argument is that the NJC as a Federal Institution supervises the judicial sector including those of the states while we profess to run federalism?
What are the responsibilities of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) of states? Every state has its own JSC. Most of the issues that currently go to NJC should terminate at the level of State Judicial Service Commission.
But the role of the JSC differs from that of the NJC?
The essence of having the NJC is to ensure that there is a consistent practice across the sector. They can monitor things and do oversight functions. But let the bulk of the work be done at the level of the state. Put in place mechanisms for monitoring to avoid abuse. State JSCs have powers of appointment, promotion, and discipline. Let us make these broad. When we over-concentrate power at the centre, it becomes a challenge. By the time NJC is taking petitions from all the states of the federation even with the best of will, there is a limit to how fast they can deal with those petitions. The same challenge that we have with the Supreme Court is what we have with NJC. It is not every appeal that must go to the Supreme Court.
Why will a mischievous tenant or landlord not be ridiculous in their outlook to settlement when he/she knows the number of years it would take to dispense with the case. At the high court, he will spend five years if not more. At the Court of Appeal, he will spend another 5 to 8 years and another 10 years at the Supreme Court. What are they fighting for? A property that has a total value of less than N50 million and running a course of 20 years in the courtroom. These are the things that will ultimately encourage people to resort to self-help.
So what reforms are you suggesting considering the identified drawbacks?
Reduce the concentration of powers at the centre. Let us review the things that we saddle the NJC with; let us ensure that the composition of the NJC is sufficiently robust to allow it take decisions that are dispassionate. Let state apparatus function more robustly and in ways that will reduce delay. If you have a petition against a judge in Lagos State, let the Lagos State Judicial Service Commission handle it. It must only go all the way to Abuja in exceptional situations. If a judge in Lagos state will be responsible for the Judicial Service Commission in Lagos, he will probably move from his base to Ikeja or Lagos easily. He can finish the proceedings the same day and go back to his house but if he has to go to Abuja, he will most likely spend a minimum of three days.
In adjudication, what matters and at what level do you want them to stop, maybe like and lord-tenant disagreement?
I fully subscribe to terminating a number of cases at the level of the Court of Appeal. Except as relates to the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, it is only when the question of law in a case is of great importance or there is a clear constitutional issue that should justify a case going to the Supreme Court. In this respect, the Supreme Court should have the power to select its caseload. When you have that kind of approach, the Supreme Court will function a lot better and practitioners will be more careful knowing their case will end at the Court of Appeal. If there is a fast-track of cases, a lot of mischiefs will stop and so also self-help. Why is it that people go to EFCC to recover debts? Why is it that people go to the police to recover debts? It is because of the delays experienced in courts. If we get it right with the judiciary, it will reposition the country. The moment a man knows that he cannot toy with the law and get away with it, he will behave better. That was why what happened very recently concerning the way provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act was construed was of serious concern for many. It was a huge challenge for me because I felt we were already beginning to make some progress in nipping the monster of delay, unwarranted adjournments and other frivolous applications for stay of proceedings in the bud. That for me was a huge drawback and it worried me that we are back to the starting point.
You are a professor of Environmental Law. We have issues with climate change as we speak today. How do you think Nigeria can address this?
Climate change is not something that we can run away from. COVID-19 revealed to us how the negative impact of humans in our treatment of nature will continue to pose significant challenges to us. Who could have imagined that all of us will sit in our different countries without travelling by air for two, three months? But that has been the reality of the past few months. So much of what we fly around to do can be done using technology. In terms of proactive steps, challenge of enforcement has always been a major issue for Nigeria. We must recognize that climate change undermines the full enjoyment of most, if not all human rights. Thus, not only must we ensure that these rights and other emerging principles of international environmental law are incorporated into our laws, but they should also be enforced. We have a number of sources, that we can draw from constitutional law, common law, other statutes, international law, that can provide a legal basis for enforcement and provide legal remedies.
Take the Paris Agreement for example, while it does not offer litigants a cause of action on its own, or impose limit on national emission, it makes it possible for litigants to place the actions of their government or that of private entities into an international climate change policy context. Enforcement is critical. There are different areas of activities that are impacting on the environment and each of these areas we must look at in managing climate change. With enforcement that is effective, we will change the perspective of people and also corporate bodies in terms of the way we relate with our environment.
Take basic lifestyle changes, we should not finish with COVID-19 and go back to some of those activities that are inimical to a clean the environment, otherwise, it will mean that we have learned no lesson. By the time the awaited vaccine comes, and we all feel we are safe, it should not become business as usual. We must think carefully before we tamper with nature. That is the essence of impact assessment laws by way of example. Indiscretion on our part would simply mean that we have not learned anything from COVID-19 if and this will take us back. That will not be right. If we don’t make it right with nature, nature will show us that we are just a part of creation. There would always be consequences for whatever we do to our natural environment.
Some of these international instruments you just mentioned, are there not some that require domestication? If there are, have they been domesticated in Nigeria?
The thing is Nigeria has always been involved in the implementation of the Climate Change Convention (the UNFCCC) and that is the major framework document. Nigeria was a part of it. All the different protocols and outcomes of regular Conference of Parties that came after that, Nigeria was part of the process. The problem is, it is one thing to domesticate an international law and another thing to tweak your national laws to work in tandem. A major problem that Nigeria has, which is a perennial issue we must address, is how to implement our laws in a consistent and coherent fashion. There are political and economic issues that also place a huge burden on Nigeria.
A critical source of greenhouse gas emissions is the oil industry. For Nigeria, the oil industry is the mainstay of our economy. Enforcing the rules will continue to pose a challenge if we are not careful. One thing we must critically look at as a minimum is a way the oil companies operate in their home country vis-à-vis the way they operate in Nigeria. When you look at the way a company in Europe operates in Europe, it’s not the same way they operate in Nigeria. Same goes for US companies operating in Nigeria. If they comply with the strict standards of their home country in their operations in Nigeria, we will not have the kind of degradation and pollution that is now confronting us in a place like the Niger Delta. The position that we have in the Niger Delta is not just indiscipline of enforcement. It is also a product of corruption to a very large extent.
Look at recent disclosures about NDDC? You ask yourself, why are we doing this to ourselves? Look at the humongous amount that individuals will say they have used for palliatives. The question is, how much have you spent on the communities? There was a time we went for impact assessment in a community in Bayelsa and I just casually noted, “in the night, this place will look quite good when the lights are on”. The community members told me that the electricity poles were installed more than a year ago and that the day government came to commission the electricity was the last day that the light functioned. Which meant that somebody just brought a generator, put it on, everybody danced around it, and when they left, they took their generator with them, and that was the end of it for the community. Why do we do this to ourselves? There was a judgment that was to have been enforced concerning the cleaning up of certain parts of the Niger Delta. For several years nothing happened until of recent when the government took it up. The question is, how well and how fast are they doing it? A lot of things are done in secrecy, a lot of things are not done transparently, and that is where the challenge comes.
What’s your reaction to the just-concluded NBA National Officers election? You are a critical stakeholder as a member of the Inner Bar!
For me, I will say that election has come and gone. There are without doubt errors of omission and commission. We should not sweep them under the carpet. However, in raising and talking about those faults, our goal should be to ensure that come next election, we achieve something better. We should not allow this last election to create a retracted problem that will again become an albatross on the Nigerian Bar Association.
Let us ask ourselves the relevant questions, and what lessons we can learn from what has happened. If there are things that we ought to have started early enough, for instance, collation of names of voters, looking at the process/modalities of the election, let us address these issues now, so it will not be three or six months to another election that we start the fire-brigade approach.
If we start another conflict, it will not be in the best interest of the profession. We have younger colleagues there struggling and trying to make ends meet in an environment that is tough and hostile. This is the time to think: what can we do for these younger colleagues who are looking up to the NBA leadership, and to their senior colleagues in the profession to make a difference. The moment we are not concerned about them, we are leaving the NBA in jeopardy because one day, they will ask those questions. Even now, they’ve started asking questions that we cannot answer. What we all should do is come together, put on our thinking cap, and think through how our profession can stand up to its name: a profession that is encapsulated in dignity, a profession that will be the watchdog for the society to ensure that justice is served to all. What can NBA do to support the judiciary? The NBA should be interested in ensuring that the lots of judges are made better such that judges are able to deliver justice without distraction. We cannot run away from the fact that members of the society are disillusioned by happenings in the judiciary. This is the time to focus on critical issues being raised about the judiciary.
In the area of legal education, we should ask ourselves what we can do to further ensure that those who are coming out now have relevant skills for jobs of the future, coming out of the legal profession. Gone are the days when your proficiency is in contract, tort constitutional law among other substantive areas of law. There are emerging jobs in the profession, and many of our young practitioners can benefit from these if we orientate them appropriately. Right now, we should be looking at how to run intensive courses in emerging new fields.
In respect of those emerging new fields, what role as an institution that has a vibrant Faculty of Law are you supposed to play in making this happen, at least in tweaking the curriculum for Law Faculty to accommodate fields like artificial intelligence, smart contract, cryptocurrency and the rest of them?
The beauty of it is, the NUC not too long ago put together a think-tank that is led by distinguished Professor Peter Okebukola and complemented by other very seasoned academic leaders and professionals to look at the curriculum of courses being run by universities. The team adopted an inclusive approach to review of the NUC Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS). They circulated questionnaires to all institutions electronically and across the board for all courses. By the time the new BMAS is issued, I am sure it would have narrowed the gap in what our curriculum is now and what it should be. I am aware the Council of Legal Education through the Law School has continuously reviewed the Law School programme too.
Of course, a lot more can be done, particularly in the area of giving practical experience and teaching the ethics of the profession. We must also look at how we can make the Institute of Continuing Legal Education much more effective with respect to affordable mandatory continuing legal education. Thus, it is not a task for the Universities and Law School alone. The NBA must also be involved. This way, it will not be at the annual general meeting or the yearly conference of the NBA that we are talking about how to improve on legal education, it will form part of the tradition of the system by the time appropriate structures are put in place and their activities properly monitored.
So until all these ideas are synchronized and put into the curriculum for legal education, we would continue running what we have?
I did not say that. When you look at what the universities are doing, from time to time, the universities organize special lectures to which they invite distinguished lecturers. Students also run similar programs. Already there is recognition that there are gaps. So, these efforts are aimed at bridging the gaps. NBA branches also run different programmes for young lawyers with the aim of bridging the knowledge gap. What I am saying, in essence, is while we work towards a coherent arrangement, the bits-and-pieces approach should not stop. We must not wait until we have fully developed a broad-based approach. A number of Law Firms also organize from time to time different programs for counsel in their Law Firms and for those who probably want to register for it. They encourage interested practitioners to be a part of it My advise to younger colleagues is to embrace these opportunities to gain knowledge. When you are equipped with integrity, knowledge, and skills, the money will come. It’s a question of time. If you do not have knowledge and requisite skills, but just chasing after money, it is no more than gambling, and at best, it will give the dregs of available jobs.
There is this argument about the law being a second-degree course, what is your position on that?
It will be idle of me to just sit here and say yes or no to making law a second-degree course! Some things should inform a particular approach, and this is one of the areas where the NBA can play a role. We should do a projection of the number of graduates that will be out in the next ten years, consider the reality on the ground (current unemployed graduates) and potential opportunities for gainful employment. The findings will guide what policies we should begin to think of and modalities for implementation. In the meantime, we would continue to expand opportunities to create gainful employment.
Are there new areas you can share with us?
Aside the areas you mentioned earlier, lawyers who are financially literate, or possessed good knowledge of tax matters, possessed good IT skills (including Artificial Intelligence), multi-lingual skills, knowledge of infrastructure and project management, etc. will thrive. Lawyers who indulge themselves in other fields of study, even tangentially, will be able to create opportunities for themselves because of the skills they have. Look at those who are blogging in the area of law. They operate in that field just as we have those who are into law reporting. They have followers and this is the attraction for those who visit their blogs to advertise products and other legal materials. It is not everybody that must go to court or work as a solicitor. You can carve a niche for yourself in an area of interest. Just as some have suggested that we make the law a post-graduate programme, some others have also suggested a split of the profession into barristers and solicitors like in the UK so that those who are barristers remain focused on advocacy, while those who are solicitors stay focused on legal documentation. For me, we can only make an informed decision after analyzing what we have on the ground, and the views of every critical stakeholder possibly through the NBA Branches. The findings from such empirical study are what should guide our decision.
There are those who believe we don’t need the Law School, that Universities can prepare students for the Bar Examination, which would be set by the Council of Legal Education just as it is done in Accounting, without assembling graduate students again for another year. The argument is that most of the facilities in Law School are overstretched and nondescript. What is your position on this?
Maybe because my background is in academia, that is why I always want to push first for empirical data before deciding on something. This is another issue where I think we should not just jump into a conclusion. What are the different perspectives? The moment a system is not working well in Nigeria, what we want to do is change the system and embark on another one. Why? Could it be the case that practitioners of the system are not sufficiently interpreting or implementing the drill of the system proposed to be abandoned? We cannot continue to waste resources on policy changes that are not rooted in incredible evidence. Any system can work well depending on how you apply and monitor the same.
You earlier remarked about the large number of young lawyers that qualify every year. Law Firms complain that the standards are just falling. Some are blaming Law Faculties. What is your reaction to the falling standard of Legal Education?
I see this differently. When our students finish here in Nigeria, and they proceed to Europe or the US for their Master’s programme, in 95 per cent of cases, they come out tops of their class. One of our students came back from Harvard not too long ago, and I asked her what will you say is the difference in how we taught you and how you were taught at Harvard? She said, here in Nigeria you fed me with everything, there at Harvard, they trained me to search for everything. The lecturer in Nigeria will attempt to teach the student everything, spoon-feeding them, but over there, they teach the student how to analyze problems and solve it. That is the pedagogical approach that our Institutions should also embrace and imbibe. We should embrace the inquisitor manner of teaching against lecture-based. We have also seen the good, bad, and ugly in our faculties, which are the same all over the world, but it is the proportion and percentage that differs. What I think is creating a problem is new developments that are emerging on transactions. Because we are not scaling up as quickly as we should in updating the knowledge of our students when they go to law firms, and they hand them a file some find it difficult to make their mark. Seniors who have been in the system for quite a while and had upscaled their knowledge over time will naturally be disappointed. The reality is that the younger ones will also have to go through some measure of training primarily because we are not upscaling knowledge at the university level in new and emerging fields of law as quickly as we should. The new and emerging fields are dictating and driving commercial transactions. That is the challenge that I earlier said we need to quickly find a solution to.
Is it the fear of this issue of a waning standard that is the reason the NOUN Law Graduates are finding it very difficult to be accommodated by the Council of Legal Education (CLE) to go to Law School?
I will be careful in voicing an opinion on this because I am not privy to why the CLE took the decision that those running the distance programme should not be allowed to go to Law School. I am aware of the issue but not privy to all the salient facts. However, my view is that NOUN is neither a part-time nor correspondence institution. I do understand the concerns of the Council of Legal Education with a programme that is not direct face-to-face interaction. But, that is where technology comes in to remove the obstacles. NOUN and CLE working together with NUC should urgently look at the concerns being raised by the CLE and address them. In other countries, distance learning universities offer law courses and their students qualify as lawyers, so why should ours be different? We should not keep the issue lingering for too long.
Your emergence as the VC of Lagos State University (LASU) seems to have brought peace compared to what it was before. What legacies would you want to be remembered for when your tenure ends?
The legacies I think I would want to be remembered for is that of a man who worked with other colleagues to bring stability to the University; that of a man able to institutionalize rule of law and due process in the University; that of a man able to resonate high-level scholarship (staff and students) in such a way that it became a culture of the university. And these I did with other colleagues in the university, working within the structures put in place by the enabling law of the university.
The LASU we inherited in January 2016 when I came in and which the 10th Governing Council was trying to get off the ground at the time was one where the crisis had already demoralized almost every stakeholder: members of staff were disenchanted, students were unhappy, the government was not getting dividends for the funds they were spending on the university, members of the Alumni had no pride in their Institution and the society was not having expected benefits from the institution. It was a situation where everybody had lost hope that the institution could still thrive. For successive years, it was always one crisis after the other. But today, it is a different song. In four years and nine months, not for one moment did we have a crisis. We are all so proud of the stability that we have brought to our university.
How did you pull that off because those before you appeared unable to do it?
I will not put it that way. Rather, I will say in different ways my predecessors made their mark. We are similarly making our impact. I run away from the word ‘I’. I always prefer the “we” mantra. That is, we all did it, because, in an environment like this, it is not possible for one man to do it alone. If you are not working together with others, you will not achieve much. I prefer to give a high dose of credit to several others who have contributed to the new dawn at LASU. In terms of those things that worked for us, I will say, foremost we allowed ourselves to be strictly guided by the law. Rule of law and due process served as our compass. These two concepts enabled us to be consistent when we make decisions. I must note here that Government allowed the system to work without undue interference. This is of utmost importance. Undue political interference in the affairs of the University will ultimately destroy that institution. We took decisions that everybody saw was not tinctured by favouritism. In such circumstances, people are happy even when the decision is against them. You find out most times the concern of people is not that you took a decision against them, but that in a similar issue, you took a different decision. That demoralizes people. But if you allow the rule of law to guide you, you will consistently make decisions in which everybody sees fairness and equity. When people see fairness and equity, even when it is not in their favour, they recognize it.
In the new LASU of today, you need not know anybody for you to get what is your right. You need not have a friend in the system before we treat you right. If you are entitled to something, the VC need not know you, the Deputy Chancellors need not be your acquaintance, the Dean need not know you; they will treat you in accordance with the law. Another thing that I will say we did that worked very well for us is that we allowed the Committee System to function.
The Committee System was hitherto working very well within the system, but somewhere along the line, it was abandoned. In recognition of the fact that the Committee System is what the university runs by, I, upon assumption ensured that all the statutory committees that ought to be in place were constituted. Some other committees that allowed people to play inclusive roles were also put in place, so much that if in your faculty you don’t know what is happening in the university at any given time, it is because that member of the committee from your faculty is not giving you appropriate feedback. Almost every faculty is represented in one committee or the other. Another thing that we allowed to work is the feedback system. For every policy that we put out, we had a mechanism in place that allows members of the University Community and the public to give feedback. That way, if the policy is hurting, we are quickly able to think through what is to be done to bring some succour. If it is working well, we will think of how to deepen the policy. The feedback policy helped a great deal. Another thing that I would say worked for us is that I operate an open-door policy. All you need do is book an appointment with my Deputy Registrar, indicating the purpose of the meeting. Depending on the subject, your slot could be between five to 20 minutes. I will keep you within your slot.
In this respect, whether a driver, cleaner, security operative, a professor, or non-academic, you will be allowed to see me. This is different from the regular reporting lines, through HoDs, Deans as well as heads of units. If you feel that your head of unit, HoD, or Dean is not listening to you, you can have a conversation with the VC. If after our conversation I need to nudge your HoD or head of the unit on your issue, I will do it in a way that will not result in further acrimony. Access to me reduces miscommunication. The greatest problem in a system is when there is miscommunication. Miscommunication is what breeds rumours and misunderstanding; because people do not have the correct facts, what they have in their hand is what they continue to bandy around. The moment they start that, it results in crisis and before you know what is happening, it could be too late. Further, every month, I meet with the leadership of the Student’s Union to discuss issues that may be of concern to them. Every quarter, we have a town hall meeting for all students where HoDs and Deans are in attendance. We call it the day of “full immunity”. All the principal officers are also in attendance. You can come to that town hall to voice your opinion and nobody will take it against you. We will guide you on the use of appropriate language, conduct yourself in a cultured way, but make the point. Students are not allowed to be abusive or to insult, they are encouraged to be factual. When we started it, the first two sessions, students had fears that there could be a backlash. By the time we had the third and fourth sessions with no negative consequence, students became very free.
Another thing that worked for us is the grievance resolution mechanism. If you have a grievance, we encourage you not to bottle up, but rather to voice it out so we are able to address it. One of the committees that we had in place was the Conflict Resolution Committee. If there is an intractable issue affecting members of staff either in their cooperative associations or between them as individuals, so far it is not a criminal matter, we will send it to the Conflict Resolution Committee. The Committee is comprised of elders from different faculties, and senior administrators from different units. The Committee will send a team of three or more to interface between the parties. I will say that this committee resolved 95 percent of cases of conflict between individuals. The Committee’s work greatly helped.
Another major factor that played a role in our Governing Council led by Professor Adebayo Ninalowo, a Professor of Sociology. Other members are seasoned retired and serving administrators, entrepreneurs, and business moguls. They were not scared of taking decisions, and neither were they motivated or given to sentiments or emotions. If there is a need to instill discipline, they come down hard and instill discipline. Where it has to do with welfare packages, they were very much interested in supporting the management to execute pro-staff policies, so much so that staff knew that they do not have to beg for their rights. If something is your right, you will get it without having to fight for it. If Management is not immediately in a position to avail you of your right, we will engage with you and explain to you how the same will be sorted out. The moment we are able to sort things out, you are the priority. For promotion, we were able to deal with it in that way. Other things that people were entitled to be dealt with in a similar way. Those were the things that helped greatly in managing the affairs of the university.
All of us are witnesses to what COVID-19 has done to the entire world, the Academic System not excluded. LASU is one of the higher institutions that engaged in online lectures. What were the challenges and experiences?
Kudos must go to our Visitor, the Governor of Lagos State, and the Special Adviser for Education (SAE) who is in charge of tertiary education for our quick migration to the online platform. Within two weeks of closure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all heads of tertiary institutions including the Lagos State University were invited to a Zoom meeting by the SAE where he shared with us the plan of the State Government to ensure our students are gainfully engaged during the period of closure. Good enough, in the last four years plus, the orientation of our students has changed: always ready to be constructive in their approach to issues and to embrace anything that will add value to the institution. I must express my appreciation to all our lecturers who uploaded their lectures on the online platform. I will not deny the fact that there were some challenges, which is natural when you are bringing up something new. But as the challenges were coming up, we were also taking steps to address them. One thing we recognized at the very early stage was the energy challenge. The other involved data. Data can be expensive for students. The approach we adopted to meet these two challenges is for the Lecturers to upload their lectures with voice-over, and the students can go online at their convenience to download the materials.
In the area of examination, we are starting with post-graduate students. Our MBA students started their examination online in the first week of August and it would run for about three weeks. We have been able to achieve the conduct of examination that is not only premised on objective questions but, also subjective questions (essay, short answers, and scenario questions). The beauty of the software that we are using for the examination is that we can also invigilate real-time and do the plagiarism checks. So even in the confines of their homes, we are able to monitor all the students’ activities throughout the examination. If anybody is helping a particular student, we see it, and we note it. If we desire, we’ll call the student and let him/her know that we are watching. We are able to invigilate examination in real-time as if you are in a physical hall. So that helped greatly. Senate meetings did not stop, we have continued to hold our statutory meetings, and other special Senate meetings. Management meetings did not stop, Faculty Board meeting did not stop, every activity of the university has continued. We have moved from a face-to-face meeting to using technology to handle the affairs of the university, and it is working well. I cannot count the number of management meetings that we have had. I am sure we have probably had about 8 to ten Senate meetings at different times. When Deans, Provosts,, and members of Management have meetings online, we include the leadership of the students’ union and the faculty leaders in discussing areas of concern to them. We are also able to disseminate information to them and to take on board perspectives of the students in terms of the challenges they are facing with the platform that we were using.
The software you used for the Postgraduate Students, are you still going to deploy it for the Undergraduate Students?
This is our plan because it is clear that the new normal is here with us now. We are not likely to go back to the pre-COVID-19 period. It is offering us the opportunity to quickly change our ways and engage in what will ultimately give all of us convenience. We have made a submission to the government on our plan to re-open, beginning with final year students that are in 600, 500, and 400 level students. Thereafter, the 200 and 300 level students will come in and when they are through, the 100 level students will come in. We have structured the timetable such that at every point we can maintain social distancing and also comply with other regulatory directives of the government. We will use a hybrid of face to face and online lectures particularly for large classes like GNS. A lot will change in the dynamics of the management of our university.
What do we expect within the educational system Post-COVID-19? Even if everything returns to normal, how will experience gathered with the use of technology impact the system going forward?
As I stated earlier, we will continue to leverage technology post COVID-19, particularly for us as a multi-campus university. By way of example, in times past, when we have our meetings, the Provost from the College of Medicine together with Deans of Faculties from the College and their HoDs will come to the main campus at Ojo for Senate meetings or meetings of the Committee of Provosts, Deans, and Directors (COPDD). Same with the Deans of Engineering and the School of Agriculture from our Epe Campus. That will no longer happen. We have all keyed into virtual meetings going forward. It is the same way for several interactions with students. Post-COVID, I expect that we will continue to leverage technology. The name of the game has changed.
Many judges are over careful just to avoid petition against them. When a petition is written against a judge, he would be responsible for his air ticket to Abuja whenever he is called to defend it. If he goes to Abuja and the sitting is aborted on that day, he will have no choice but to return to Abuja on the date to which the matter is next adjourned, all at his expense. How do you think a judge will give his best in such circumstances?
The essence of having the NJC is to ensure that there is a consistent practice across the sector. They can monitor things and do oversight functions. But let the bulk of the work be done at the level of the state. Put in place mechanisms for monitoring to avoid abuse. State JSCs have powers of appointment, promotion, and discipline. Let us make these broad. When we over concentrate power at the centre, it becomes a challenge
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