Re-imagining legal education in Nigeria

I am delighted to have been invited to be a part of this Summit. I thank the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Olumide Akpata, for inviting me, and the Proprietor of Afe Babalola University (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola, CON, OFR, SAN
Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN)
Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN)

I am delighted to have been invited to be a part of this Summit. I thank the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Olumide Akpata, for inviting me, and the Proprietor of Afe Babalola University (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola, CON, OFR, SAN, and the entire Management of Afe Babalola University, for collaborating with the NBA to deliver this great Summit, and for hosting the Summit.

I especially commend the leadership and membership of the Nigerian Bar Association for putting together a summit of this nature at such an auspicious time, aimed to assist in advancing legal education in Nigeria. As we all are aware, the NBA is a major stakeholder in the legal education project in Nigeria. First, and pursuant to the provisions of section 2(1) (e) and (f) of Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, Cap L10 LFN 2004, the NBA President and 15 other NBA representatives are members of Council of Legal Education.
Second, by virtue of Article 3 of the NBA Constitution, 2015, among the major objectives of the NBA are promotion and advancement of Legal Education, Continuing Legal Education, Advocacy and Jurisprudence, and Promotion of co-operation between the NBA and other National Institutions. Such national institutions include the Council of Legal Education/Nigerian Law School, Universities and institutions engaged in legal education of aspirants to the Nigerian Bar.

Third, most, if not all law students in Nigeria will end up as Legal Practitioners and as such members of the NBA and of the legal profession in Nigeria; all members of the Bar and the Bench were at one time or another law students. By virtue of section 4(1)(a) of the NBA Constitution, all persons called to the Nigerian Bar and duly enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria as legal practitioners are members of the NBA.

Accordingly, progress or otherwise in legal education directly impacts the legal profession. Whatever happens in the legal education sector should be of serious interest to the NBA because failure in the former would seriously hinder progress, effectiveness and continued relevance of the latter in the country.

Furthermore, under under Rule 11 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria, the NBA has some roles to play in the requirement of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education in the profession. Continuing Legal Education is an offshoot of the legal training of aspirants to the bar. Moreover, the NBA President is next to the Attorney-General of the Federation in the leadership hierarchy of the Nigerian Bar, which comprises former law students, all Law Teachers, heads of the Council of Legal Education, the Nigerian law School, the various Law Faculties in Nigeria, the heads of other law legal education training institutions in Nigeria.
Finally, the NBA President in the absence of a substantive Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, plays the role of the Acting Chairman. There is therefore no doubt that the NBA, being a critical stakeholder in the legal education project in Nigeria, has the locus to organise a summit of this nature.

Legal education which comprises in the education of individuals in the principles, practices, and theory of law, is dynamic and all-encompassing, cutting across several jurisdictions, concepts, processes and stages, the overall aim being that of serving society liberally by imparting general and cultural education to law students to make them good law-abiding citizens, as well as instilling in them the significance and relevance of constitutional democratic culture. According to Harvard Law School’s Committee of Legal Education, legal education lays emphasis on training men for the legal profession, and providing centers where scholars might contribute to an understanding of law and government and participate creatively in growth and improvement of law, ethics and governance.

To this end, legal education in the 21st century must be one that effectively responds to the economical, technological, and societal shifts that happen at an ever-increasing pace. It must be an education that sets children up to succeed in a world where more than half of the jobs they will have over their careers do not even exist yet (Sara Hallerman, Colon Lewis, and Brad Dresbach).

Finally, as recommended by the New Teaching Curriculum in the Nigerian Law School, 21st century legal education in Nigeria is also aimed at producing lawyers who would be in a position to measure up to contemporary benchmarks and international best practices in the legal profession.

I am aware of the efforts so far made by the Council of Legal Education, and the Management and Teachers of the Nigerian Law School, as well as by past and current NBA leaderships towards encouraging a strong partnership between the Bar and the Council of Legal Education/Nigerian Law School in the practical training of aspirants to the Nigerian Bar with a view to meeting the needs of the 21st century. I recognize that a lot of progress has been made in this respect. I salute Law Teachers in the Law School, in the various law faculties and other other institutions that offer legal education in Nigeria. In their individual and collective capacities, Law Teachers in Nigeria have contributed towards the academic, professional and personal development of lawyers and law practice in Nigeria. However, a lot still needs to be done.
Legal education needs to continually and consistently develop to remain relevant to the needs of a dynamic society. There is need for continuous and concerted efforts by all stakeholders at strengthening existing partnerships and collaboration with a view to improving on the quality of legal education. There is also a need for reorientation in our profession and there is no better place for this to start, than from the foundation, which is our legal education. This is why I consider this summit timely and the theme apt: “Re-Imagining Legal Education In Nigeria”.

Further, with the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and following the devastating and dislocating aftermaths of the pandemic, diverse opinions on the concept of legal education have emerged. The pandemic stretched its tentacles into diverse facets of life; the educational sector (including legal education) being among the most-hard-hit; the pandemic exposed many weaknesses of existing systems, processes and procedures in legal education, especially in developing segments of the worlds, of which Nigeria is a part.

As a form of response to the upshots of the pandemic, stakeholders in education began to explore new, alternative, and dynamic means of teaching and learning to avoid a repeat of the quagmire the restriction occasioned by COVID-19 had caused the world. The legal education sector, managers and stakeholders have no choice than to begin to explore new concepts, more dynamic, pragmatic and responsive teaching and learning methods and systems, In summary, reform, reinvention and re-imagining have become necessary to enable legal education in Nigeria key fully into what is now regarded all over the world as the “new normal”.

In November 2021, the Federal Republic of Ghana held a summit of this nature under the them: “The Future of Legal Education in Ghana” and came up with a communique, which is expected to be followed up with necessary reforms to realise the objectives of the summit.

The above said, a very critical development in the legal education sector, which this summit should pay serious and elaborate attention to is the recent development in respect of the Nigerian Law School. It should be noted that the Nigerian Law School currently has seven campuses. However, in an unprecedented move, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recently passed a Bill to establish six additional Campuses of Nigerian Law School. The decision of the Senate completely brushed aside opposing/contrary advice and views by the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation, the Council of Legal Education, Nigerian Law School, the Nigerian Bar Association and other major stakeholders in the legal education sector in Nigeria. The extant law, the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, in its section 1(2) and section 3 respectively confers on the Council of Legal Education the “responsibility for the legal education of persons seeking to become members of the legal profession” and for “Continuing Legal Education”.
By the combined effect section 2(5) and section 4 of the Act, the Council may “do such things as it considers expedient for the purpose of performing its functions” subject to general directions by the Hon Attorney-General of the Federation. Thus, the dissenting advice and views of the Council, of the Hon AGF, of the NBA and of some other stakeholders were based mainly on the reasonable realisation that establishment of additional Campuses for the Nigerian Law School is better left in the hands of the Council in collaboration with the Nigerian Law School as administrative matters to be guided by expediency and need, among other factors. The Council of Legal Education, the Management of the Nigerian Law School, among other stakeholders, are better -placed to make/take decisions in this respect. There is an adage that “he who wears the shoes knows where it pinches”.

Besides, most of the existing seven Campuses of the Law School are in dire need of urgent infrastructure upgrade, which on its part requires greater funding from government and stakeholders. It is hoped that these should be principal among what occupies the attention of stakeholders, rather than suggestions for establishment of too many additional Campuses (at the same time), some of which may end up being not viable, as a result of paucity of funds and dearth of basic infrastructure. Finally, the Council’s views were guided partly by its belief that increased funding for the Nigerian Law School would bring about the needed upgrade in the existing seven Campuses, to adequately serve the need of growing number of aspirants to the Bar seeking admission to the Law School. It is hoped also that this Summit should subject the recent Bill passed by the Senate, among other issues, to rigorous discussions in order to come up with recommendations that would best serve the best interest of legal education, the legal profession, and the Nigerian nation.

At this juncture, it is pertinent to recall that in an effort to improve legal education, especially the practical training of aspirants to the Bar, the Council of Legal Education under the Chairmanship of Hon Justice M.O Onalaja (of blessed memory), had in 2008 constituted a Legal Education Review Committee, headed by Mrs Funke Adekoya, SAN. Other members of the Committee included Prof Yemi Osinbajo SAN (as he then was); Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; Prof Fidelis Oditah, SAN, QC; Mr. AB. Mahmoud, SAN; Mr. Ernest Ojukwu (then DDG and Head, NLS, Enugu Campus); Mr. Olanrewaju Onadeko (then DDG and Head, NLS, Lagos Campus); Mr. Nasiru Usman (then DDG and Head, NLS, Kano Campus); Prof. I.O Smith (Faculty of Law, UNILAG); Dr. Isa H. Chiroma (then, Dean Law Faculty, UNIMAID) and Mrs Roli Hariman (then lecturer, Nigerian Law School).
The Committee had called for memoranda from all stakeholders in the legal education project in Nigeria. The Committee considered all memoranda received as well as all presentations made at the Legal Education Summit 2006 which had held in Abuja on March 03, 2006 under the theme: “The Future of Legal Education in Nigeria”. Also considered were reports and recommendations of the “National Committee on the Reform of Legal Education in Nigeria”. The Committee paid a visit to several institutions, including the College of Law and the BPP Law School both in London England and the findings aided the work of the Committee (see: Ernest Ojukwu, Legal Education in Nigeria: A Chronicle Of Reforms And Transformation Under Tahir Mamman).

The result of the Committee’s work was positive; the Committee made far-reaching recommendations on reform and improvement of legal education in Nigeria. I am aware that the Committee’s recommendations had led to, among others, the birth in 2008, of a “New Teaching Curriculum” for the Nigerian Law School, a curriculum, which I am told, has been reviewed more than five times, to keep it in tune with developments in law, the legal profession, the legal education sector in Nigeria and across the globe. Thus, tremendous efforts have been made in the past. It is time to build on past and current efforts to move legal education to the next level. This Summit presents a great opportunity in this respect.

Moreover, the law setting up Council Legal Education needs to be reviewed to reflect current realities and needs of the profession and the sector. To this end, the NBA has presented before the Body of Benchers, a draft Bill on Legal Education in Nigeria, which Bill seeks, inter alia, to create Council of Legal Education that will be separate from Nigerian Law School and other Private Law Schools to be established. It is hoped that this development will be among the matters that will be subjected to thorough and dispassionate examination and debates at this Summit, with a view to proffering recommendations on what is the best-suited for the profession, the sector and the nation, without destroying past and present efforts and achievements, without lowering standards, and without dislocating the fabrics and core values of the profession/sector.
It is, therefore, my hope that deliberations and recommendations of this Summit should proceed on the notion that proposed improvements or reform or re-imaging of legal education in Nigeria can only yield more effective results and quickly, if those proposed improvements acknowledge and are founded on past and existing efforts and achievements. Existing structures and achievements will provide a solid foundation to future improvements. We may not have got to where should be. But, no doubt, we have left where we used to be. However, without continual collaborations and improvement, such things as growth and progress, achievement, and success have no meaning. I recall the counsel by Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

In conclusion, let me assure this Summit and all participants that the Council of Legal Education will seriously consider any communique/recommendations emanating from this summit, to ensure that this effort is not in vain.

Chief Ngige (SAN) is the chairman, Council of Legal Education and delivered this paper at the Legal Education Summit 2022, organised by the NBA, in collaboration with Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti.

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