As the controversy between the students of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and the Council of Legal Education (CLE) over the non admission of law graduates from the former into Nigerian Law School lingers, some Nigerians have expressed worry at the situation and hope for a peaceful resolution of the matter.
The NOUN is the only distance learning institution in Nigeria with all its courses duly accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC) including its controversial law programme. At first, Nigerians distanced themselves from the programme believing that their courses wouldn’t be recognised. But that position was later debunked while confidence in the institution increased with more enrolments.
However, since the institution began to produce graduates, they are said to be discriminated by federal institutions such as National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and their law graduates are rejected by the Nigerian Law School. This has led to the institution of a legal suit by the law students before a Federal High Court judge in Port Harcourt.
The stand of CLE is that NOUN is not accredited to run a law programme. Speaking in Abuja at a briefing to commence the 50 years anniversary of the Nigerian Law School, the Chairman of the Council, Mr. Onueze Okocha (SAN), said anyone who studied law at NOUN and hoping to secure admission to the Law School was merely wasting their time and resources.
He said: “It is foolhardy for someone to establish, put in his money and then choose to run an illegal faculty of law… I don’t want them to waste their monies and time. They should seek transfer to accredited universities. “
Similarly, the Director General of the Nigerian Law School, Dr.Tahir Mamman, said anyone who only wanted to have an acquaintance with the law could go to a non-accredited university to study law. “But if they want to become legal practitioners, they have to go to accredited universities”.
Speaking on the issue, a Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner, and civil rights crusader, Barrister Chijioke Agi, urged NOUN to stop admitting students into its Law Faculty until the issue it has with the Nigerian Law School over the non admission of its law graduates is resolved.
He explained that in the 1990s, the CLE abolished part time programme in law in Nigerian universities to check half-baked lawyers and regretted that the introduction of law in NOUN’s curriculum was a re-enactment of the old order. He said the legal tussle between NOUN students and CLE in the Federal High Court was yet to be determined.
Hear him: “Until the legal battle between NOUN students and Council for Legal Education is determined, NOUN should not admit students into that faculty. This is because to become a lawyer, the law graduate must pass through the law school.
“It makes no sense that one is a law graduate yet not a lawyer.” The legal practitioner remarked that though NOUN’s ten faculties were accredited by the NUC, the other faculties are running without hitches except the law faculty.
However, another legal practitioner based in Port Harcourt, Mr. Tambo Tambo, disagrees with the position of the Council of Legal Education. He says law is a liberal discipline which can be studied anywhere.
He condemned the deliberate discrimination and victimisation of the NOUN law graduates by the CLE coupled with the delay tactics the body has employed to slow down the matter in court. According to him, the tactics could bring the worst from the students.
“I have been following that issue because my immediate younger brother is affected. He is a law student of NOUN. The stand of the Council of Legal Education on the matter is not founded on any known fact. It rather portrays the Council as being in the dark about best practices in the 21st century.
“Even in the United Kingdom from where our current legal system is derived, distance legal education is authorised by the Law Society of England and Wales as a qualifying law degree and as one of the possible ways to become a barrister or solicitor. In several other countries influenced by the British legal tradition, legal education can be obtained through distance learning.
“For instance, in countries like India, Indonesia, Australia etc. law can be learnt by correspondence. In fact, many of our older lawyers and judges had their legal degrees by distance learning. It was at the point of attending the law schools their physical presence was required.
“Not recognising NOUN law graduates on the basis of non-existing barriers will affect our nation and rob it of the advantages such learning mode will confer on the country. I, therefore, call on the Justice Minister to intervene through the exercise of his powers to direct the CLE to recognise NOUN law graduates,” he stated.
A third year law student of NOUN, Port Harcourt centre, Mr. Zebulon Onomefor, wonders why the CLE would fail to recognise the law programme of the open university when NUC had already given it approval to operate.
He says the lack of accreditation of NOUN law programme is keeping them uncertain about whether to remain in the school or move to a conventional university to complete it. He appealed to the vice-chancellor of the institution to work hard and get the problem settled.
“This issue ought not arise in the first place, especially when NUC has recognised and approved the law programme. Why is the Council of Legal Education insisting on not recognising the course? I don’t agree that the programme is run on part time basis.
“See we have classes almost every day depending on the year of study. Do you call that part time? What is the mode of study in conventional universities after all? Let the vice-chancellor solve this problem for us as he has promised,” he said.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who saw to the final take-off of the open university, had during a visit to him by the national body of the Law Students Association (LAWSA), urged the students, particularly the law graduates of NOUN, to be patient with the authorities. He said he noticed some students complaining about law accreditation in NOUN and stated his belief that the law programme had come to stay.
In what appears like a sign of better days ahead, the Vice-Chancellor of NOUN, Prof. Abdalla Adamu, reassured the law students of the effort of the school’s management to ensure that they completed their legal education by attending the law school. He said the matter was receiving attention at the National Assembly.
But the question both the law students and graduates of the programme, who are awaiting law school admission have always asked is, when will that day come? Indeed will it ever come? Time shall tell.