By; BAYO AKAMO.
A fresh move towards making legal education in universities in the country rank at par with that of the developed countries especially United Kingdom came about few days ago as men and women of the bar and bench both retired and serving brainstormed on restoring the lost glory of the noble profession.
The brainstorming session held at the Temidire Camp in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, and organised by the Yinka Ayoola Institute, was a brain child of Justice Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, with the theme, “Regional Dialogue on Legal Education; Beyond the National University Commission Benchmark”.
Participants at the session include Justice Ayoola, the Coordinator of the programme, Prof. Oluyemisi Bamgbose of the University of Ibadan; Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Prof. Ayo Atsenuwa; Prof. Oyelowo Oyewo, also of Unilag; Oyo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Seun Abimbola; the Director General, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Prof. Deji Adekunle, Dr. Akin Onigbinde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria; Justice Diran Akintola as well as students from the University of Ibadan and University of Lagos.
Setting the tone for the discourse in his welcome address, Justice Ayoola said the Yinka Ayoola Institute, which is a non-profit making organisation, was committed to the goal of promoting national development and transformation through result-oriented and strategic dialogue. He said the dialogue was intended to brainstorm on the content of legal education in the country’s university system and to evaluate the extent to which the content prepares law students to be able to adequately respond to the needs of the legal profession, public sector and society at large.
The retired Supreme Court judge stated further that the dialogue will help to generate best practices and approaches that can be employed to redesign legal education and make it responsive to contemporary realities and needs of the society. According to him, the dialogue will also review and evaluate existing curriculum for legal education in the country with a view to advocating the improvement not only in teaching methodoloy but also the introduction of new subjects.
He said, “The lead presentation dialogue at the dialogue will focus on “Redesigning Legal Education to Meet Contemporary Challenges and Transcend National Boundaries”. The dialogue will also focus on the following sub-themes : Insights on legal education and contemporary challenges; Key skills that legal education should impact – An employer’s view; Innovations in teaching methodology; What users expect from legal education – Perspective of a Judge and What users expect from legal education – Perspective of students.
“The tremendous benefit of this dialogue to society, and particularly, to the legal system, the legal profession and the judiciary cannot be over estimated. The quality of laws we apply and administer can only be as good as the quality of education imparted to law students. If there is no creativity and critical thinking in legal education, the legal practitioner and the judge are retarded from achieving excellence, nationally or internationally.”
While appealing for more attention to be paid to legal education in all its ramifications in the country, Justice Ayoola maintained that law teachers should not only be well remunerated but also well equipped just as a nation can only be as great as the vibrancy and quality of its laws.
Prof. Bamgbose who gave an overview of the dialogue, said the minimum academic standard which was developed by the National Universities Commission (NUC) empowered to lay down minimum standard for all programmes in Nigerian universities, was last revised in 2001, 16 years ago. On the reasons for the revision of the minimum academic standard, the Professor of Law, stated among others that the frontiers of knowledge in the academic disciplines especially law, was advancing with new information generated as a result of research, the need to update the standard and relevance of university education in the country and to enable graduates to contribute meaningfully to Nigeria’s socio-economic development.
According to her, with the benchmark set by the NUC as it concerns the Law Faculties, pertinent questions to ask include whether the curriculum in the different faculties is prescriptive or outcome based; are the law programmes in line with contemporary global practice?; are the teaching methods or the curriculum flexible and innovative?; is the law curriculum meeting the philosophy and objectives of the discipline and are the faculties adopting the BMAS as maximum standards instead of minimum benchmark?
Speaking on what the regional dialogue is about, she said “This is a vision of Hon. Justice Emmanuel Ayoola. Justice Ayoola is bothered about the static state of the law in Nigeria, declining standard of legal education, the regressive nature of the judiciary, the stagnancy of the court and the general lackadaisical attitude of law students. This dialogue is not like any other. It is geared towards policy implementation. It is to pursue our collective effort to develop a plan of action and strategic framework to address the identifiable factors responsible for falling standards in legal education.”
While presenting the lead paper titled, “Redesigning Legal Education to meet Contemporary Challenges and transcend National Boundaries”, at the one-day dialogue, Prof. Oyewo said the practice of law in the country has faced several challenges, stating that in as much as the knowledge of law is important in every part of human sector, the future of the profession is about synergy through multi-faceted practice. He added that even though there is global concern about law practice, the falling standard in the country has led to a situation where there is preference for Nigerians trained abroad as lawyers.
The Professor of Law at the University of Lagos, who called clinical diagnosis of the nation’s legal education, said the time has come for every stakeholder to look into the mirror in order to restore the values of the law profession which he believed must start from the university. He however explained that to have an effective legal education requires a lot of funding, stating that of the three categories of university that we have in the country, federal, state and private, the least funded are the state universities most of whom he said should be reabsorbed into federal universities.
On the need for infrastructural development of the universities, Oyewo maintained that both the teachers and students can only give their best in a conducive environment, lamenting that in his own case he always put on jeans and shirt in his university as he cannot put on suit expected of him when there is no light in the school. According to him, what operates in our universities can be likened to that of stone age, stating that the time has come to declare a state of emergency in the legal education and other areas of education in the country.
While also calling for improved teacher/student relationship with the teachers serving as role model to the students, he insisted that what operates presently is a case of the blind leading the sighted. He lauded the students of the University of Lagos for designing international relationship which has led to some of them travelling to South Africa and South African students coming to the university on exchange programme.
Speaking on other factors contributing to fall in legal education in the country, he said policy somersault especially from agencies such as the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) through the post UTME, is impacting negatively on legal education and education in general. Oyewo stated further that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has not played a good role in elevating legal education, saying that the body presently do not have institutionalised relationship with law students and teachers and the universities. He maintained that there is the need to remove the barrier existing between the judges and universities, nothing that the burden on the judiciary and legal education is nothing but self inflicted.
In then redesigning the legal education in the country, Oyewo called for the overhauling of the teaching methodology, mainstreaming the clinical methodology, organising the programme of instruction, integrity skills acquistion as experiential courses as well as establishing lecturer/teacher assessment. Other recommendations he made include the need for an independent examination body to replace the Nigerian Law School, reformation of the faculty-bar relationship as what we have today is parasitic legal education, and the reformation of the philosophy, content, curriculum teaching and assessments methodology of legal education in the country.
In his paper titled, “Overview of Legal Education in the 21st Century, the Oyo State Attorney General who was represented by Mr. Olubunmi Ogundiran, said the question today is not whether legal education can change and become more involving and intellectually challenging for student and teachers alike but whether these changes can be sustained and law schools can produce lawyers who will be able to change with the contemporary legal market.
He said, “While I take cognizance of the fact that innovative curricular such as legal clinics, skilled courses and technology based programs cost money, legal educators are faced with many challenges upon which one of it is availability of capital to fund the aforementioned curriculum. It is no news that this noble profession is an expensive one and what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. Some law faculties nurse the notion that the role of the law faculty is not to train people to practice law, and that such preparation should be the responsibility of the Nigerian Law School and the Nigerian Bar Association.
“While some members of the Bar perceive that law faculties should be doing the training, Either way, there is a need for more collaboration by all stakeholders in the legal profession such that the obligation to produce the desired legal profession we can all be proud of does not fall just on the law faculties alone, but on the Nigerian legal industry (including the Bar, the Bench, the Bar Association, law students and every stakeholder in the legal profession.”
Others who presented papers at the include Prof. Deji Adekunle represented by Dr. Emmanuel Okon, “Insights on Legal Education and Contemporary Challenges”; Dr. Onigbinde, SAN represented by Mr. Kehinde Adegbite, “Key Skills that Legal Education Should Impact – An Employer’s View”; Dr. Charles Adekoya from the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, “New Innovations in Teaching Methodology”; and Justice Diran Akintola, “What Users expect from Legal Education – Perspective of a Judge”.
In their own contributions, Babajide Olajide, a doctorate degree holder from the University of Ibadan and Oluwatunji Oluwaseun, also from UI, among others said the time for internship should be extended while there should be real mentoring of the students by the lecturers.
By; BAYO AKAMO.