Law school at National Open University back on track Tunde Fatunde 10 December 2020
The law faculty of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) will be permitted to accept new students again and past graduates will be able to proceed to the Nigerian Law School, following a series of discussions between the institution, the statutory Nigerian Body of Benchers and the Nigerian Bar Association.
This comes after ongoing efforts by NOUN to ensure that the faculty of law, which was prohibited from enrolling new students, meets all the necessary educational requirements. Past graduates could not proceed to the Nigerian Law School, which is necessary if they want to practise law in Nigerian courts, including the Supreme Court.
In 2011, the open university’s faculty of law met the minimum requirements to secure accreditation and, by 2013-14, had produced its first LLB degree holders. However, from 2014, graduates could not proceed to the Nigerian Law School because the Nigerian Body of Benchers, a statutory organ regulating admission into the law school, rejected graduates from NOUN on technical grounds.
According to the Body of Benchers, the faculty used distance (correspondence) rather than in-person or contact teaching. As a result, the legal education offered by the open university lacked practicals such as participation in law clinics and moot courts.
Process in limbo
To rectify these anomalies, the university senate, the highest academic body, under the leadership of the outgoing Vice-chancellor, Professor Abdallah Uba Adamu, remodelled the teaching methods and integrated in-person teaching methodology to satisfy the demands of the Body of Benchers.
While these internal reforms were going on, the university senate approached the nation’s National Assembly to delete the word ‘correspondence’ in its statute and replace it with ‘in-person’ teaching. This change has been approved.
But the process got stuck and, despite the university’s efforts, the changes were not approved by the Body of Benchers and, therefore, the university could not accept new students. However, the NOUN senate has allowed the faculty of law to accept students, but pipeline students – those already in the system – could graduate.
“To date, about 1,868 have successfully completed their LLB degree programme,” said the current chairman of the university’s governing council and a past executive secretary of the National Universities Commission, Professor Peter Okebukola.
Law faculty to enrol new students
However, following a series of recent talks, the impasse has finally been resolved.
In an interview with University World News, Okebukola said the law programme at NOUN has now been approved following a series of talks. New students can be enrolled and past graduates can proceed to the law school.
The complex negotiations to achieve these twin objectives involved several stakeholders from NOUN, the senate and house of representatives committees on tertiary education, the National Universities Commission, the Nigerian Law School, Council of Legal Education and the Nigerian Bar Association.
The director-general of the Nigerian Law School and the vice-chancellor of NOUN have agreed to work out the modalities to absorb, in batches, the past graduates so that they can proceed with their studies at the Nigerian Law School.
Requirements for training ‘well-known’
The difficulties experienced by NOUN haves also attracted criticisms from law teachers.
Professor Richard Brown of the faculty of law at the University of Jos, believes that a university cannot establish a faculty and admit students without ensuring the programme meets all the necessary requirements.
“What occurred at NOUN is not only strange but it is also unfortunate because after having completed their studies and obtained a law degree, the graduates cannot proceed to Nigerian Law School. This inadequacy, which is not attributable to these students, have exerted on them financial and psychological pains and constraints. If all these well-known procedures were put in place, these graduates would not have experienced these hardships,” he told University World News.
Yekini Aremu, a law professor at Olabisi Onabanjo University, in Ago-Iwoye, commented on the matter of securing accreditation for all the law courses at the level of the Nigeria Universities Commission and the registration of NOUN’s law faculty with the Nigerian Law School. “Those who initiated the creation of the law faculty should have known better,” he said.
According to Professor Akintan Enigbokan from the faculty of law at Ambrose Ali University in Ekpoma, the “founding fathers and mothers” of NOUN should have ensured all the requirements were in place to enable students to proceed to law school.
“The procedures and processes to practise law in Nigeria are well-known. After completion of university education, candidates shall attend the law school. Upon the successful completion of all examinations at the law school … he or she is recommended to the Bar,” Enigbokan said.