Last week, Foundation For Peace professionals sent a letter to Minister of justice, urging him to intervene in the ongoing legal dispute between students of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and Council of Legal Education (CLE) over the none admission of NOUN law graduates into the Nigerian Law School.
After our organization has formally requested the Minister to intervene for a peaceful resolution, i consider it worthy to put before the public, what the organization has put before the minister for consideration.
It is my considered opinion that, the legal dispute between NOUN and CLE is an unnecessary legal dispute that could be easily resolved by the office of the minister, should he be willing to peacefully resolve the matter, which i urge him to do, to save the students the energy, resources and time that would be consumed by this lawsuit, as such resources could be channeled into more positive venture that would be of greater benefits to the nation.
As you are already aware, National Open University of Nigeria is the only Open and Distance Learning Institution in Nigeria, with all its courses duly accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC) including its Law Programme.
It is important to point out here that, at first; Nigerians distanced themselves from NOUN due to fear of discrimination. The situation continued for many years, until former Secretary of National Universities Commission, Prof Julius Okojie publicly assured parents and students of the quality of the institution. Professor Okojie urged students to seek admission into the institution, assuring them that the certificate is not in any way inferior to that of other institutions. Since the public assurance by the former NUC boss, a lot of young Nigerians have enrolled in the University.
However, it is 3 years now since the first sets of graduates emerged from NOUN, but contrary to all assurances given to the students, they are now being openly discriminated by federal establishment such as NYSC and its law graduates out rightly rejected by the Nigerian Law School. This is such an unfortunate situation, which should never have happened.
While it is possible to manage with NYSC exemption letter given to NOUN graduates, this is not possible with a law degree, as a law graduate cannot practice without being called to Bar. This led to the ongoing legal dispute between NOUN law students and graduates and the Council of Legal Education.
In 2015, NOUN students and graduates dragged the CLE to the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, for allegedly refusing them admission into the Nigerian Law School. Also dragged before the court are the NUC, NOUN itself and the office of Attorney General of the Federation. The suit follows a publication by CLE in National Dailies excluding students of law programme in NOUN from being admitted into the Nigerian Law School. Filed in suit No. FHC/PH/CS/UI/2015, the students are praying the court to declare as null and void the publication by the council as well as a declaration that it is infringement on their fundamental rights.
However, one strange thing observed in the course of this legal dispute is the fact that, management of NOUN distanced itself from the lawsuit filed by the students. Rather than compliment efforts of its students and graduates to seek justice for themselves when the University had failed to do so, the University applied to be exempted from the court case. Similarly, the office of Attorney General of the federation which should ordinarily champion the course of justice for these students also applied to be exempted from the case. Also, the NUC, which accredited NOUN law programme and advocated for the University to be patronized also applied to be exempted from the case, leaving the helpless students to their fate, after spending years, scarce resources and energy in acquiring what is now about to amount to a worthless law degree from a federal University.
Although, the applications of the three bodies to be exempted from the case were recently dismissed by the trial judge, Hon. Justice B.O. Quardri, nonetheless, their conduct is far from ideal and satisfactory.
Furthermore, in the course of hearing the matter, one fact has been properly established without any doubt whatsoever, that fact is that, CLE is not in any way interested in justifying its action against the students, as there is no any justification whatsoever. All the Council has been doing, is filing one preliminary objection or the other, seeking to unnecessarily prolong the case to frustrate the students and eventually force them to abandon the case altogether. Should they succeed in doing so, lives of many young Nigerians would have been jeopardized due to government irresponsibility.
I make bold to say that, this deliberate discrimination and outright victimization of NOUN graduates by government establishments, coupled with the ploy of CLE to frustrate their lawsuit is capable of bringing out the worst in any human. Let me quickly add that, the rigid stance of CLE was not founded on any known fact, it rather portrayed the council as being in dark about best practices in 21st century.
Even in United Kingdom, which influenced Nigeria’s current legal system, Distance legal education is accepted by the Law Society of England and Wales as a qualifying law degree and one of the possible ways to become a solicitor or a barrister. In several other countries influenced by the British legal heritage, legal education can be obtained through distance education, including India, Indonesia, Australia etc. It wouldn’t be out of place to conclude that, not recognizing NOUN on the basis of non-existing barrier will further hurt our dear nation and rob it of the gains of 21st century.
In view of this and in line with this administration’s change agenda, this unnecessary legal dispute deserve the authoritative intervention of the minister, through exercise of his powers as contained in Chapter 4 of Legal Education Act, 1979 which states thus, ‘’ Subject to this Act, the Attorney-General of the Federation may give the Council directions of a general character with regard to the exercise by the Council of its functions and it shall be the duty of the Council to comply with such directions’’.
The CLE Act gives the minister’s office unfettered powers to give directives to CLE and I urge the minister to consider the letter of Foundation for Peace Professionals and exercise such power to end an unnecessary legal dispute, consuming time and resources of both the students and government.
Should CLE have any objections about the law programme of NOUN, the conventional and reasonable thing should be to treat the matter as it did earlier over the Evening Law programmes offered by some Universities in the past by liaising with the NUC for review of the accreditation given to NOUN and not to refuse admission to students already in the system, talk less of graduates.
Hamzat is the Founder and CEO of Foundation for Peace Professionals. He writes from Abuja and can be reached on email@example.com.