Mass Failure in The Bar Examination – Thisday

By The Citizen

Until recently there were thousands of law students who completed their degree programmes in local and foreign universities but whose admission to the Nigerian Law School had to be delayed for several years. The problem was temporarily addressed with the establishment of a campus of the law school in each of the geo-political zones in the country. Unfortunately, the rapid growth in the number of law graduates produced by the several law faculties has not been matched with the availability of adequate facilities in the campuses of the Nigerian Law School. With such limited facilities, students find it difficult to undergo the rigorous academic programme of the Council of Legal Education. That has now resulted in the dismal performance of the students in the 2013/2014 August bar examination.

Established in 1962, the core mandate of the Nigerian Law School is to provide the much needed practical training for those aspiring to become legal practitioners in the country. Prior to its establishment, legal practitioners in Nigeria received the requisite training in England and were usually called to the English Bar. But since 1963, anyone who has obtained a university degree in law and wants to practice as a lawyer in Nigeria must attend the school while it is the responsibility of the Council of Legal Education to issue certificates to students who pass the Bar Part II examinations before they are then called to the Bar by the Body of Benchers.

Beyond lamentation, the scandalous mass failure at the Law School exams is indeed another wake-up call on the Federal government to improve the deplorable state of education in Nigeria. Evidence in the last few years has shown overwhelming mass failure in the West African Examination Council (WAEC) Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (SSSCE) as well as the National Examination Council (NECO) examinations. With a weak foundation at that critical level, university and polytechnic undergraduates as well as students of the Nigerian Law School are not likely to fare any better. That then explains why, like other institutions of higher learning, the Nigerian Law School has, in recent time, been producing lawyers who lack knowledge even in the basic principles of law.

Former Director-General, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Professor Michael Ajomo, buttressed that point. He said ''during our time, we had only four universities in the country and the standard was very high. I recollect that when our students graduated from the university they easily had access to the leading University in England, be it Oxford, Cambridge or Manchester and in United States, Harvard and the rest. But  the standard has fallen because I understand that we now have about 117 or more universities in the country, with almost every Dick and Harry establishing a university in his village.'

Having regard to the significant role of lawyers and judges in the sustenance of law and order in the society, we cannot afford to have ill- trained lawyers. In a globalised world, investors run away from countries where the rule of law is non-existent or weak. Therefore, the mass failure in the Nigeria Law School calls for a wholesale review of the entire legal training in the country. The suggestion by some lawyers that the courses taught in the Nigerian Law School be transferred to the law faculties of our universities ought to be seriously considered. The idea is for law students to spend additional year in the universities to prepare them for a common bar. There is also a school of thought that law should be made compulsory for only those who have another degree as it is done in some countries. But in all these suggestions, what is not in doubt is that legal education is in serious crisis in Nigeria and something must be done to address the challenge.