SINCE 1962, LAW SCHOOL HAS NOT TRAINED UP TO 70, 000 LAWYERS
Felicia Eimunjeze is the Deputy Director, Academics, Nigerian Law School, Lagos. She parades an enviable resume and has grown to become a role model to young women in the legal profession. She was formally trained as a teacher but had abandoned the teaching profession to study law. She was called to the bar in 1988 and was in private practice until the love for teaching pulled the bar out again. She applied to the Law School for a position and was employed in 1999 and has remained with there since.
As the deputy director, academics, Felicia Eimunjeze's duty entails both academics and administration. Her primary function is to ensure that the school's curriculum is strictly adhered to and applied, ensuring that lectures go on smoothly. It is also her duty to ensure that lecturers get what they require to enable them perform their duties.
Eimunjeze takes her equal share of lecturing and marking of scripts just like any other lecturer. In an interview with Daily Sun recently in her Victoria Island office, the Ishan, Edo state born law administrator disclosed that the Nigerian Law school has not trained up to 70, 000 lawyers since its inception in 1962 and that there are not enough lawyers in Nigeria.
She said that the legal profession is not for lazy people, she spoke on why most lawyers prefer to practice in the urban cities instead of smaller towns. She also gave an insight into the state of academics in the Nigerian Law School, spoke on her vision for the school as well as her views on the Nigerian judiciary.
Could you give a brief account of the curriculum in the school and how well you have fared?
The world has changed in the last few years particularly with the advent of the computer, the internet and other forms of technology which has considerably shrunken the world. Space has shrunken for everybody so the law school had to re-invent the legal curriculum in Nigeria about five years ago. The school has also invested a lot of resources in training the lecturers in the new curriculum of which we became functional since last year with the 2008/2009 set. So far, it has recorded huge success. We have received accolades from the bar and bench.
The lawyers we have trained since we started the new curriculum are doing well and by the time they are out of the law school, they are as ready as any lawyer in practice because they are trained more in practical law skills.
Before now, young people looked forward to be trained as lawyers. At some point, it was not so unless for people who come from the family of lawyers.
What do you make of that?
It is just an illusion. There aren't too many lawyers in Nigeria. Rather, we don't have enough lawyers. It is surprising. The Nigerian law school was established in 1962 and till date, we have not trained up to 70,000 lawyers in Nigeria. This is for both the dead and alive.
So, why does it look like there are so many lawyers around?
Law is not an urban profession but the problem is that all the lawyers want to be in the city centre. All the lawyers want to be in Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, PH and Kaduna. It even got to a time we found out that a place as big as Abeokuta is, there are not many lawyers and the few who practice there are respected personages because they aren't too many of them.
Go to many towns, you won't find more than 20 lawyers. There are many organizations that need lawyers. Local governments need lawyers. They are law-making outfits that need lawyers to give advice and work in different departments but you don't find them.
Why do they all want to be in the city centers?
Many of them seek Eldorado and they get frustrated along the way because they want to fish in a pond that is saturated. They do not want to step outside the city centers to see that law can be practiced outside Lagos and Abuja. Outside Enugu, you can still practice law and be successful. In Enugu, in a street, every other person is a lawyer. Of course, frustration will set in for the lazy ones. In that case, it becomes survival of the fittest. And again, some lawyers want immediate gratification. They don't want to pay their dues. You have to pay your dues, get recognition, be known for your worth and you can't discount laziness. The lazy person who manages by the grace of God or after several attempts to leave the law school will surely fall by the way side because the profession is very demanding. You must give a lot of time, attention and hard work. And you must be ready to invest in the law. You have to buy books, which is not cheap and not many people are prepared for that.
What should they do to make themselves relevant apart from being in the cities and urban centres?
Do you know that the legal profession is one if not the most elastic of professions because it can flow into any other field? A lawyer can work everywhere and anywhere. That is why it is called the learned profession because the law regulates your life from when you are born up till you go to your grave. We start by documenting your birth and end by registering your death. And you need lawyers to run your life from beginning to the end. In every system, you need lawyers.
Do you think that some of these establishments actually want to take them apart from banks and other blue chip companies?
They will be glad to have lawyers if the lawyers will accept the salary they may offer them or if the lawyers accept to work in their environment. Everybody feels more comfortable to have his lawyer beside him. Every organization that has a lawyer will always refer everything to the lawyer. So everybody wants to have a lawyer and everybody tries to afford a lawyer. But when you get a lazy person into your outfit, the person will fall out on his own.
That is why you see many lawyers falling out to become dress makers, caterers and every other thing that is totally unrelated to the legal profession. I see it as a waste of resources. It is expensive training a lawyer, buying the books, paying the fees and particularly going through the law school. It is very demanding. You have to be implacably lazy to fall out of the law after going through those rigours.
Why are there not many cases being settledout of court?
It comes from our sociological make up and traditional social relationship. We are a communal people who support each other. We do not want acrimony that will rupture relationships which often is the case as perceived by a number of us when we go to court. We do not want to fight and wash our dirty linens in the public which you cannot avoid when you go to court. So, when people who necessarily must interact go to court, what do you expect? Normally, people go into contracts with those they know and when it goes sour and they now litigate on it, they see it as betrayal of friendship and it is unforgivable. That is why the Yoruba say that once you have gone to court, you can't go home as friends.
That perception is what we are trying to correct today. I told you of our new curriculum and the lawyers we are training are enjoying as the first step to explore alternative means of dispute resolution. You must advice your client on that. The lawyer can mediate or get their clients to see a meeting point to settle and see the disharmony going to court generates as well.
Judiciary has come under fire in recent times in terms of election tribunals. How would you say that the judiciary has fared?
I would say that the judiciary has done very well considering the general situations. For a change, in the last five years, we have not had politicians taken the law into their own hands because they have come to trust the judiciary to do what is right. The judiciary has been very constructive in its interpretation of the laws to ensure that justice is done rather than blaming the judiciary for anything.
Of course, we have dark spots here and there but on the whole, it has been great. The judiciary has been one part of the hope of political engineering of Nigeria that has ensured that we remain in democratic set up because left to politicians and the way they have been going, they could easily have frustrated people into taking the laws in to their hands but trusting that the judiciary will come to their aid, people have doggedly gone to court. Judges only need more encouragement to get there.
What do you think is responsible for matters dragging on for a long time in the courts?
A lot could be responsible for that. The individuals involved is a factor and that is why you find that many states are re-engineering the laws and the judiciary. Once upon a time, lawyers could take adjournment for six months but today, it is different. In Lagos and other states, it is almost impossible for you to get one month adjournment. So, cases are faster now. Again, Nigerians don't accept liability easily. Generally, we don't accept defeat. We want to appeal every ruling and often you find that the truth gets lost in all these and the judiciary is slow because they must try as much as possible to get as clear to the truth as they can. Let me not say get the truth but to do justice between the parties as much as they can.
Nigerians have our own habits. We don't readily admit what we have done and you will not get somebody to come and identify that a relation was guilty of something. Of course, the case drags on considering all these factors..
In your capacity as the deputy director, academics here, what are the challenges of your office?
Talking about challenges, I am frustrated that my students cannot all be in the hostel because the hostel is not completed. So, you find out that they come to start asking for excuses that normally one shouldn't grant but if you look at the social set up, you have to listen to these excuses.
Some of my challenges stem from transportation because public institutions are no longer allowed to have vehicles expect a few vehicles so things that could easily have been done and readily are not done. But we are overcoming them. We try to invent ways to survive these social problems and do our work without breaking the law. The law says you cannot have vehicles more than the utility vehicles.
What is your vision for the school?
My vision is to make it an exemplary school as it is already. But I see the Nigerian Law School as being as good as other law schools anywhere in the world. I see us with greater injection of funds from the government. I see it as being a reference point for other law schools in Africa