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IN LIMBO

By NBF News
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•• Shittu & • Osinbola & Rev Alli
 
Pretty Raheemah Shittu is daddy's girl. Like her renowned lawyer-father, the irrepressible ex-Attorney General of Oyo State and currently the governorship aspirant of the Congress of Progressive Change (CPC), there can be no other career for her than legal practice. After five gruelling years of study the intelligent young lady graduated in 2009 with a Second Class Upper Division in Law from the elitist Lead City University, Ibadan.

She has just returned from the one-year compulsory national service and is excited about proving her mettle as an advocate in the courts and the Law School. Then the bombshell, which sent her world spinning. On January 7, 2011, the National Universities Commission (NUC) declared the Law programme of her alma mater illegal and the LLB degree it awarded unrecognized for not being accredited.

The pronouncement made by NUC Executive Secretary, Prof. Julius Okojie and repeated by the commission's Director of Standards, Prof. Alhassan Bichi, in the following days also affected the postgraduate school, which, Daily Sun learnt was started early in the life of the Ibadan-based private university to develop manpower to train its students, for the same reasons.

But the two commission bigwigs went ahead to announce the ban on the Law and postgraduate programmes asking Lead City University to shut them down within two weeks or have its operational licence revoked.

For the more than 4,000 graduates and students involved in these programmes, there could be no other bitter news to begin a new year. A devastated Raheemah, whose faculty has graduated two sets and has 600 students on its current enrolment, lamented to Daily Sun:

'We are being told all the five years we spent studying hard are wasted. It's like we've never been to school at all and that means we won't have certificates to work.'

She is bitter and angry: 'This is very cruel. They watched us spend five years and go through NYSC. Nobody stopped us. Some of us have traveled to do their Masters (degree) programme, what becomes of them?'

Her colleague, Muyiwa Osinbola found particularly infuriating Bichi's alleged reply to a question in an interview with the AIT, that the fate of the students and their parents was no business of the NUC, but that of the children, their parents and the school. 'That was a reckless and most insensitive statement. Why would a public office holder saddled with protecting the interest of the people utter such statement?', he queried.

The NUC's announcement had sparked off unrest among the students population, on campus last week and distressed high-fee paying parents, especially those who have children in the Law Faculty where a student pays as much as N500,000 per session as school fees!

Anger and suspicion of deceit if not fraud were directed at the school authorities for running two crucial academic programmmes for so long, without due accreditation from the regulatory authorities, which clearly places the students and their parents at risk.

However, Daily Sun's investigations revealed that the latest development came as a rude shock to stakeholders. According to sources, there has been a protracted stalemate in the process of securing NUC accreditation for the law programme, which has even attracted the intervention of the Minister of Education. Daily Sun learnt that the minister's decision on the report of a fact- finding mission sent to probe the matter was still being awaited, before the regulatory agency's recent fiat.

Although officials of the university are reluctant to talk on the issue as regards the law programme, claiming it could be sub-judice as it has become a subject of litigation, sources within the campus told Daily Sun that the programme was duly approved by the NUC via a letter dated April 15, 2008, ref. NUC/AS/122/Vol 1 as part of a general amnesty to all Nigerian universities which started such programmes without the consent of the commission.

They added that an accreditation team conducted a visit to the Law Faculty between May 18 and 20, 2008 returning a favourable verdict. However, the commission by a letter dated September 22 of the same year declared invalid the accreditation visit on the ground that the Council of Legal Education was not represented on the accreditation team.

Although the school management argued that this was no fault of the university, several representations and visits were made to the regulatory body to reconsider its position, but these yielded no fruit. However, a meeting convened by the NUC's Board Chairman, Prof. Shehu Galadanchi, with Lead City University management team led by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Jide Owoeye on December 8, last year tried to resolve the impasse, with a promise from the chairman to get back to the university. The response from the board is, however, still being awaited.

Aside this, it was learnt that the minister's fact-finding task force on the status of the Law Faculty had recommended in its report that the university should liaise with the NUC and Council of Legal Education 'to resolve the outstanding issues pertaining to the law programme.' The panel, it was learnt, further recommended that waiver should be given to the affected students to enable them proceed to the Law School.

But, even while this was on-going, a pioneer graduate of the Law Faculty, Rev. Segun Alli had dragged both the NUC and the university to court over denial of recognition to the law programme.

Alli, who graduated with First Class Honours has been in court with the two institutions since October 2009, also faulted the September 22, 2008 letter signed by the NUC boss, Okojie, invalidating the accreditation mission to the faculty, arguing that the denial implied did not mean stoppage of the programme. According to the plaintiff, NUC accreditation procedure provides for accreditation to be denied, granted in the interim or in full, based on the findings of the resource verification panel. As it were, the same document bore an apparent contradiction by purportedly stating that it granted accreditation to the two programmes in science and law for which the panel visited for that period.

As it were, Okojie and Bichi's recent media utterances had added a new twist to the entire saga, as Alli has approached the Federal High Court hearing the case to jail the two NUC's chiefs for alleged contempt and conduct likely to prejudice and interfere with the administration of justice in the judicial process. The contempt proceedings, which Alli filed an application last Wednesday will commence tomorrow.

Incidentally, the judge had at the last sitting of the court on December 20, 2010 adjourned the case till the same date for the parties to address him and adopt their briefs so as to fix date for adjournment. In the statement of claims, the lawyer-in limbo is also asking the court for an order setting aside the NUC publication as null and void as well as perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from closing down the law faculty. At the same time, other affected graduates students and their parents are seeking the intervention of the presidency in the crisis.

In a meeting last week, the parents and university law students association appealed to President Goodluck Jonathan to 'rescue the future of our children and wards and prevent the truncating of the prospects of the students'. Specifically, they urged the president to direct the NUC to release the accreditation result, allegedly withheld by the executive secretary since 2008 and allow the Law graduates proceed to the Law School.

A communique signed at the end of the parley by a representative of the parents, Dr. Morohunkola Thomas who was a former commissioner in Oyo State and Agbator Solomon, representing the students said this was necessary to encourage the university and the parents who had poured enormous resources into both the law and postgraduate programmes in support of the regime's policy of increased access to higher education for Nigerians.

The forum indeed raised a committee to liaise with the appropriate authorities to press its pleas. As Osinbola succinctly argued: 'It will be unjust and unfortunate if we are made to suffer for what's obviously not our fault. Equity aids the vigilant and not the insolent. Lead City University Faculty of Law has been listed in JAMB brochure for the past four years.

'Our admissions are ratified by JAMB. We are cleared to go for compulsory national youth service scheme and all these bodies work, I believe, in collaboration with the NUC. Are they telling us our certificates are now invalid and that they'll go to all the ministries and private sector organisations we've served to cancel our records? We beg the president and the minister to take interest in this matter.'

The institution's Director of Corporate Affairs and Communications, Dr. Ayobami Owolabi, however, defended the school's postgraduate programmes, which, he explained, the university Senate ensured were located only in areas where the institution had experienced and reputable Professors who could mentor such academic programmes. He added that the university had never conferred a higher degree on any student of the university, except when the relevant department must have been accredited by the NUC. Meanwhile, the university's spokesman advised the students to remain calm as the university responds to the NUC's challenge in their best interest.