Mass Failure In Law School: Another Perspective

by Adewale Adegoke

Nigerian Law School

Nigerian Law School

ON October 15, 2014, authorities of the Nigerian Law School released the 2013/2014 Bar Final examination results. From statistics, largely unverified, and usually indiscriminately bandied about, especially by some of the candidates, successful and unsuccessful, 6883 candidates sat for the examination. Out of this number, four made a First Class grade; nine made a Second Class (Upper Division) grade; 487 had Second Class (Lower Division), 1,500 had ordinary Pass while 4883 either failed outright or had a Conditional Pass.

Since then, tongues have continued to wag, and what started as mere murmurs has now become loud wailings. Attacks have been made on the authorities of the Nigerian Law School and the Council of Legal Education on the appalling performance of the students. Excuses have also been given by those directly charged with the responsibility of conducting the examination justifying their assessment. Some of these positions have predominantly been influenced by prejudices.

But one fact is overlooked: admission into the Nigerian Law School is without any form of assessment by the recipient before a candidate is given the chance to attend; the Law School has no power or duty or machinery to assess the suitability of candidates who apply to it and whom it is statutorily charged to train, before those candidates are admitted.

The norm, which has been on for as long as the founding of the Law School, is that once a student passes his degree examinations and his name is among those forwarded to the Nigerian Law School by his university, such student stands automatically admitted, no matter the grade in which he graduated in school, so long as his school has not, by its inclusion of his name, exceeded its quota for the year.

But the issue goes beyond the mode of admission into the Nigerian Law School. We must indeed go back and examine the admission process into the Law Faculties of the universities, whether they are private or public. Since the adoption of the super-confusion code-named the post UTME, which some optimists had argued, now to their consternation, would improve the standard of university admission; admission into our universities’ Faculties of Law generally has been less than wholesome.

So many factors, least of them merit, now determine which student gets what course in our universities. In the case of Law, most faculties cannot with pride publish the performance of their newly admitted students in the qualifying examinations. With the exception of a very few universities, admission into our Faculties of Law always comes with such considerations as who gave a note to the Vice Chancellor, to the Dean, to all manners of people who determine who is admitted. In the end, the least qualified constitute the bulk of those who are offered admission to read Law. The brilliant ones who have nobody to plead their cause are always shuffled to courses they know nothing about. A situation in which a university does not respect its own merit criteria on admitting students can only produce the second best.

The consequence, from the above, of course, is that the Law School is saddled with the responsibility of training graduate students who entered the universities through questionable means, and who survived their stay employing all manners of dirty tactics – students, the qualification and suitability of whom it cannot vouch for.

It is also noteworthy that whereas there are eight or 10 semesters in a university for every Law student, the Law School is made up of only one session, and one qualifying examination at the end of that session. Which is also to say that regardless of a student’s grade in his first two years in the university, with more or less hard work, he can still improve or degenerate. On the other hand, the one examination taken at the end of a session in the Law School seals the fate of any Law student, and no student can secure a better grade in the second attempt than he would get in his worst performance in his first.

The above argument is not to say that the Law School itself does not have its share of the blame. This may be unpleasant to the ears but the truth is that the one year of study at the Law School is too rigorous, too compact, too theoretical, too demanding, too much more of rote learning than is obtainable in actual practice. A lawyer in practice is not brilliant by the fact that he has committed so much to memory. His brilliance shows in his ability to research, to know where to find the law, to apply it and to think on his feet. A situation in which good performance comes only with how much is committed to memory is hardly helpful to the student or the legal profession.

Perhaps, what the Law School needs now is a breakdown of the curriculum and a semesterly conduct of the examinations such that the tension that often comes with the writing of the single Bar Final examination is eliminated. More emphasis should also be placed on the practical.

Therefore, rather than vilify the Nigerian Law School, arguably one of the least compromised of all professional training bodies, like the proverbial “amukun” whose bent load on the head is consequent upon his bent legs, we must critically examine and do something about the mode of admission into, and trainings in, the nation’s Faculties of Law and the Nigerian Law School. It is only then that results at the Nigerian Law School can be not just what students want them to be but what will be beneficial to the legal profession and the society at large.

Adegoke, a legal practitioner, lives and practises Law in Ibadan.

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