Anxiety as multiple admissions, student backlogs frustrate law graduates
Following the recent ban placed on Baze University by the Council of Legal Education, AMARACHI OKEH writes on how universities exceed their approved quotas and how this creates a chain of backlogs that keeps students from being certified to practice law in the country
The unsettling feeling clutched at Ihuoma Chime’s chest like a common cold. Her disappointment could not be hidden even as she tried hard to hide it from those who asked why her countenance had changed.
Chime, a 22-year-old native of Orlu in Imo State, had always wished to build a career in property law, but after spending five years at the university and graduating from the Faculty of Law in 2021, she was unable to practice what she studied.
Despite graduating from Base University in Abuja two years ago, the consequences of the institution’s administrative decision are still haunting her.
“It was not my fault,” she emphasised to our correspondent. Her alma mater has not yet mobilised her for the mandatory one-year law school programme she was supposed to go through to be certified to practice law in the country.
Chime is one of the 347 victims of the school’s alleged non-compliance with the Council of Legal Education’s recommendation to admit only 50 students per session by Baze University.
Hanging onto a thread of uncertainty, and being unsure of when she might be mobilised for the mandatory one-year law school education, Chime’s parents decided that idling away at home was useless. She enrolled for her master’s and in the same year, she completed her one-year National Youth Service Corps programme.
But with her NYSC certificate, she is still unable to begin her law career. With no job in sight, she has now resorted to acquiring a new skill, which she hopes to use in the meantime before law school calls.
She narrated her frustration to our correspondent, “We were over 80 that were admitted in 2017 and graduated in 2021. After graduating, we started asking about mobilisation for law school, but nothing came out. We had no clue as to what was going on. The school was telling us different stories. Any time we went there, they would tell us that the law school had not asked them to send names and that they would inform us when they would be mobilising. It was only when the press release (about the ban of the school’s law faculty) came that we knew what the issue was.
“The school didn’t even reach out to us when the press release came out. It was from the press release that we saw that the council said they’d start allowing students affected by the backlog to enrol for law school.”
For Chime, the backlog issue with the school started with the 2019 set. She also revealed that no one from her set and the set after had been mobilised for law school. “It is just recently they approved about 80 names, but none of my set members went to law school immediately after we finished.”
Expressing how the two-year wait for mobilisation for law school has made her feel, she said, “It is really devastating. We were looking forward to going to law school immediately after graduation. I had to do my master’s while waiting for law school. That is what made it less devastating. I have stayed at home for one year. I have been preparing in advance for law school and I just started learning a skill,”
Unlike Chime, who is still hoping to be mobilised for law school any time soon, some of her course mates have already left the country to chart new paths as they cannot bear to remain redundant with a degree they cannot use.
It was learnt that Baze University Abuja, having exceeded its quota by admitting over 750 students, a number that would have taken the institution 15 years to achieve, a five-year moratorium ban was imposed on its law admission for consistently violating the approved quota by the Council of Legal Education.
77 varsities accredited for law degree
The CLE was established by the Legal Education Act of 1962 and is exclusively responsible for the legal education of people seeking to become legal professionals.
According to Nigerianlawyersdirectory.com, the statutory function of the council is to accredit and approve law programmes in Nigerian universities, which will then determine the eligibility of law graduates for admission into the Nigerian Law School.
It also oversees the provision of one-year practical training at the law schools for the call to the Nigerian bar and the provision of continuing legal education.
Our correspondent gathered that law faculties were accredited by the CLE based on their facilities, lecturers and libraries available that could adequately cater to the number of students that would be admitted into the schools and subsequently into the law school.
While the issue with Baze University made headlines, it was gathered that some universities had over the years consistently defiled the quota given to them by the CLE, thus making it difficult for some students to enrol in the Nigerian Law School.
This year, out of the 264 universities accredited by the National Universities Commission, only 77 –private and public universities – have the CLE accreditation to offer law. The quota given to the 77 institutions ranges from 50 to 280 slots.
The 37 accredited law faculties in private universities account for 2,225 students; 24 state universities have 2,370 law students, while 16 federal universities have a population of 2,820 law students. Going by this, a total of 7,415 students are slated for admission into the six law schools in the 2023 academic session.
ABSU law students panic
However, some universities have deliberately kept admitting more than their quota.
This is the situation that Tare, a final-year law student of Abia State University has unknowingly found herself in.
According to her, the atmosphere has been quite anxious for the 232 final-year students of the school’s law faculty. This is understandable as the CLE approved only 130 students for ABSU, thus leaving an excess of 102 students to an uncertain fate.
The 500-level student revealed that she and her course mates were now trying their best to ensure that they were among those selected for law school next year, but there was only so much they could do.
She said, “It is only 130 persons who are eligible for admission this year to law school. Even last year, we learnt that only about 50 students from our faculty got admission into law school. Everybody is just scared that they might not be selected for law school next year.
“Those with good results too are not even sure of their stand right now. The question people are asking is who do you know?”
Tare, however, added that some of the people who formed part of the backlog were a result of their decisions.
According to her, some have gone to start families or do other things before coming back for law school attendance and are added to the backlogs that have yet to be cleared.
Another student, Prosper, told our correspondent that the students were in despair.
“None of us here know what we are doing here. We are just anxious and waiting. Nobody is sure of anything. The faculty has a lot of backlog from the past who they are yet to attend to; so the situation is somehow here,” Prosper said.
When the Dean of the Faculty of Law, ABSU, Prof Eze Ngwakwe, was contacted on Wednesday to explain what plans the school had for the excess students, he insisted that our correspondent should call back the following day, insisting that he would need to refer to documents before responding to inquiries.
When our correspondent called the next day as requested, he only said, “The university will handle the situation.”
Students lament exclusion from UNEC list
Meanwhile, at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, about 70 students from the 2021/2022 set have yet to be mobilised for law school despite the 220 quotas given to the school.
Our correspondent gathered from some of the affected candidates that no student from the 2021 set was sent to law school after their graduation. Instead, their quota was used to clear off some backlogs as the school said the eight-month strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities denied them the opportunity to write their exams and make it to the law school.
One of the affected students, Michael Uzoma, said he was frustrated by the school on how the case was being handled.
The student, who is currently undergoing the mandatory NYSC service programme, expressed disappointment that even after finishing the programme, he would still not be eligible to work, because without passing through law school, his degree would be useless even with his NYSC discharge certificate.
After waiting out a year and hoping they would be mobilised this year, he and his course mates were shocked to find out that they were relegated again and preference was given to those graduating in 2023.
“The year 2023 came and we were expecting that once the registration for law school opens, we would be registered but we discovered that our faculty was hurrying the current final year students who just graduated this year. Unlike previous years when law exams were taken in two weeks, this set took theirs in one week. They did their project immediately and when it was time for law school registration, we found out that the dean had sent the names of those from 2023, leaving those of us from 2021 out,” Uzoma added.