5 Reasons Why We Can’t Have Law As A Second Degree In Nigeria.
Suffer more, spend more, wait more, these are the words I would use to describe the recent NBA proposal to make law a second degree in Nigeria. This statement isn’t intended to disparage the efforts of the NBA to raise the falling standard of the legal profession. I sincerely doubt if there is anyone who isn’t bothered by it.
Thomas Carlyle the Scottish historian once remarked that “a man willing to work and unable to find work is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune’s inequality exhibits under the sun”. This statement just about describes the state of the legal job market in Nigeria. There are lots of lawyers able and willing to work but unable to find paid jobs even at law firms. While the few who manage to find jobs of sorts are paid paltry wages, the rest have to waylay courthouses waiting for something to turn up.
You can then understand the angst of the NBA when they sought to find an elixir to this pregnant problem by constituting a 23 man committee to review the state of legal education in Nigeria. Based on the submissions of this committee, the NBA would seek to propose law as a second degree in Nigeria. It’s a novel initiative since legal education in Nigeria has been a first degree discipline from its inception.
It’s an initiative that ought to be lauded given the dismal state of legal education in Nigeria if only it had come at an opportune time. If you look through a cross section of any Nigerian law university first year lecture hall, you’d discover that teenagers mostly in their 15’s and 16’s are in the majority. Ordinarily this would have boded well for the posterity of Nigeria since it would mean that our youngsters are becoming better prepared for the future by getting an education at so early an age.
However when one considers the future of the Nigerian the legal profession, the influx of teens into a first degree discipline like law raises some concerns to legal education policy makers in Nigeria. The nature of law studies require a measure of maturity from its aspirants since it tasks the critical faculties. But the majority of law aspirants today are teens who are a little callow coming straight out of secondary school with no prior familiarity with anything close to the tedium and full rigors of undertaking the study of law. Often when these teenagers get to the university and discover what exactly they had bargained for in choosing law, they are overwhelmed by the sheer workload involved. As a result they may often graduate at a very tender age without really understanding the law in all its aspects unlike the case with adults (this is the view shared by one school of thought)
It is believed that making law a second degree would cure this defect of immaturity among law aspirants. Thus having law students study law only after undertaking study in a non-law first degree discipline, would improve their critical faculties while better preparing them mentally for the law degree. Again making law a second degree would be the perfect foil for damage control. Since Nigerian law universities won’t relent in pumping more law graduates to an already saturated legal job market, it becomes desirable to put a cap on the exponential growth in the legal profession. Once law becomes a second degree, this could dampen the zeal of many aspiring lawyers and in time dispeople the astronomical membership of the legal profession.
These are sound considerations no doubt but what would be the flip side of such a radical proposal? Can you think of any? Let’s run back over a few.
(1) It runs counter with the Nigerian culture
Given the low standard of living in Nigeria and the very limited earning avenues open to many, Nigerian parents in general tend to view their wards education as an investment. Usually after sponsoring a child’s first degree, they would expect immediate returns on their initial investment. They would expect the child to immediately get a job after youth service and to start paying back all of the expenditure they incurred in the child’s education. It’s one thing then to ask a Nigerian parent to sponsor their child’s first degree and another thing entirely to expect them to foot the bill for a second degree that would consummate their dream of becoming lawyer’s. That is crying for the moon! And you can expect the average Nigerian parent to respond with “not a fan!” To these parents, making law a second degree is akin to prolonging the harvest season of their child-rearing labors. No parent would thrill to this.
(2) It will elongate the duration of law studies in Nigeria
The duration of studying law in Nigeria is 5 years and that is lengthy enough as it is. And if we factor in the additional one year of law school plus the extra one year compulsory youth service, that brings everything to 7 years in total. If eventually law becomes a second degree, you can expect to add another 4 years to the 7, in pursuing a first degree in a non-law discipline. That brings our tally to 11 unbelievable years of study! Add that number to your present age and tell me if you’d still be any younger by the time you are called to bar. Will anyone be willing to wait that long to land their Holy Grail in this microwave age? I seriously doubt that unless of course you have the patience of Job in real excess! In which case, I might be attending your wedding ceremony while you are still a student. Expect gray hairs too by graduation!
(3) It will spiral the cost of studying law in Nigeria
I like the rationale behind this new NBA proposal to make law a second degree discipline. It really resonates with me especially when through it, we’ll be bringing the state of legal education in Nigeria in line with the practice in western climes. That tells you we are finally becoming open to new ideas which could throw us right back into the global stage with a shout. But I do however fear we may not have a well-rehearsed strategy to buffer the cost of this radical initiative.
In the western societies where law is a second degree, the US in particular, Uncle Sam has found a way to negate the ensuing cost of both degrees by offering students subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans. This makes it way easier for students to pursue a first degree in another discipline and then return to study law all on burrowed funds with the promise of repayment upon securing a job. There are private loans too for all.
So the question I pose here is “will the Nigerian government also grant law students education loans to pursue both degrees?” Given the present economic state, that isn’t even remotely possible.
(4) It will complicate the law admission process
Before now, all law aspirants were required to take the JAMB, get screened by the law universities before getting admitted for law without any further hassle. However if this new proposal to make law a second degree goes through, it would leave us with more questions than answers on what the criteria will look like for law admissions in Nigeria. Will a law candidate who had written JAMB for the first non-law degree be also required to re-sit another JAMB for the law degree (JAMB has produced enough re-sit veterans as it is) or will they utilize direct entry? Assuming we ok direct entry, will a federal university put aside its ego and grant admissions by direct entry to students from a “lowly” ranked Nigerian university? That’s food for thought.
(5) The timing is all wrong
There’s hardly anyone who isn’t feeling the pinch of recession at the moment while people are starting to get inured to the situation, there’s yet another announcement made over the national public address system of impending hardship.
People are a little cash strapped at the moment and telling them they will have to suffer more, spend more and wait more before they ever attain their dream of becoming lawyer’s sounds rather callous. This isn’t exactly the best moment to make such a proposal. This proposal could have come at a better time. Given the present austerity in Nigeria, where will people get the funding for both degrees.
In the light of the above reasons should the NBA still go on with its proposal or do you also think it ill-timed? Tell us your thoughts.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
To get in touch, follow him on social media.