NUC, CLE bicker over accreditation of law faculties

National-Universities-Commission

• Teachers Lament Poor Standards In Law Faculties
• NUC Is Sole Body To Accredit Law Faculties – Kurmo
• Universities Are Not Complaining Of Being Shortchanged – CLE

The cold war between the National Universities Commission (NUC), and the Council of Legal Education (CLE) over, which organ of government is empowered to grant accreditation to law faculties may have gone full blown with the former insisting that the latter was usurping its functions. The CLE in a recent advertorial “cleared the air” on the number of universities, which law faculties have full accreditation. While some universities are already kicking, they appear to have the backing of the NUC, which maintains that more law faculties are fully accredited contrary to CLE’s claim.

In the November 8, 2017 advertisement, the CLE published a list of accredited and approved faculties of law in the country in what it described as the current accreditation status and approved quotas of recognised faculties of law of Nigerian universities. According to the CLE, of the 16 federal universities, 20 state-owned universities and 19 privately owned varsities, totaling 55, only one, the University of Lagos, has full accreditation for its law faculty. The remaining have either provisional accreditation, interim accreditation, suspended accreditation or approval to commence. Even though the publication effectively revived the cold war between the NUC and the CLE, as well as, agitated the minds of parents, guardians and some universities that are offering law programmes, the CLE maintained that the publication was “for the benefit and guidance of the public, parents and students…”

The law setting up the CLE, saddles it with the responsibility for the legal education of persons seeking to become members of the legal profession, a function, which it discharges through the institution of the Nigerian Law School, which gives professional and practical legal education to persons seeking to become legal practitioners. It further empowers it to carry out continuing legal education for legal practitioners; issue qualifying certificates to persons qualified for call to the Bar and incidental matters as Section 2(5) of the Act empowers the council to do such things as are expedient for the purpose of its functions.

The NUC on its part is empowered by law to lay down Minimum Academic Standards (MAS) for universities in the country and to accredit their degree programmes. This led to the preparation, with the use of experts, of the MAS for the 13 disciplines taught in universities in 1989. The disciplines are administration, agriculture, arts, basic medical sciences, education, engineering and technology, environmental sciences, law, medicine and dentistry, pharmaceutical sciences, sciences, social sciences and veterinary medicine.

These powers vested on NUC to lay down MAS for universities in the country and to accredit their degree programmes, including law, perhaps got the Director, Academic Standards of NUC, Dr. Gidado B. Kumo, to stress that by their records, more faculties of law in the country still enjoy full accreditation, and that UNILAG was just one of them. He insisted that by law, the NUC, and not CLE is vested with the authority to either approve or disallow universities from admitting students into law faculties, even as he added that the CLE does not have the power to disallow any university from graduating its law graduates. Kumo maintained that there exists a thin line between regulation of professional practice and academic benchmarks, which he said, the Council of Legal Education and some other professional regulatory bodies have always undermined.

Kumo explained: “What is happening is that if law students graduate after five years, they need to go to the law school. The law school is exclusively regulated professional practice. If I read law and I don’t want to appear in court, I will not have any business going to law school. I can teach in the university and become a professor, but because every lawyer will want to practice, this is the beginning of meddling into NUC’s powers. “But by law, the CLE cannot approve, cannot disallow universities from admitting students and cannot disallow any university from graduating its students. So, the position of the Council of Legal Education is not true. All the universities with approval to study law and their accreditation status are available with NUC, and anyone that has problem, we quickly notify JAMB to stop such from admitting students. “Also, anyone that is on interim accreditation, irrespective of whether the CLE says it is denied accreditation or not, we give instructions to JAMB to allow them admit students because by law, NUC determines the benchmark and if those institutions are not in violation of the benchmark, they can admit students,” the director of Academic Standards further disclosed. Dr. Kumo stated categorically that the powers vested on NUC as the sole body to give accreditation to universities’ law faculties is contained in NUC Act CAP L 81, Section 4, sub-section E3.

Empowered by this provision, Dr. Kumo held that once NUC gives approval for a programme, no other authority in the county can counter it. “Under this law, assuming you have a private university and we give you an approval to start a law faculty, there is no other authority in this country that can stop you. So, they (CLE) are acting outside their mandate. In NUC, we have a criteria for accessing and approving programmes, we have the benchmark,” Kumo stated. He added: “For you to conduct accreditation into any programme in Nigerian university, including law, there must be a benchmark to be used, and the power to use this benchmark for measuring whether a minimum standard is met or not, is by law, provided only by the NUC. “On what basis then can the Council of Legal Education conduct accreditation? On what basis can they say that only University of Lagos has full accreditation? This is because in the first place, they don’t have the authority to determine the benchmarks.

The full data of all the universities, years of establishment and the accreditation status for their law faculties are available to the public. “The Council of Legal Education always go to the universities and do what they like without benchmarks. If a university has failed accreditation of the Council, what are the implications? It is of no effect, unless if by coincidence, the accreditation by NUC is also denied, in which instance, we stop the institution from admitting students. Otherwise, if they conduct accreditation and they deny the institution, it does not make any difference at all.” The Director noted that if a university applies to have a faculty of law, what is expected of it is to tender an application to NUC, wherein it provides information as to available human resources – academic staff, number of classrooms, lecture halls and teaching facilities. “It is will also tell us how many students to start with and how the faculty can continue to grow for a period of 10 years. It will also state the sources of funding the programme.

“Our law says that to start a faculty of law, there must be at least three departments, each of which must have a minimum of six academic staff, and this six academic staff would be in the ratio of 20 is to 35, is to 45. But the Head of Information Department of the Council of Legal Education, Mr. Chinedu Ukekwe, disagreed sharply with the position of the NUC, stressing that legal education, like medicine and other such specialised professions have distinct bodies that are empowered by law to regulate their activities. According to him, the fact that no university has come up to contest the figure as advertised by the Council for Legal Education, showed that it was the true position of things and acceptable by universities. According to him, there are certain criteria or standards that must be met before a law faculty is given full accreditation, and these standards are more familiar with the regulating body for legal education than NUC. He said: “There are things that the CLE looks at before granting accreditation. Most of the schools with either partial accreditation, withdrawn accreditation or no accreditation have something on their report cards. “Some of them have been found wanting one way or the other to warrant having either withdrawn or partial accreditation. For instance, there are number of professors in the senior cadre that are expected to be in the law faculty. If they are not there, the rating will show.

“I am surprised at the position of NUC on the number of accredited law faculties in the country, because we have always come up with such advertorial in national dailies because there are certain criteria that the council looks at before giving accreditation to law faculties. We have also written about some of these schools springing up in the African region, pretending to be doing law subjects.” Ukekwe added that accreditation is a continuous process, which is majorly influenced by students enrolment into the law school, as well as, the output at the Bar final examination.

“The fact is that universities are not contesting the figure; else, they would have done a rejoinder to the advertorial that was done to that effect, to say they were shortchanged… While NUC has its mandate, the Council of legal education also has its mandate. If it was not true, universities would have reacted to the advertorial.”

Meanwhile, Prof. Paul Idornigie (SAN), a former lecturer at the Nigerian Law School (until 2002) said the lack of full accreditation for law faculties is a manifestation of the general rot in the society. According to him, most universities do not have quality lecturers. “What we have today are those who come into lecturing by default. It is either their law practice is not successful or they don’t have any other job to fall back to.”

Idornigie who lectures at the Nasarawa State University, blamed the poor performance of law school students in the Bar final exams on poor training and lack of quality teachers, who themselves made First Class or Second Class Upper as undergraduates. His words: “The situation today is disheartening. You see people who had pass as undergraduates and in the law school coming to teach law. When I left the law school in 2002 and my daughter entered the school in 2003, I wept when I saw her lecture notes on Corporate Law, which I used to teach. “It will interest you to note that there are no professors in the Law School. Although the directors assume themselves as equivalent of a professor, but there are no core professors.”

For Prof. Allswell Osini Muzan, the criteria for accreditation is high and difficult for law faculties to meet up with, including first generation universities such as University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmed Bello University, Zaria and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. The CLE, he noted, wants to see the quality of lecturers, the physical structures, the library and other resources before giving full accreditation and to ensure that they met the set standard. Muzan, who was the president of the Dean of Faculties of Law in Nigeria, said, “They have a set proportion of a number of professors, readers, senior lecturers and other categories such as lecturer one and two.

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