Introduction to Nigerian Legal Education By Leesi Ebenezer Mitee
Copyright © 2008 Leesi Ebenezer Mitee
The legal profession, as we have it today in Nigeria (including Nigerian legal education), is a relic of British colonization that was imposed on our traditional legal system in 1862 when Lagos was created a British colony. In the same year, a court was established in Lagos. In 1863, one year later, English law was established in the Colony of Lagos with 25 Ordinances, chief among which were Applying Laws of England to the Settlement Ordinance No. 3 of 1863;Supreme Court Ordinance No. 11 of 1863; and Supreme Court Ordinance No. 13 of 1863.
Between 1864 – 1865 the following Ordinances, which related to the legal profession and administration of justice, were made for the Settlement of Lagos: Supreme Court Ordinance No. 1 of 1864; Supreme Court Ordinance No. 9 of 1864; and Supreme Court Ordinance No. 5 of 1865. In 1866, Lagos was included in the “West African Settlements” under a Governor at Sierra Leone, but retained a separate legislative Council. In that year, the Supreme Court Ordinance No. 7 of 1866 was enacted. However, the first significant statutory regulation of the practice of the legal profession was made by the Supreme Court Ordinance No. 4 of 1876. That Ordinance empowered the Chief Justice to approve, admit and enrol to practise as barristers and solicitors in the Court, such persons as shall have been admitted as legal practitioners in the United Kingdom. Order XVI, rule 1 of the Supreme Court (Civil Procedure) Rules made pursuant to section 56 of the said Supreme Court Ordinance 1876 stipulated that “The Chief Justice may in his discretion approve, admit and enrol to practise as a barrister and solicitor in the Court any person who is entitled to practise as a barrister in England or Scotland; and who produces testimonials sufficient to satisfy the Chief Justice that he is a man of good character. . .”
Significantly, contrary to the position in the United Kingdom where legal practitioners practise either as barristers or solicitors, Order XVI, rule 6 of the said Rules empowered every person admitted to practise, to do so as barrister and solicitor – a tradition that has remained till today. There are differences between the training, professional practice, and regulatory bodies of barristers and solicitors in the United Kingdom. In terms of professional practice, barristers principally act as advocates for parties in courts or tribunals and have the exclusive right of audience in higher courts (not below the level of High Court). On the other hand, the major work of solicitors involves preparation of all forms of legal documents and provision of legal advice. They also have right of audience in the lower courts.
The year 1962 marked a watershed in the history of the legal profession in Nigeria. Before that year, there was no local facility for legal education in the country. Consequently, legal practitioners in Nigeria consisted of those who had received the requisite training in England and had been called to the English Bar. On their return to Nigeria, they were enrolled as legal practitioners. One major disadvantage with that system was the fact that although Nigeria had gained political independence from British colonization on 1 October 1960, alien Westminster legal education was imported wholesale into Nigeria without due regard to the obviously differing social, cultural, economic, and educational circumstances, among others. Therefore, there was the compelling need to evolve the appropriate and relevant legal education based on the peculiar Nigerian legal system and society. Pursuant to that philosophy, in 1959 the Federal Government set up the Committee on the Future of the Nigerian Legal Profession headed by Mr E. I. G. Unsworth who, at that time, was the Attorney-General of the Federation. The Committee was specifically charged with the following responsibility:
. . . to consider and make recommendations for the future of the legal profession in Nigeria with particular regard to legal education and admission to practise, the right of audience before the courts and the making of reciprocal arrangements in this connection with other countries, the setting up of a General Council of the Nigerian Bar, the powers and functions of such a Council, the institution of a Code of Conduct, the disciplinary control of the profession’s members, and the principles to be applied in determining whether a member of the Bar should be prohibited from practising in Nigeria.
The recommendations of the said Unsworth Committee gave birth to the two principal statutes needed to actualise the training and practice of legal practitioners in Nigeria: the Legal Education Act 1962 and the Legal Practitioners Act 1962. The Legal Education Act 1962 was repealed by the Legal Education (Consolidation, etc.) Act 1976, which was amended by the Legal Education (Consolidation, etc.)(Amendment) Act 1992 to provide conditions under which a non-citizen of Nigeria may be entitled to have a qualifying certificate issued to him by the Council of Legal Education. The Legal Practitioners Act 1962 was similarly repealed by the Legal Practitioners Act 1975, which has had numerous amendments.
The Council of Legal Education
The Council of Legal Education was originally established by the Legal Education Act 1962 (repealed), and preserved by section 1(1)of the Legal Education (Consolidation, etc.) Act 1976 (its successor). By virtue of section 1(2), the Council has exclusive responsibility for the legal education of persons seeking to become members of the legal profession in Nigeria. Section 2(1) provides that the Council shall consist of a Chairman to be appointed by the National Council of Ministers on the recommendation of the Attorney-General of the Federation; Attorneys-General of the States, or where there are no Attorneys-General, the Solicitors-General of the States; a representative of the Federal Ministry of Justice to be appointed by the Federal Minister of Justice; the head of the faculty of law of any recognised university in Nigeria whose course of legal studies is approved by the Council as sufficient qualification for admission to the Nigerian Law School; the President of the Nigerian Bar Association; fifteen persons entitled to practise as legal practitioners in Nigeria of not less than ten years standing and selected or elected by the Nigerian Bar Association; the Director-General of the Nigerian Law School; and two persons who must be authors of published learned works in the field of law, to be appointed by the Attorney-General of the Federation.
The major statutory functions of the Council include accreditation or approval of law programmes in Nigerian universities which determines the eligibility of law graduates from each university for admission to the Nigerian Law School; provision of one-year practical training at the Nigerian Law School for purposes of call to the Nigerian Bar; and provision of continuing legal education.
The Nigerian Law School
The Nigerian Law School was established in 1962 by the Council of Legal Education pursuant to the Legal Education Act 1962. It was originally known as the Federal Law School. It offers a one-year professional, practical training for persons wishing to be called to the Nigerian Bar. To be eligible for admission to the Nigerian Law School, a candidate must have obtained a law degree from the Faculty of Law of any recognised university in or outside Nigeria, whose course of legal studies is approved by the Council of Legal Education as sufficient qualification for admission to the Nigerian Law School; and must be a fit and proper person, of good character to belong to the learned and honourable legal profession.
Sometime ago, the Council of Legal Education announced a new policy whereby part-time Bachelor of laws degree programmes in Nigeria will be systematically phased out with the students admitted in 1999/2000 academic year. In other words, no part-time students admitted after the 1999/2000 academic session shall be qualified for admission into the Nigerian Law School. This appears to be an unfortunate policy because it denies those who cannot study as full-time students the opportunity of becoming lawyers. It is contrary to the modern philosophy of evolving different ingenious modes of study, including distance learning, to meet the educational needs of people in diverse circumstances.
The Council of Legal Education issues qualifying certificates – Barrister-at-Law (BL) – to those who have successfully completed the training at the Nigerian Law School. By virtue of the Legal Education (Consolidation, etc.)(Amendment) Act 1992, a non-citizen of Nigeria is eligible for admission to the Nigerian Law School and, consequently, entitled to a qualifying certificate.
Admission into Faculties of Law in Nigerian Universities
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) was established in 1978 by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Act 1978. It is responsible for the administration of examinations for admission into all Universities, Polytechnics, and Colleges of Education in Nigeria. According to the official JAMB brochure for 2007/2008 academic year, more than thirty Universities have faculties of law that offer Bachelor’s degrees in Law, usually styled “Bachelor of Laws” (LLB). Candidates are admitted into Nigerian Universities either by direct entry without sitting entrance examinations or by sitting the University Matriculation Examination (UME).
There are different admission requirements for common law and Islamic/sharia law programmes. Generally, for common law, the requirements are as follows: direct entry candidates (two ‘A’ level passes in Arts or Social Science subjects or National Certificate of Education/Ordinary National Diploma/Bachelor’s Degree); University Matriculation Examination candidates (five ‘O’ level credit passes that include English Language and Literature in English); entrance examination subjects to be taken by University Matriculation Examination candidates (any three Arts or Social Science subjects). The requirements for Islamic/Sharia law are as follows: direct entry candidates (two ‘A’ level passes that include Islamic Studies or Arabic); University Matriculation Examination candidates (five ‘O’ level credit passes in Arts or Social Sciences that include English Language and Islamic Studies or Arabic); entrance examination subjects to be taken by University Matriculation Examination candidates (any three Arts or Social Science subjects including Arabic or Islamic Studies).
However, It should be noted that different Universities have different specific requirements for admission into their law programmes. Strange enough, some Universities even insist on at least a pass in O’ Level mathematics! Universities that require at least a credit in O’ Level mathematics are University of Ado-Ekiti, Lagos State University, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Adekunle Ajasin University, Ebonyi State University, University of Lagos, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (credit in mathematics or a science subject). Those that require at least a pass in O’ Level mathematics are Madonna University, Niger Delta University, Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Benson Idahosa University, Imo State University, Delta State University, University of Benin, Ambrose Ali University, and Olabisi Onabanjo University.
Direct entry candidates are admitted into the second year of the five-year Bachelor of laws degree programme. Specifically, the qualifications acceptable for direct entry (in addition to the required O’ Level subjects) include a University degree in disciplines other than Law; two-year diploma in law; and other qualifications in disciplines other than Law e.g. Higher National Diploma (HND); Associate of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ACIS); Associate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ACA); Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute (ACII); Interim Joint Matriculation Board Examination (IJMBE); and National Certificate of Education (NCE). Candidates who pass the University Matriculation Examination and meet the prescribed cut-off mark for the Faculty of Law of the University of their choice (usually the first choice) are admitted into the first year. Recently, individual Universities began to administer post-JAMB tests to select the candidates they would admit, apparently to assert an aspect of their autonomy. Although it was expected to be a welcome development, unfortunately, post-JAMB tests are beset by controversies over the impartiality and doubtful integrity of their administration.
The Nigerian Bar Association and the General Council of the Bar
The Nigerian Bar Association is the professional association to which all the legal practitioners in Nigeria (i.e. persons who have been called to the Nigerian Bar or specially authorised to practise by virtue of office) belong. Membership is automatic upon being called to the Nigerian Bar, from which time members pay annual practising fees to the Registrar of the Supreme Court in accordance with section 8(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act 1975. The General Council of the Bar is the statutory body responsible for the general management of the affairs of the Nigerian Bar Association. The Bar Council consists of the Attorney-General of the Federation, who shall be the President of the Council; the Attorneys-General of the States; and twenty members of the Association.
The Body of Benchers
Section 3 of the Legal Practitioners Act 1975 established a body of legal practitioners of the highest distinction in Nigeria to be known as “the Body of Benchers” which shall be responsible for the formal call to the Bar of persons seeking to be legal practitioners. The body consists of the following:
(a) the Chief Justice of Nigeria and all the Justices of the Supreme Court;
(b) the President of the Court of Appeal;
(c) the Attorney-General of the Federation;
(d) the Presiding Justices of Court of Appeal Divisions;
(e) the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court;
(f) the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja;
(g) the Chief Judges of the States of the Federation;
(h) the Attorneys-General of the States of the Federation;
(i) the Chairman of the Council of Legal Education;
(k) thirty legal practitioners nominated by the Nigerian Bar Association; and
(l) such number of persons, not exceeding ten, who appear to the Body of Benchers to be eminent members of the legal profession in Nigeria of not less than fifteen years post-call standing.
Call to the Nigerian Bar
Call to the Nigerian Bar refers to the formal admission of persons to the legal profession by the Body of Benchers, under section 4 of the Legal Practitioners Act 1975. The ceremony takes place at the Nigerian Law School. The said section 4, as amended by the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Act 1992, provides that anybody (either a citizen or a non-citizen of Nigeria) shall be entitled to be called to the Bar if he produces a qualifying certificate to the Benchers, and he satisfies the Benchers that he is of good character. The Body of Benchers issues to every person called to the Bar a Certificate of Call to the Bar.
Enrolment of Legal Practitioners
According to section 7(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act 1975, a person shall be titled to have his name placed on the Roll of Legal Practitioners maintained by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria if, and only if he has been called to the Bar by the Benchers, and he produces a certificate of his call to the Bar to the said Chief Registrar. However, non-Nigerians may be enrolled to practise in Nigeria if Nigerians are permitted to practise in their own countries under a reciprocal arrangement, by virtue of the Legal Practitioners (Special Facilities to Practise in Nigeria) Regulations 1968.
Entitlement to Practise
Section 2(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act 1975 stipulates that a person shall be entitled to practise as a barrister and solicitor if, and only if, his name is on the roll. However, the Attorney-General, Solicitor-General or Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation or of a State, and other officers in the civil service of the Federation or of a State, as the case may be, may be entitled to practise as a barrister and solicitor for the purposes of their offices.
Right of Audience and Precedence
Right of audience and precedence is governed by section 8 of the Legal Practitioners Act 1975 which provides that subject to any provisions which are not inconsistent with relevant provisions of any enactment in force in any part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a legal practitioner shall have the right of audience in all courts of law in Nigeria. However, except certain designated offices in the civil service of the Federation or of a State, no legal practitioner shall be accorded the right of audience in any court in Nigeria in any year, unless he has paid his annual practising fee for that year.
Legal Practitioners appearing before a court or other tribunal do so in the following order of precedence as set out in the First Schedule to the Legal Practitioners Act 1975: the Attorney-General of the Federation; the Attorneys-General of the States in order of seniority as Senior Advocates of Nigeria and thereafter in order of seniority of enrolment; Senior Advocates of Nigeria in order of seniority; Federal or State Law officers other than the Attorneys-General; persons whose names are on the roll in order of seniority of enrolment; and persons authorised to practise by warrant.
Nigerian Law School Campuses
As stated above, the Nigerian Law School was established in 1962 in Lagos, the Capital of Nigeria. With the relocation of the Capital of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja, the Nigerian Law School headquarters was relocated to Abuja in 1997. Consequent upon the necessity to decentralize the Nigerian Law School, six campuses of the Nigerian Law School were established in different locations in Nigeria to facilitate Nigerian legal education. They are as follows:
- Abuja (Bwari, Federal Capital Territory)
- Agbani (Enugu State)
- Bagauda (Kano State)
- Lagos (Victoria Island, Lagos State)
- Yenagoa (Bayelsa State)
- Yola (Adamawa State)
Introduction to Nigerian Legal Education