One of the most vibrant sectors of the Nigerian economy is unarguably that of telecommunications. Over the past fifteen years there have been massive investments and huge profits generated by the sector, it has witnessed exponential growth and this has had a positive impact on the economy, but the sector is not without its attendant challenges. One of such challenges is the ongoing imbroglio between MTN, the NCC and the Federal Government. The tussle over the propriety of the fine imposed on MTN for its infraction of NCC regulations has resulted in the intervention of the House of Representatives. In this interview with May Agbamuche-Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi, Dr. Adewale Olawoyin SAN, a distinguished ‘scholar-practitioner’ examines the implications of this fine on the ease of doing business in Nigeria and the general regulatory environment.
In October 2015, the NCC fined MTN N1.04 trillion for failure to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered subscribers’ SIM cards from its network. Subsequently the fine was reduced to N780 million after several entreaties by MTN. What are your views on the fine imposed on MTN and its impact on the ease of doing business in Nigeria?
My views on this matter are very simple. To start with, what are the underlying facts we have been able to garner from the newspaper reports? First, NCC introduced Regulations imposing a fine for the failure of any telco to register any SIM card that is activated. Second, all the operators, including MTN, were fully aware of the quantum of the fine. It is my understanding that all the operators were either involved in or carried along in stipulating the quantum of the fine especially given the security implications of having unregistered activated SIMS in the system. Third, none of the operators complained about or challenged the stipulated quantum of fine per SIM, at the time it was imposed, as being excessive or unreasonable in the event of an infraction. Fourth, the fine imposed on MTN was in line with the quantum of the fine set out in the NCC Regulations. With that background, I have no views on the fine imposed for as long as it is in accordance with the published NCC Regulations and not arbitrarily imposed as we see with some other Government agencies in the recent past. On the issue of the impact, if any, on the ease of doing business in Nigeria, I struggle to see that there is an issue here. One of the typical concerns of foreign investors is arbitrary rules and regulations. This is not the case here because the operators were fully aware of the quantum of the fine long before the particular infraction in this case. The fine has no implications for doing business in Nigeria as all the telcos continue to post massive profits from their Nigerian operations. The level of the fine was simply a manifestation of the importance the Federal Government of Nigeria attaches to the grave security implications of unregistered SIMS at a time of increased sophisticated acts of terrorism which have caused numerous innocent casualties with the aid of mobile phones.
It has been well reported that the House of Representatives has been conducting enquiries into the negotiations the Federal Government is having with MTN over the fine of N1.04 Trillion levied on the Telecommunications company by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). However the conduct of the House of Representatives Committee on Telecommunications comes into question as they are reported to have “walked out” a representative of MTN’s Chief Executive Officer at the last investigative session in anger. In light of the committee’s concerns, is this a legitimate enquiry into the matter, which is pending, or is the Committee becoming party to the debacle?
Your question is quite loaded in many respects. I am not aware of what actually transpired on that day and the context of the so called walking out. Depending on the context, walking out may be a polite request to leave the proceedings or a rude and condescending dismissal of the person’s presence at the proceedings. However, there are two prongs to your question. First, the legitimacy or otherwise of the House Committee on Telecommunications conducting a hearing on the matter and second, the timing and what I would characterise as the attitudinal issues around hearings in the House of Representatives in particular. The constitutional power of the National Assembly to set up committees to conduct what is generally referred to as oversight functions is not in doubt. A combined reading of sections 62, 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution pretty much settles the point. The thorny issue from my experience, and which we see playing out in this case, centres around the misconceived perception of the scope of the oversight functions and the manner in which this function is conducted. One sees a prevalent tendency of these committees (especially in the House of Representatives but to a lesser extent in the Senate) constituting themselves into what we see as the annex of the judicial arm of government. We have seen in the past a committee of the House giving orders that the General Meeting of a Bank be stopped because the directors of the bank were being investigated in respect of a private complaint! Rulings and “judgments” are given as if they have judicial or quasi-judicial powers. If at all the limit of their quasi-judicial powers is clearly set out in section 89 of the 1999 Constitution which is only exercisable in respect of investigating a matter for the purpose of enabling the National Assembly to either make laws or correct defect(s) in laws and to expose corruption, inefficiency and waste in respect of administration of funds appropriated by the National Assembly. It is certainly not within their remit to be finding persons guilty or directing that certain steps should be or not be taken. Unfortunately that is the mind-set we see from the committees, which inevitably result in incidents such as walking people out of proceedings and generally behaving in a condescending manner. The approach that is commonplace is the accusatorial approach rather that the more tempered but effective investigatory approach which enables the lawmakers learn about the application of the laws made by them and whether there is a need for change. It is rather unfortunate in my view that someone was being ignominiously walked out of hearings. Evidently, this is a wrong way of implementing a perceived constitutional imperative.
Specifically considering the Federal Government’s immediate and unresolved involvement in the negotiations, and that the matter is in fact one of national significance, should the Committee on Telecommunications be attempting to conduct open enquiries and summoning the CEO of a private company to disclose details of ongoing negotiations without first conducting closed-door enquiries with the representatives of the Federal Government who are in negotiation with MTN?
You see governance requires a lot of maturity and tact which unfortunately is sometimes lacking in the House of Representatives. As I said earlier, whilst the constitutional right of the National Assembly to take certain steps is not in doubt, a true constitutional democrat knows when to deploy those constitutional powers for the good of the larger polity. The steps being taken by the House of Representatives is in my humble view premature and counter-productive.
The Chief Executive Officer of the NCC Professor Umar Garba Dambatta had previously given evidence before the Committee on Telecommunications that he is not aware of how the reduction in the fine levied by his Commission on MTN came to be. Isn’t this odd especially considering the fine was levied by the NCC who now seem absent from the negotiations?
This question also raises issues of governance and due process. To be candid, the mantra of due process and rule of law that is freely bandied around is not fully understood by most people. This is what we see unravelling in the MTN saga. Let me try and break it down by making a distinction between executive control of government agencies and the statutory autonomy of government agencies. Most agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria such as the NCC are also creatures of statute and to that extent, their actions as a matter of governance are primarily dictated by the enabling statute. However, despite the perceived autonomy in quotation marks, the executive arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria has ownership and directional control, if you like, of these agencies of government. That is why you will typically see in the enabling statutes that the appointment of the Director General and Governing Councils is made by the President with or without the approval of the National Assembly as the case may be. Now to your specific question – I also read some newspaper reports about the Presidency and Ministry of Communications being involved in the discussions with MTN. That is understandable given the high stakes involved and the international ramifications surrounding the issue. There is nothing inherently wrong or illegal if the Presidency decides to play either a leading or supportive role in the negotiations. After all NCC is an agency of the Federal Government. What I find astonishing though, if true, is that fact that the relevant government agency was not involved in the discussions. This is where my initial comment about due process is relevant. As the Regulator who imposed the fines, NCC ought to have been present in the negotiations with clear directives and support from the Presidency. In my view, such an approach would have shown that the Federal Government fully understands and respects the full gamut of rule of law and due process. For example, we understand that a deposit was paid. To whom? To which account? Surely, the only entity that the deposit should be paid to is the NCC and not some other account designated by the Minister of Communications or the Presidency. How NCC remits the deposit to the Federal Government is a different matter entirely. That said there is nothing illegal in the Federal Government taking control of the negotiations. It is just the approach, as we see from a distance without full details that leaves a bit to be desired.
The commission is empowered to resolve disputes between persons who are subject to the Act, regarding any matter under the Act or its subsidiary legislation including disputes between customers and telecommunications companies. To achieve this aim the NCC is allowed to use any Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism. Notwithstanding this fact there are hardly any reported cases of the commission directing the use of ADR. How can the NCC encourage telecommunication companies to resolve their disputes through ADR?
ADR in my view is still in a fledgling state despite the substantially increased awareness of the attributes and benefits of ADR. It is also a welcome development that the executive arm of Government and the Government agencies are championing the cause of ADR by embedding ADR provisions in the respective enabling statutes. It should also not be surprising that any form of ADR under the auspices of the NCC Act or any other statute is unreported. You have to appreciate that ADR is a private and confidential process unlike litigation in courts which is constitutionally required to be done in public. I suspect that the ADR process is certainly being more utilised that we can readily see. Indeed the negotiations between MTN and the Government could only have been done under the ADR regime in the NCC Act.
Telecommunication companies (telecos) often complain about several operational challenges including multiple taxes and excessive right of way charges. Could you suggest possible ways the NCC can assist telecos surmount these challenges?
This is a difficult question given the structure of tax administration in Nigeria. The constitutional architecture and the taxing powers and/or collecting powers are so diffuse that I think it would be difficult to see how NCC (assuming they even deem it fit to take up that role) can assist telcos in this regard. The fact of the matter is that all Nigerians suffer from the phenomenon of multiple taxes and levies and I don’t see any reason why telcos should be singled out for preferential treatment.
Reviewing the Constitutional roles of the three tiers of government and the National Assembly in particular, how would you assess the National Assembly’s oversight functions as it has been played out since the return to democracy?
This question is a related question to the earlier one about walking out the representative of the MTN Chief executive Officer from the hearing before the House Committee on Telecommunications. My assessment of the National Assembly’s oversight function is very poor. I have not heard of a new law or an existing law repealed or amended as a result of findings from oversight functions. What is commonplace are kangaroo proceedings under the guise of oversight functions. They simply play to the gallery most of the time. Quite frankly, it is quite unfortunate that we do not have any definitive judicial pronouncement on the true scope of the oversight function and the precise way and manner such functions should be conducted. Lets take the MTN issue as an example. Was a resolution to investigate published in the National Assembly’s journal or in the official gazette before the hearings commenced? More importantly, the MTN issue is not one involving monies appropriated by the National Assembly so that there is no issue about trying to expose waste, corruption and inefficiency. However, to the extent that an agency of the Federal Government has exercised a discretion to reduce the quantum of a fine stipulated in subsidiary legislation, it would be a perfectly legitimate step for the National Assembly as part of its oversight function to investigate the matter with a view to amending the NCC Act. For example, the National Assembly may in their own wisdom decide to amend the NCC Act to include a provision that in respect of infraction of the NCC Regulations on certain issues such as unregistered SIM cards, The NCC shall not exercise any administrative discretion on the quantum of any fine imposed in accordance with the Regulations. What they cannot do in my humble opinion is to question the decision that the NCC and/or Presidency has already made in this matter or give directives that NCC must insist on the exact fine. Administrative law experts will tell you that there is a concept of administrative discretion in public administration. Essentially this allows public bodies to use professional judgment and expertise in performing their official duties and this includes adopting a strict or liberal adherence to applicable Regulations as opposed to primary legislation for example. Of course the exercise of discretion in this sense is a double- edged sword in the sense that it may be beneficial or tyrannical. Such discretion will be abused if there is a failure to exercise reasonable judgment. I do not see that the exercise of discretion to reduce the quantum of the fine in the MTN case is unreasonable given the astronomical amount that is still entering the coffers of the Federal Government. But if the National Assembly believe that the reduction was unreasonable they will be justified in invoking the provisions of section 88 of the 1999 Constitution to investigate the matter for the purpose of amending the NCC Act and no more. I repeat the oversight functions of the National Assembly does not give it the right to question what has been done or sit in judgment as if it were a court of law.
Given the industrious nature of Nigerian business and the Nigerian economy it is astonishing to note that until now there has never existed any Competition law for the express purpose of directing and regulating the open business market towards creating an environment that enjoys the benefits that economic competition brings. Even now the Competition Bill introduced to the Senate as far back as 2006 is on its ninth introduction in its 2012 version but is no closer to being passed than the first bill. How has the lack of a progressive competition law and policy affected the Nigerian economy?
Interesting question. I have always been of the view that as a people, we must always be careful about adopting laws from developed countries lock, stock and barrel simply because it is a fashionable thing to do. Yes it is true that in most developed countries there are competition and anti-trust laws geared towards preventing monopolistic tendencies in the economic environment. Indeed because of economic integration of European countries, Competition law became massive and a whole body of jurisprudence has evolved over the years. However, is a Federal Act on competition so important in the context of Nigeria’s economic development? To be candid, I think not. What would ultimately happen is that another quango will be created that would add another valueless layer of regulation and increased transaction costs especially in the Mergers & Acquisitions area without any attendant benefit to the stakeholders in the industry. We have enough agencies that can and are empowered to play the role of any competitions commission. Lets take for example a merger between two telcos. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in approving the merger will consider the anti-trust implications of the merger. In granting it approval NCC will also amongst other things consider the anti-trust implication within that industry subsector. If we then have a Federal Competitions Commission as being proposed, the parties will also have to seek the approval of another commission whose primary function is also anti-trust. I have not seen any strong or superior argument for a Competitions law in Nigeria at the present time.
The National Assembly held its maiden Business Environment Roundtable on March 21st and among the pertinent considerations of that Roundtable were the archaic nature of laws that should help Nigeria be more attractive as an investment destination and the 50 bills pending before the National Assembly that pertain to the improvement of business in Nigeria. Why do you think Bills concerning the business environment in Nigeria meet with so little success at the National Assembly?
The nexus between law and economics is not something that we take seriously in Nigeria. In developed countries the interrelationship between macro-economic policy and the support of laws in achieving those goals is a whole body of jurisprudence. Until the National Assembly realises that laws are enablers of economic development we will continue to have several critical bills pending while focus is being made on oversight functions! I find it outrageous that the Arbitration and Conciliation Bill to amend the Arbitration and Conciliation Act has also been pending since 2006. This was an executive Bill drafted during the tenure of Chief Bayo Ojo SAN as Attorney General of the Federation.
The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) is the first experience many foreign investors have with working in the Nigerian business environment and as much as the CAC has been modernised and some notable attempts to improve efficiencies have been made, even lawyers here in Nigeria still find the CAC a complex working place. Proof of this exists in the fact that it still takes an average of 23 days to incorporate a company as opposed to 24 hours in countries like the UK and hours in Singapore. How can we ensure improvements in the CAC that allow us to achieve such efficiencies?
Let me start without mincing words. The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) is a national disgrace!!! We all know how Foreign Direct Investment is critical to any country’s economic development. We also have a provision in CAMA that mandates foreigners to set up a Nigerian company if they intend to carry on business in Nigeria. You can immediately see that CAC is at Nigeria’s gateway in the quest for much desired FDI. When foreign investors send initial questionnaires regarding their intentions to invest in Nigeria, one of the first questions is how long does it take to incorporate a company in Nigeria and what is the process? You then tell the foreigner it would take 3 weeks but with an immediate caveat that 3 weeks only after you have submitted the completed documentation. To get to the point of completed documentation, you tell the foreigner to give you a set of names and it will take 72 hours to confirm availability of name. They are already wondering 3 days for just a name. As a Nigerian lawyer you are just praying to God that CAC does not have network issues or their system is down. How do you explain that to a foreigner who is itching to bring millions of dollars into our economy. It is even worse in the M&A field, especially during the due diligence stage where time is of the essence and files of the target company cannot be found in the archives. I was involved in a major transaction in January this year where certain documents were filed, certified true copies obtained by the selling party and we could not do any independent verification because the documents had not been deposited into the file. We then had to explain to foreign counsel that those documents would eventually get there and our independent verification should not stop the closing of the transaction. These kinds of stories are extremely embarrassing for us Nigerian counsel when we engage with counsel from developed countries. You can hear them sigh at the other end of the phone. But with the amount of filing fees that CAC receives, it should not be difficult for all the documents to be scanned and uploaded to some database that can be accessed electronically for a fee that is also paid online. This is what happens in the UK. It would also be beneficial in terms of enterprise risk and disaster recovery. God forbid what happens if there is a fire at CAC? One just shudders to think what would happen to millions of corporate documents.
Maritime law experts have observed in various forums that the Nigerian Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1926 does not reflect international standards. Could you enlighten us on the aspects of the Act that needs to be reformed?
The Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1926 does not need reform. It simply needs to be repealed. Let me explain. The COGSA 1926 was an Act that was passed to incorporate the Hague Rules of 1924 into the corpus of Nigerian law by our then British colonial fathers. Hague Rules is one of the several international Conventions relating to bills of lading. Significantly this law was made applicable to only outward shipments from Nigeria. It therefore meant that the governing law of bills of lading covering goods shipped into Nigeria was determined by the choice of law clause in the bill of lading typically known as the clause paramount. The clause paramount usually incorporated the Hague Rules or Hague/Visby Rules anyway so it was not a practical problem. In 2005, the National Assembly passed the United Nations Convention on Carriage of Goods by Sea (Ratification and Enforcement) Act which domesticated the Hamburg Rules of 1978 into the corpus of Nigerian law. Generally the provisions of the Hamburg Rules are seen as more cargo owner friendly compared to the Hague Rules. So it was a welcome development that Nigeria not only acceded to the Convention but also the Rules were domesticated into our laws. Unlike COGSA 1926, the 2005 Act applied by force of law to both inward and outward shipments. Unfortunately, COGSA 1926 was not expressly repealed by the 2005 Act and there seems to be a duality of regimes in theory even though as a matter of practice as I said earlier it might not be a significant problem. I know that the Nigerian Maritime Law Association is looking into this matter following an excellent paper by Miss Tsumba of Foundation Chambers (I might add she was my former student in Unilag) at the last General Meeting of the Association where she analysed all the technical issues that have arisen or may arise from the extant state of affairs.
Regarding the issue of admiralty jurisdiction, exclusive jurisdiction is conferred on the Federal High Court by virtue of section 251 (g) of the 1999 Constitution. Considering the fact that the Federal High Court has jurisdiction over a number of other matters, is it expedient for the Federal High Court to continue to exercise exclusive jurisdiction in Admiralty matters?
You know historically the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court was limited only to Federal Government revenue matters and admiralty matters. At some point before I think Decree 107 as it was known at the time, the Supreme Court had held in the case of Savannah Bank Limited v Pan Atlantic Shipping Agency that the Federal High Court and the State High Court had concurrent jurisdiction in admiralty matters. We have long moved away from that position under the 1999 Constitution to the current position of exclusive jurisdiction being conferred on the Federal High Court. I believe that over the years the Judges and support staff in the Federal High Court have been well trained and drilled in admiralty matters that I do not see any reason why that Court should not continue to exercise such exclusive jurisdiction. I think the status quo should remain.
The Cabotage Act 2003 was enacted to encourage the participation of indigenous ship companies in the shipping industry, increase capacity and provide employment for Nigerian seafarers. However the waivers in the Act for foreign vessel owners almost renders the act ineffective. In your opinion what should be the essential features of an effective local content policy for the maritime sector?
Coastal trading is essentially a protectionist policy to encourage and entrench participation of indigenous shipping companies in maritime business around the coastal areas of a country. Such policy is not uncommon globally and was first implemented in the United States in the late 19th century in what is commonly know as the Jones Act. There are different variants to this policy. The most common is that all companies engaged in coastal trading must be owned by indigenous persons; all vessels engaged in the same trade must be wholly owned by Nigerians and built in Nigeria and lastly, all the vessels must be manned by Nigerian indigenous seafarers. The Nigerian Cabotage Act adopts this approach. As you can imagine Nigeria is not a ship building nation and the seafarers’ academy in Oron has not churned out enough experienced seafarers of Nigerian origin. This explains why the waiver system has made the Cabotage Act a law observed more in breach than in obeisance. That is the challenge the cabotage regime faces in Nigeria. Perhaps the law should have started with wholly owned ownership of companies and manning requirement while the element of Nigerian built vessels could have been introduced at a later stage. However, the truth be told, the Act has created a very strong platform for indigenous participation in a lucrative area that was hitherto the exclusive preserve of foreign companies.
The doctrine of piercing the corporate veil varies from country to country and scholars regard it as one of the more complex concepts in company law. What impact do you think this concept has on monitoring the actions, policies and decisions of corporations in Nigeria?
The doctrine of lifting the veil in corporate law is essentially driven by the need to ensure that one of the foundational principles of company law – that is corporate personality is not used as an instrument of fraud. There is now a rich body of case law from our courts on this principle and I must say from my experience that Nigerian courts are a lot more flexible in lifting the veil of incorporation in comparison to English Courts. I was personally involved in a case where during the course of winding up of a company, the creditor brought an application to impose personal liability on a non-executive director of the company who was not engaged in the day to day running of the business but a signatory to accounts and the court granted the order and it was affirmed by the Court of Appeal. In the current fight against corruption we also see that quite a number of companies are charged with the alleged accused persons. I would imagine that we are going to see a lot of arguments about lifting the veil of incorporation.
The delays in the Civil Justice delivery system are well known. Litigation is expensive and takes many years to conclude; yet not many see Alternative Dispute Resolution as a viable alternative. What can be done to make ADR more attractive and accessible?
As I have said earlier, ADR has come to stay in the Nigerian legal milieu. We have made great strides in ensuring that the right legal framework is in place to entrench ADR especially arbitration. I am using ADR as a generic alternative to litigation and would not get into the debate whether arbitration is a part of ADR or a separate legal order of its own. The recent Arbitration law of Lagos state is a most welcome development. We need to continue to nurture ADR and a crucial point in all of these is training. I believe that an important segment of lawyers that need critical training are in-house counsel of companies. We need to sensitise our colleagues and those of us external counsel that draft agreements on the crucial importance of drafting ADR clauses properly. This may appear simple enough but a simple mistake such as referring to the appointing authority as the President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (Nigeria Branch) instead of Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (Nigeria Branch) proved costly in a recently decided case in the Court of Appeal. In my view, we have a sufficiently robust legal framework and all that is left is training, training and more training and creating more awareness.
Stakeholders in legal education decry its falling standards and often trace this to the curriculum among other challenges. What teaching methods should be adopted in the Universities and at the law school to reflect global best practices?
I am aware that Professor Ernest Ojukwu SAN is in the forefront of driving the concept of clinical legal education. I believe he was also directly involved in the change to the teaching methodology in the Nigerian Law School circa 2008 or thereabout. The whole point of clinical legal education is that as lecturers we are encouraged to have a more interactive approach to our teaching rather that the classical methodology where the lecturer speaks the whole time without getting a sense of how the students are assimilating what is being taught. We are also being encouraged to optimise the availability of information technology as a valuable teaching aid and focus more on case study approach which will encourage more discussions in the lecture room. The Nigerian Law School is far ahead of the Universities but we will hopefully catch up in a short space of time. In UNILAG for example all our lecture rooms have projectors and all the necessary paraphernalia for information technology.
There are allegations that the government is not observing the rule of law in the fight against corruption. What is your assessment of the present government’s fight against corruption?
The scourge of corruption is like a cancerous growth that has permeated the entire fabric of the Nigerian polity. We seem to focus a lot on corruption in the public sector space but corruption in the private sector space is as damaging to the nation as a whole. There is a limit to which Government can fight corruption in the private sector space, if at all. A simple example is a corrupt accountant of an SME enterprise whose fraud caused the liquidation of the company. The ripple effect is that the 20 staff of the company are rendered jobless which by extension would have a severe impact on the dependants of the 20 staff. Some of them will have health issues that will put additional pressures on the health system. Some kids would become high school drop outs and may turn to armed robbery putting additional pressure on the Police Force. It could just go on and on just because of a corrupt accountant in a small company. The jury is still out on the Government’s fight against corruption. But one thing is clear, the Government has started the fight, the train has left the station and let us see where the train will stop. Regrettably though, rather than focus on the pernicious and malignant effects of corruption, I hear some people complain that the present Government’s fight against corruption is selective and perhaps political. I find this most annoying and is one of the reasons why as a country and a people we still have a long walk down the road in our quest for moral cleansing and redemption. If we keep making such puerile suggestions we will never move forward as a nation. The fight against corruption must start somewhere and the pertinent question must always be this – is the alleged corruption case in question one of persecution or prosecution? Put differently, is there a prima facie case against the person being prosecuted irrespective of the political or religious affiliations of the person? What I do know is that corruption is going to fight back and by the first quarter of 2017 which is about a year from now, we should have a better sense of where the fight against corruption is headed.
You were awarded the rank of SAN in 2014. Could you share your perspective of the esteemed rank of SAN, having the unique privilege of being an Academic alongside legal practice?
Being elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria is all by the special Grace of God as there are so many people worthy of the rank who are still looking for God’s favour. At the International Law Association Annual Conference last year at the Lagos Court of Arbitration, Professor Fidelis Oditah QC, SAN when introducing myself and Professor Fabian Ajogwu SAN as the debaters referred to us as “scholar practitioners” I consider it a rare privilege indeed to have achieved the distinction of Senior Advocate and also teach law. I have been teaching law since 1996 and I believe that my students are the ones that have benefited the most from my position as a scholar practitioner. And why do I say that? The theory of the law and the practice of law are two different propositions that are conflated into one with a scholar practitioner. With the background, a scholar practitioner brings a different dimension to teaching in the classroom because he or she brings live factual situations to bear on the theory of law that he also teaches. More importantly, is the mentoring aspect as well. In My short 19 years of teaching, I have seen my former students obtain Ph.D.s, become partners in foremost legal law firms in Nigeria, lecturers in renowned Universities in Nigeria and abroad, distinguished public officers (One of them is a retired Inspector General of Police and one was an INEC Resident Commissioner) and indeed one I am very proud to say is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. I hope and pray that I continue to serve as a role model and/or mentor to the younger generation particularly on the need for hard work and patience for God’s blessings.
There is an on-going debate about the engagement of law lecturers in active legal practice. Could you share your views on this debate?
Very thought provoking question. I say that because I see a typical Nigerian superficial knee jerk approach to issues rearing its head here. Let me tell you what my position is. I have earlier alluded to the advantages of a scholar practitioner. As far as I am concerned our students are better for it. However, please do not get me wrong. I am not for a minute saying or suggesting that lecturers that do not practice are not good or fantastic lecturers. Professor Adedokun Adeyemi, for example, is one of the greatest legal minds this country has ever produced and I have never seen him in his wig and gown arguing a criminal matter. All I am saying is that there is just something slightly different about a scholar practitioner. I will share a personal experience. I did my LLM at the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) and one of the courses I took was Carriage of Goods by Sea which was taught by Professors Audrey Diamond and Martin Dockray. At the University College London (UCL), the same course was taught by Professor Francis Reynolds and Mr Bernard Eder QC (Now Hon. Justice Eder of the High Court of Justice in England). Out of curiosity I attended the UCL lecture on a day Bernard Eder QC was teaching and I was enthralled because he was given factual instances of cases he was involved in when explaining the various principles. This was so different from the way the distinguished professors taught the same subject. Suffice it to say that I attended Bernard Eder QC’s entire lecture till the end of the semester. If there are perceived issues with the proper allocation of time between lecturing and practice, I think these issues can be discussed to get the right balance between the town and gown mix. The narrative should not be one of banning but of getting the balance right.