In January, 2017, I wrote a piece titled “Has NYSC Run Its Course?”. It was about the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme which was established by the NYSC Decree No. 24 of May 22, 1973 during the regime of General Yakubu Gowon, as a one year programme for fresh University graduates “to promote unity, understanding and national integration among Nigerians” after the Nigerian Civil War. It was a laudable idea at the time, and it served its purpose in those days. Even in my time, in the 1980s, many of my friends enjoyed doing their NYSC in different parts of the country. I thoroughly enjoyed doing my Law School Chamber attachment in Kaduna, in the chambers of General I.B.M. Haruna, and I’m sad that, today, the same Kaduna State has become one of the epicentres of kidnapping students, and in several cases, killing them. If I was doing my Law School Chamber attachment today, I wouldn’t step out of Lagos to do it.
I gave a few reasons why I thought the NYSC programme had lost lost its usefulness, or at least, why I believed that even if it continues, it should be reformed. The major reasons which I provided were insecurity; the poor, unhygienic conditions and the deplorable state in the NYSC Camps. The Nigerian Law School is not immune from these same constraints. And, as far as integration is concerned, today the country seems to be more divided than it has ever been, aside from during the Civil War, on lines of ethnicity/tribe and religion.
At the time I wrote the above-mentioned editorial, the insecurity in the country had not spread and deteriorated to the all time low that it has in recent times. Insecurity was concentrated in the North East with the Boko Haram insurgents, kidnapping in the South South, and a few issues with the Herdsmen in Benue State. Ergo, I stated in that piece: “Certainly, one would be playing Russian Roulette with a child’s life, if you posted them to the North East for NYSC. With all the Boko Haram activities going on there, it would be wicked and unfair to post a person who has a whole life ahead of him or her, to a place where there is a high probability of that life span being cut short, since their safety cannot be guaranteed”. Today, I can say “ditto for most parts of Nigeria”, since we have been experiencing insecurity across the country. The same way I felt about posting fresh graduates to Borno State in 2017, is the same way I feel about posting them (and Law School students) to various parts of the country in the various geopolitical zones today. Government has shown uncountable times, that it has been unable to fulfil its constitutional mandate of ensuring the security and welfare of Nigerians (see Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2018)(the Constitution).
I therefore suggested that, since the NYSC was an opportunity for fresh graduates to work, at least for a year before they joined the unemployment cadre, people should no longer be constrained to go out-of-station, unless they opt to. See the articles of Omezia A.D. “Reform or Abrogate NYSC” and “Review of the NYSC Act: An Agenda for Reform” by Desmond O. Oriakhogba and Alero I. Fenemigho (Ajayi Crowther University Law Journal). Agreed, many places may be unsafe, but one tends to feel safer in an environment that one is familiar with. With the practice of Sharia in the Northern States, again, this may discourage Christians and Southerners from wanting to be posted to such places. Meanwhile, presently, I know of a few Southern Christians who were posted to the Yola and Kano Campuses of the Law School – of course, they do not want to go there. When the Federal Government turns a blind eye to State Governments implementing an unconstitutional religious policy which impinges on people’s right to freedom of movement (See Sections 10 & 41 of the Constitution) amongst others, they should know that there will be repercussions, like non-indigenes shying away from going to such places; and they cannot be forced to then go there under the guise of NYSC and Law School, when their concerns are real. Government cannot eat its cake, and have it!
I suggested that NYSC members, can be useful in their own communities. For example, many of them teach in Government schools, while Doctors are posted to Government hospitals. There are Government schools and hospitals in all the States – they can be posted to theirs. And that, instead of wasting time in the NYSC Camp doing military orientation – march past and man-o-war (when many of the graduates have no plans to join the Army or Police) – which adds little or no value to their lives, there should be skills acquisition so that Corpers could be better equipped to possibly use the skills learned during NYSC to start some small scale business when the service year ends, as opposed to joining the massive group of unemployed graduates, becoming frustrated, and even turning to criminality to make ends meet.
Nigerian Law School: Issues Arising
1) Forced Out-of-Station Postings
One of my submissions was that the Nigerian Government should learn to review its policies, update them, and abolish those that are no longer useful. NYSC is one of them. It requires updating. Therefore, many right thinking people find it rather bizarre, that the Nigerian Law School is trying to replicate the same failing NYSC model that requires reform, by posting students to out-of-station campuses by force. For many, this policy makes little sense.
Many, myself included, thought that one of the reasons for decentralising the Law School, would be so that students can attend the campus closest to their homes, or the campus of their choice. What if a family that resides in Enugu, who barely had enough money to put their child through Nsukka University, and is hoping that the child is posted to the Enugu Campus of Law School to save their meagre resources, is posted to Yola, Lagos or Bwari? How will they pay for the child’s transportation out-of-station? How will they afford to pay for accommodation and living expenses? Does that mean that they won’t see their child for one year, since they are too poor to afford travelling expenses to and from the out-of-station Campus during the school holidays? Even NYSC, no matter how low the salary is, Corpers are paid.
I’m even surprised that in the South South, the Law School Campus was taken to Yenagoa and not Port Harcourt in the first place, because Port Harcourt has always been the major city in the South South, as Lagos is in the South West, Kano in the North, and Enugu in the South East.
We also know that the conditions in the Law School Bwari Campus, which is now the main Campus, is less than desirable, and many students opt to stay in external hostels off Campus that offer better living conditions. Stories of reptiles being found in the Bwari hostel, the filth, sometimes shortage of running water there, abound. I understand that at a time, the Law School Yenagoa Campus was so bare and unsuitable, that members of the NBA were the ones contributing mattresses for use by the students posted there! What is the condition of the other campuses? Someone who went to deliver a lecture at the Lagos Law School, told me how shocked he was at seeing how decrepit things were backstage leading up to the podium.
Why then, force people to go to Campuses that are not well equipped and fit for purpose? Should funds not be expended on fixing the existing campuses, instead of trying to build new ones? The Governor of Rivers State has pledged N5 billion to support the Yenagoa Campus, while building a state of the art facility in the heart of Port Harcourt. I submit that other funds should rather be ploughed into improving the existing Law School campuses, instead of building more for political or other useless sentiments; for now, anyway. Port Harcourt is a project that has already been approved and commenced – I think that the expansion of Law School, should stop there for now. Let us see how it fares, before thinking of establishing more.
Again, why force people to go to Campuses that are located in insecure, isolated places, to be sitting ducks for kidnappers? Why is Government, through the Council of Legal Education (CLE), trying to keep up appearances that all is well, and there is no security risk with out-of-station postings? I visited Bwari a few times earlier this year; unlike the Lagos Campus which is situated right in the heart of town, in one of the best and more secure areas of Lagos – Victoria Island, Bwari is 40km or so outside Abuja, and the road leading there becomes rather lonely at some point, with absolutely no security presence thereon. When I visited the new Nabo Graham Douglas Law School Campus that is being constructed in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, I was glad to see that it is located also in the heart of town like Lagos, where students can feel safe, and not inside any secluded or back of beyond area.
3) Unnecessary Campuses
And then, a Senator, a non-Lawyer for that matter, decides to usurp the role of the CLE and decides that the Legal Education (Consolidation, Etc) Act 2004 (LEA) should be amended, to allow for the establishment of six more Law School campuses across the geopolitical zones, his village included! Section 1(2) of the LEA gives the CLE the responsibility for the legal education of persons seeking to become members of the legal profession, and this very much includes the Law School. Should it then be the Senate proposing new Law School campuses, or the CLE that would be the body to decide on Law School requirements? Already, the existing Law School campuses are suffering from gross underfunding, and yet the Senate has come up with this harebrained idea to build more? Who will fund it? Is it the States that cannot pay their workers’ salaries? Or the Federal Government that is crumbling under the weight of debt, so much so that ASUU is always on strike because of non-payment of salaries, allowances etc and lack of proper maintenance and upgrading of Universities, that will fund the construction of new campuses, when the existing ones are in dire need of a huge injection of capital?
Section 4(2) of the Constitution enjoins the National Assembly to inter alia, makes laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation, not to satisfy silly whims and caprices of Politicians. Granted Items 27 & 28 on the Concurrent Legislative list empowers the National Assembly to establish institutions for professional education, but the question is how sensible such an action is presently, with the situation that Nigeria is facing in terms of insecurity, insufficient funds plus the fact that new campuses are not required. When resources are scare, they must be distributed in terms of priority, and not wasted on non-necessities. Why waste what we don’t have?! Additionally, presently, the Law School Campuses are spread across the geopolitical zones.
It is obvious that already, Law School Campuses like Yola and Yenagoa are under-subscribed, as those States obviously do not have enough home students to fill their Campuses, nor are they Campuses of choice for out-of-State students. This also sets the stage for corruption, as those who are financially capable will use any means possible, including the offering of bribes to Law School Staff, to change their postings to preferred campuses. Enough of illogical Government policies and half cocked, haphazard, extemporaneous proposed laws from the Senate.
Nigeria is being ruled (not led), by a bunch of Political egotistical ‘Apas’ (Wastrels). But, in the case of the Law School, the CLE that knows better has openly disagreed with the Senate/Sponsor of this new amendment. Recklessly establishing Law School campuses all over the place, so that Politicians can boast that while they were in the Senate, they were able to get a post-Tertiary institution located in their villages, cannot be a sufficient reason for such a ludicrous action, when funding even for the ones that are presently in existence is lacking – the allegation that the present campuses are not enough to admit those who want to go to Law School, has been debunked; the CLE posting innocent students out-of-station given the security and economic challenges the country is facing, is also ill-advised. I urge an urgent rethink.