Moves by the Senate to enact a law for the establishment of six new campuses for the Nigerian Law School met stiff opposition at the National Assembly on Monday with the Nigeria Bar Association, Council for Legal Education, Body of Benchers and some senators, opposing the idea.
Their arguments for rejecting the move, were, however, faulted by some other senators; a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana.
Those, who were against the establishment of new campuses, said the existing ones had the capacity to accommodate all the law graduates being produced yearly by universities if well-funded.
They also claimed that enacting a legislation to establish campuses for NLS would amount to usurping the powers of the Council for Legal Education.
But the proponents of new campuses argued that the current ones were overstretched.
The stakeholders bared their minds at a one-day public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, chaired by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele.
The proposed legislation is titled, “A bill for an Act to Amend the Legal Education (Consolidation etc.) Act by Establishing Campuses for the Nigerian Law School, and for other related matters,” which was sponsored by Senator Smart Adeyemi.
The bill, seeks six additional campuses in Kogi State, Borno State, Kebbi, Anambra State, Delta State and Ekiti State.
The Council for Legal Education had also obtained approval for the establishment of a campus in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State.
Speaking, Senators Ike Ekweremadu ( PDP Enugu West) and Seriake Dickson ( PDP Bayelsa West) called on their colleagues to be cautious on the proposal .
Ekweremadu said, “The establishment of new campuses or law schools should be left at the discretion of Council for Legal Education as empowered by the Act that set it up in 1962”.
Also, the President of the NBA, Olumide Akpata (SAN), said the move was unnecessary as the existing six campuses were underfunded.
He said the Governor of Rivers State, Nyensom Wike, “at a time, had to intervene and save the Balyesa State campus to the tune of N4bn.”
He also said Wike had committed huge resources to build and equipped a modern law school campus in Port-Harcourt.
Akpata said, “With the required infrastructure, the existing law schools across the country are enough to accommodate thousands of law students graduating from universities.
“The Council for Legal Education is the institution empowered by law to set up a new campus on the basis of need assessment and not political considerations.
The Chairman of the Council for Legal Education, Emeka Ngige (SAN), said condition of most of the existing campuses was deplorable due to gross underfunding.
He said, “The move by the Senate through this bill is more or less subtle usurpation of the functions of the Council for Legal Education.”
However, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, said, “It is important to clarify certain facts, the Council of legal Education Act, was enacted in 1962 for the creation of one law school.
“Nowhere in the Act that it was ever thought there that we are going to have a multi campus institution.
“In 1999, we had six batches of law students who had no place to go, they contacted me and I had to go court.
“The building of the law school in Lagos was already sold to a businessman who wanted to turn it to a hotel when the school moved to Abuja.
“It was only one campus when I went to court and we got an injunction restraining the government from selling the law school in Lagos.
“When the (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo regime came on board, we said instead of having two campuses; why don’t we make it a multi campus, so that we won’t create another problem by asking everybody to come to Lagos or go to Abuja and that was how we have a multi campus law school.
“It was not the idea of the Council of Legal Education. The law has not been amended to empower the Council of Legal Education to create campuses. They have no such power.”
He however tasked the lawmakers to address the issue of funding so that the new campuses would not suffer same fate as those of existing ones.
In their various submissions, the sponsor of the bill, Senator Smart Adeyemi ( APC Kogi West), Senator Abiodun Olujimi (PDP Ekiti South), Kashim Shettima (APC Borno Central), among others, argued for establishment of the proposed law schools for accessibility of legal education.