Law school's mystery flit

February 13, 1998

Nigeria's leading law school has been unexpectedly relocated 600 kilometres from the capital Lagos, the economic and financial centre of West Africa, to a small town called Bwari near Abuja.

Parents, students and the media have appealed to the military government to rescind the decision.

Hostels, and the main auditorium are still under construction. The town has no hospital, no telephone and banking services, and the school is constructing its own borehole to provide potable water.

Created in 1962, Lagos law school annually admits, irrespective of grades, all university law faculty students who have passed their final-year examinations.

When announcing the move Kavode Jegede, director-general of the school, said the school would admit no more than 1,500 of the 4,000 applicants when it reopens.

He said students would have to lodge on campus and not be allowed to travel in daily from Abuja. "It is too dangerous. The road is winding and bad and the distance is far. Such students will not be able to cope with the volume of work," he explained.

The criteria to be used in admitting the limited number of students is also controversial.

Professor Jegede said: "The council of education, which runs the law school, has sent accreditation panels to law faculties in universities which run law programmes. Based on the panels' reports about available teaching facilities, quality and the number of teachers and a library, the council approved a quota it feels a university can conveniently handle."

The panel has recommended that only students with first and second-class honours degrees can be admitted to the Bwari campus. It did not say whether students who cannot be admitted this year will be allowed to when there are more facilities.

The established campus in Lagos, which has ultra-modern facilities to compare with any law school in western industrial democracies, has room for all 4,000 applicants. It also trains lawyers for other African states.

Mike Ikhariale, of Lagos State University, said that "the quality of legal practice in the Lagos area is indisputably the best in the whole of Africa. The Nigerian law school had enjoyed a position of eminence in the Commonwealth especially across the common law practising jurisdictions."

Lecturers with successful and lucrative law firms in Lagos have reacted strongly to the announcement and said they would not leave the city. According to reports, some are preparing to resign.

One theory for the haste of the move to Bwari is that the daughter of an influential military general, who is unpopular because he took part in the annulment of the presidential elections, has refused to go to Lagos to attend the school for fear of being molested.

It was therefore decided that the law school should move so that she could attend under heavy security protection.

Adrien Ogan, associate professor of international law at the Lagos State University, said: "The nation must rescue the law school from its present decay. The first thing to do is immediately to move back to the now fallow but efficient facilities at the original Victoria Island Site in Lagos either fully or at its main campus while developing the facilities at Abuja until a planned relocation is possible."

He warned: "In a profession where seniority is taken so seriously, to prevent some students, through no fault of their own, from being enrolled along with their colleagues, will be doing incalculable harm."

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