In order to transform legal education in Nigeria, the development of analytical, critical thinking, and problem-solving legal minds is key, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this on Wednesday at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) legal education summit, which held at the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State.
Themed “Reimagining Legal Education in Nigeria”, the Vice President’s message sent to the summit in a pre-recorded video noted that “this type of education does not have to be confined to the traditional four-wall classroom; a system we have been operating in the main since the 1960s. Legal education, like many other branches of learning, is designed to evolve with and be responsive to the development of society.
“Needs for legal services depend on the general dealings and operations of the society. Having been a law teacher for many years, I fully understand that a chief problem of our style of legal education is learning by rote, as opposed to learning for problem-solving.”
Recalling his days as a university lecturer where he taught the Law of Evidence, Prof. Osinbajo noted that learning for problem-solving places more emphasis on “understanding how to use case law and statutes to solve real-life legal problems” rather than just memorizing them.
“It struck me one day while teaching documentary evidence, that students will learn faster if I was able to give them copies of what an original document is, what secondary evidence of it would look like, what a real-life public document is, and what a certified copy looks like,” he explained.
“So, when I taught the complex issues of proof of documentary evidence, they had a good mental picture of what I had in mind. Also, by posing a problem and asking them to search out the rules to apply, I found that even the least interested students got involved. This is a snippet of what is called Clinical Legal Education, and it is the new and right way of teaching law.”
The VP also pointed out the need to decongest over-populated classrooms in law schools across the country by adopting a hybrid approach to education, through the extensive use of technology for teaching.
He observed that Nigeria should learn from other nations that have transformed their systems of legal training through developed structures of periodic review.
According to the Vice President, the population explosion – overcrowded classrooms and hostels, inadequate library facilities, limited pool of qualified law teachers, etc., were not peculiar to Nigeria.
However, he observed that “other jurisdictions have encountered (at varying degrees) and successfully tackled these challenges. Nigeria’s candidates for law school averaged 10,000. A 10-year review of the admission list of the Nigerian Law School from 2010 to 2020, shows that, on average, the various campuses of the school can accommodate only about 6,000 students.”
“Even before the advent of Covid-19 pandemic, which in a number of countries fast-tracked the adoption of technology in tutoring, other jurisdictions have adopted and institutionalised the use of technology in tutoring, examinations and even their courtroom systems,” he added.
Prof. Osinbajo highlighted examples from the United States and the United Kingdom.
He observed that “in the US, from 2015 – 2017, between 16,000 and 20,000 lawyers join the pool annually, while similarly high numbers are trained in the United Kingdom (21,000) and Australia (8,499).”
The VP stated that these countries did four major things differently in their approach. In addition to the extensive use of technology for teaching, he pointed out three other areas: decentralisation of law schools and non-residential bar examinations, long period of practical training as a condition precedent for call, and inclusion of relevant aspects of managerial skills in the curricula.
On decentralizing law schools, Prof. Osinbajo stated that “there are no requirements for residential stay in any formal school setting for the Bar Examination. Applications are completed online and the examination, computer-based, is administered at designated centres. A character and fitness investigation is conducted on applicants prior to issuance of license to practice law.”
The Vice President commended the NBA leadership “for its consistent efforts at improving the legal profession through sustained investment in continuing legal education, in particular and advancement of jurisprudence.”
He also acknowledged the contributions of Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, for being an undiminished light in the legal profession, and devoting “his resources to establishing a world-class university and a faculty of law that has attained such distinction in a few short years.”
Also on Wednesday, the Vice President spoke (virtually) at the opening day of the International Woman Leadership Conference, 2022 organised by the Ibukun Awosika Leadership Academy in partnership with Dubai Tourism and Dubai Events.
At the Conference themed Women in Leadership: Playing to Win, the VP highlighted the importance of educating the girl-child, gender equality in politics and other sectors, among other salient issues affecting women.
“Women breaking glass ceilings in industry, politics, is perhaps more important than men doing the same, because women are the half of our human resources who are yet to be fully optimised on account of lack of education and discriminatory practices in the workplace,” the Vice President observed.
He said compared to rich countries, “the world’s poorest countries are those who have low rates of female education and career attainment.
“These countries with higher levels of gender equality in education and attainment tend to have higher income levels, better lifestyles and better health outcomes,” Prof. Osinbajo said.
Emphasizing the strategic importance of greater gender equality in political representation and senior government jobs, the VP noted that “greater gender parity in those positions will mean women being in a position to influence policies, especially those that would affect the fortunes of women and girls.”
Underscoring the growing numbers and influence of women in Nigerian society, the Vice President acknowledged the significant roles of women “as heads and chairs of multilateral and multinational organisations, industry, entertainment, technology and innovation, and successful business owners.”
However, he urged women in leadership to strengthen their synergy and collaboration in terms of sharing useful hard and soft skills to speed up development.
He added that “the role of women must go beyond merely breaking glass ceilings, it must be to attain global excellence and leadership. Women must play not just to be represented, but to win.”