By Omole Ibukun
National Secretary, Education Rights Campaign (ERC)
The month of October, 2017 will go down in history as a month of indebtedness and penury for some Nigerian families, as our intending barristers will be paying over Three hundred thousand Naira (N300,000) to be recognized as a professional in a course they have spent some five years in the university to learn. This is aside other fees that they would have to pay during their registration and graduation process from the Law school and money spent during the programme for sustenance and project work e.t.c. As a matter of fact the law school has adopted a method of yearly systemic increment in the recent period that involves increasing the fees by fifteen thousand Naira (N15, 000) every year. The matter that beg for answers is how a parent earning Eighteen thousand Naira (N18,000) as monthly minimum wage would be able to pay these exploitative fees for their children.
A case that comes to mind is that of a law graduate from Obafemi Awolowo University who had to release a “please-help” notice on social media before Nigerians later contributed money to pay for his Law school fees. It is disheartening that law school has become as costly as a venture that now demands crowd-funding. How then do we hope that our lawyers remain incorruptible? When they have become extremely indebted to become lawyers, won’t they prefer to give justice to the highest bidders?
Despite these exorbitant fees that the Law school bills, the poor welfare state of the Law school that Kayode Olusegun Bello recently exposed is still fresh in our minds; the poor social condition that the Nigerian Law School desperately wanted to cover up to the point of booting him out of Law school military-style, and later disobeying a court order to reinstate him. This poor welfare includes congestion, and poor state of accommodation facilities at the law school campuses.
While this barbarity is the obtainable at the law school, members of the management of the Council of Legal Education continue to live in opulence while making these policies that relegates our future lawyers to gnashing suffering.
One would then ask if public education (esp. Legal education) has become a commodity or it remains a social service. With the knowledge that justice is the only job of the judicial arm of government and that public education is a social responsibility of the government, it is only logical to conclude that the burden of legal education should be the responsibility of that government. This is why the Nigerian Law School is a public institution and not a private enterprise. Meanwhile, education is a social service that serves the society and the government more than the individual. While education serves the role of advancing our society, it also helps the government in ensuring that the people remain governable and maintain a certain order.
In a country where Judges are been tried for corruption, it becomes understandable that the trial of those judges will not fundamentally bring to an end the problem of systemic corruption, but it is a question of changing the entire corrupt capitalist system. If youths that are supposed to learn justice have it accepted through these fees that legal and judicial education goes to the highest bidder, and then they would not find it hard to rationalize it in the future that justice should also go to the highest bidder.
All of these aforementioned facts stress the fact that public education, especially legal education, must be affordable. In the final analysis, we need a public education sector that is democratically-managed, properly-planned and publicly funded. If this is not done, the laws for the rich will continue to be different than the law for the poor.