Record-Breaking 161 First Class & Mr. Steve Sun’s Vituperative Requisitions on Nigerian Bar Association Against the Council of Legal Education: A Riposte (A letter to Steve Sun, by Sylvester Udemezue)
Dear Mr. Steve Sun,
Law and Society Forum (LSF) is a popular WhatsApp Platform comprising a group of very senior and junior Nigerian lawyers (resident within and outside Nigeria) committed to discussions on how best to deploy law as an instrument of social change for the overall progress of Nigeria and Nigerians. On 20 October 2018, at about 10.00pm, from the comfort of my study, I read on LSF, a piece of commentary, marked “without prejudice,” in which you (the author) did what may pass as a critique on the recently released (2018) Nigerian Law School Bar Final Exams and a requisition for the Nigerian Bar Association to immediately demand some sort of explanation or clarification from the Council of Legal Education (CLE) on why 161 Nigerian Law School students could bag First Class in a Bar exam in which your humble had earlier only managed to come out from with a 2.2 (Second Class, Lower Division). Your commentary under reference appears also on TheMetroLawyer blog under the caption, “Lawyer Calls On Council Of Legal Education To Explain Marking Scheme.” (See https://themetrolawyer.com/lawyer-calls-on-council-of-legal-education-to-explain-marking-scheme/). It is also published on the TheNigeriaLawyer.com under the heading, “Lawyer Calls On NLS To Furnish NBA With Clarification On Recently Released Bar Results” (see https://thenigerialawyer.com/lawyer-calls-on-nls-to-furnish-nba-with-clarification-on-recently-released-bar-results/)
I had resolved to not respond to the piece, but the sweeping allegations or groundless assumptions raised therein compelled me to have a re-think, I being somewhat affected. Besides, as Winston Churchill once said, “a lie may get halfway around the world before truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Vladimir Lenin put it more succinctly: “a lie told often enough soon becomes accepted as the truth.” So, the earlier the falsehood was ousted and people’s minds disabused of its fangs, pangs and claws, the better for our society, because, as Sir Thomas Jefferson declared on December 08, 1822, in his Letter to James Smith, “man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities, the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such person, gullibility which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.”
Note however, my dear respected learned friend, Steve U. Nwankwo (aka Steve Sun), that my response to you is strictly in my personal capacity because I am not a spokesperson for the Council of Legal Education or Nigerian Law School neither do I have any fiat to speak on behalf of the Council/School.
First, you say you made a 2.2 (second class lower). I need you to understand that it is your result— the outcome of your own efforts during your bar final exams. Bar part 2 exams are a garbage-in-garbage-out game in which what you put in determines what you get in return. In other words, each student harvests by way of results exactly what he or she has sown by way of legitimate efforts during the bar final examinations. Nigerian Law School does not assist any student to fail or to pass. No help whatsoever and howsoever is offered to any student of the NLS to achieve anything in the law School; I mean, nothing beyond the efforts deployed by Lecturers and other staff members in class, on teaching the students and providing them with relevant mentoring, supervision, guide, counsel, and study materials in lines with extant rules and regulations. So, these 161 students actually deserved the First-Class Honours in the August 2018 bar final exams, which is why they are placed in the First-Class category. There is no “mago-mago.”
Second, you so wonder aloud as to whether the Nigerian Law School has “secretly” departed from extant grading systems and processes that you find it “fishy” when someone tells you in regard to the 2018 bar final examination results that “one million people made 1st class.” My dear friend, I do not think anything has changed other than the level of commitment, focus, and preparedness on the part of the students. Nothing has changed regarding the grading system at the Nigerian Law School. And nothing is shrouded in secrecy, because the School runs an open-door program. If anything would soon change, it would be to push the pass mark from the current 40% to 50% as being proposed by Committees set by up by relevant regulatory authorities.
In your article, Sir, you confess that you are yet to see any breakdown of your own bar final results. Yet, you proceed in the same breath to postulate with some air of certainty that it was Corporate Law Practice (formerly referred to as Company Law) that brought your grade down to 2.2. Your words: “I didn’t see my scripts, but I’m pretty sure that what landed me in 2:2 must’ve been Company Law….I’m also pretty sure i must’ve scored up to and more than 90 in some of the other courses.”
With due respect, yours are groundless assumptions. You do not know what you do not know. Put differently, you’re wrong to claim to know what you know you know not. How on earth could you be “pretty sure” that (a) Corporate Law brought you down and that (b) you must have scored up to 90% in some of the courses? Even those who eventually make first class, how many of them had ever got up to 90% in any course in the Law School bar final exams? Do not forget that 70% is what it takes to get a first class. Let me personally inform you that if 90% was the minimum requirement for getting a first class, I doubt whether the number of candidates that would ever have got the first class since the inception of the school might be up to 10 persons altogether. Further, the way you even describe Corporate Law Practice as “vast and tricky” appears to send clear signals to the effect that you obviously had during your time, gone into the exam hall for the bar final exams feeling somehow already defeated. It’s therefore no surprise, even to you, that you came out with 2.2 which, to me, is however not a bad one at all, considering that, honestly, everyone need not make first class in order to be successful. However, you would not get to know the details of what you had done wrong during your bar final exams unless you follow laid down processes and procedures to get to know same. It’s easy. You know the processes. And until you take relevant steps on how to get a breakdown of your result, your assumptions here are baseless and may be interpreted by reasonable and discerning persons as an attempt, on your part, to unjustifiably deprecate and disparage your Alma Mater. In this respect, I personally encourage you to not try to push down the bridge that has carried you through.
What is more? Your statement “I’m calling on the General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association to write to the CLE-NLS, requesting them to furnish the Bar forthwith with some clarifications vis-à-vis (sic) the recently released results” seems to amount to a requisition for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to immediately demand an explanation from the Nigerian Law School authorities on why 161 bar aspirants had to get first class in 2018, a development you see as “fishy,” although it is clear from your commentary that this is for no reason other than that the same is unprecedented. With due respect, Sir, your requisition is inappropriate and bereft of any legal or other foundations. First, section 1 (1) of the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, 1976 establishes the CLE (Council of Legal Education) as “a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal,” while section 1 (2) of the same Act provides that the CLE “shall have responsibility for the legal education of persons seeking to become members of the legal profession” in Nigeria. Note also that the CLE has the responsibility of continuing legal education in Nigeria (under section 3 of the Act) but this is not relevant here. Dear Mr Steve Sun, until this statutory responsibility which appears exclusive is taken away from the CLE by way of a repeal or an amendment of the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, the CLE does not owe you any explanation on the steps it takes for purposes of professional legal training of aspirants to the Nigerian bar or on the conduct of its examinations, especially considering that section 2 (5) of the same Act also expressly confers additional powers on the CLE “to do such things as it considers expedient for the purpose of performing its functions….”
A major point for you to take home, however, is that all the pre-examination and post-examination processes and procedures in the Nigerian Law School are conducted in a transparent manner, in the sense that some other persons, institutions, regulators and authorities (and not just the NLS lecturers alone), actively participate in all or most of these bar final processes to ensure that quality is assured, credibility sustained and merit guaranteed. This has to be the case because, as I have explained elsewhere in January 2017, “Teaching in the Law School under the New Curriculum … is aimed at producing lawyers who would be in a position to measure up to contemporary benchmarks and international best practices in the legal profession…. the system is designed to ensure that only serious-minded people are enrolled into the legal profession, which itself is rather tasking. Accordingly, success in the Law School depends much more on hard work and determination than on mere possession of talent; at the Nigerian Law School, hard work would beat talent if talent does not work hard. There is no room for anything goes; the School is not a dumping ground for the “never-do-wells,” who try to get enlisted into the legal profession through the back door.” (See https://thenigerialawyer.com/contemporary-training-at-the-nigerian-law-school-an-insiders-acounti/). Additionally, dear Steve Sun, are you not aware that the current President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is the Ag. Chairman of the Council of Legal Education (CLE)? So, when you make a requisition for the NBA General Secretary to write to seek clarifications from the CLE, what you’re saying in effect is that the NBA General Secretary should write to the NBA President for clarifications. A little research prior to your write-up could have placed these basic pieces of information at your disposal thereby, perhaps, making your outburst against the Law School/CLE unnecessary. During your days at the NLS, there is no doubt that you were properly equipped with basic legal research skills. Your failure to deploy these skills to your advantage in this instance appears to indicate that your article/Call under consideration was not borne out of any genuine desire, in you, towards correcting anything in the NLS (if anything is wrong).
Judging by the tone of your article, I am inclined to conclude that you are lamenting and complaining as to why a result that came years after your own NLS set could be or indeed was better than the results of your set. That, my learned friend, is, with due respect, a erroneous way to approach life. One, in my village, as in many other Africa villages, the prayer of the elders and older ones is usually that “those coming after us should be far better than we are, perform better than we did and achieve better than we have.” This is because the African tradition is rooted in morality and our desire to have our future better than our past and the present. Even in the Arab world, the proverb has gained prominence, that “what is coming is better than what is gone.” So, dear Steve Sun, just because the past didn’t turn out like we wanted it to doesn’t mean the future can’t be better than we imagined. Our pasts do not define our future. So, we must not let the shadows of our past darken the doorstep of our future. The standard and results of your law school set/session cannot be a yardstick for measuring all future sets! To accede to such line of reasoning, as you have adopted, is to embrace relapse into deterioration and retrogression! The Council of Legal (Nigerian Law School) and its successive generation of students can only get better, not worse!
At this juncture, dear Mr Nwankwo, permit me to ask you this all-important question. Would you have resorted to this vituperative outburst against the CLE/NLS if the results of the 2018 Bar final Exams had come out abysmally poor, as in, say, not even one first class was recorded? I guess not! Yes, you wouldn’t because then, you would have been rejoicing that your juniors were worse than you’re, which I suspect was your prayer. My dear, the fact that you had gone to the Law School and seen your courses as “vast and tricky,” and therefore too difficult for you to surmount, doesn’t mean that succeeding generations of our hardworking and daring students would see the courses in the same light. Accordingly, the fact you had made 2:2 doesn’t mean anyone that goes beyond 2.2 must have done some mago-mago, such that an investigation by NBA would become necessary to lift the veil! If you felt the courses were hard, during your time, I am happy to inform you that those coming after you, such as the 2017/2018 set, felt otherwise and as such had gone ahead to take the bull by the horn in order to prove that Nigerian Law School does not withhold the first-class grade from any candidate who rightfully deserves same. Your successors have proven that it is exactly what one sows that one reaps as far as bar part 2 examinations are concerned. These guys have demonstrated that there is nothing so tricky or vast about Corporate Law Practice, Property Law Practice, Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation, and Professional Ethics & Skills that any diligent, focused student cannot surmount. They have shown that, as Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Hence, it is my humble submission that the reason for the unmatched excellent performance in the 2018 Bar Final Exams may be found in these words, credited to an anonymous writer: “excellence can be obtained if you …care more than others think is wise; …risk more than others think is safe; …dream more than others think is practical; …expect more than others think is possible.”
I must quickly note that it is quite unfortunate that vilifying comments, such as yours, are coming out against the NLS/CLE for rolling out such an unprecedentedly excellent result as that of 2018. What a world? Who would have thought that a day such as this would come, especially when in October 2014, Nigerian Law School and its Lecturers had come under heavy assault from a section of the undiscerning public, following the pathetic poor performance of students of the 2013/2014 set in the bar final examinations that had then just been released. See the news report, “Outrage at Nigerian Law School as Over 3,500 Students Fail Bar Exam” (http://silverbirdtv.com/uncategorized/15876/outrage-at-nigerian-law-school-as-over-3500-students-fail-bar-exam/). Even in 2017, headlines such as this were still flying around, “Final Bar Exam, 2017: Why Mass Failure At Nigerian Law School Persists (https://www.independent.ng/final-bar-exam-2017-why-mass-failure-at-nigerian-law-school-persists/). So you see, the fact that some people still found face to criticize an outstanding performance in 2018 lends credence to the saying that criticism and reproach are just unavoidable and inescapable. This is why Aristotle once suggested that the only way to escape criticism is for one to just “do nothing, say nothing, be nothing,” because the man who is anybody and who does anything is surely going to be criticized, vilified, and misunderstood. It is however impossible to be nothing, to do nothing and to say nothing except one is in a lifeless state. Experience has shown that criticism is inescapable, for even in silence, inaction, and nothingness, the world still criticizes; indeed, nothing is complete and thus nothing is exempt from criticism. A wiser approach, therefore, is to accept from day one that criticism is a part of the penalty for greatness even though it is no proof of greatness. So, just do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you will be criticized anyway. You will be damned if you do, and damned if you don`t. Philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was right: “against criticism a man can neither protest nor defend himself; he must act in spite of it, and then it will gradually yield to him.” Besides, the amount of criticism one receives may correlate somewhat to the amount of publicity one gets. Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary; criticism fulfils the same function as pain in the human body in that it calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. I would rather be attacked than unnoticed; an assault upon a town is a bad thing; but starving it is still worse. In the words of David Brinkley, a successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him or her. In a speech delivered in Paris at the Sorbonne in 1910, Sir Theodore Roosevelt put the matter to rest when he observed as follows: “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
In conclusion, dear respected learned colleague, achieving success in bar final exams and coming out in flying colours is pretty easy. And as I had noted in an exposé published on January 29, 2017, “…with focus, determination and hard work, making a first class in the Law School is just as easy as reciting ABCD….” (see https://thenigerialawyer.com/contemporary-training-at-the-nigerian-law-school-an-insiders-acounti/). May I, therefore, once more congratulate the 161 exceptional Red Scroll Holders who have proven beyond question that Nigerian Law School Lecturers are not time-wasters, and the 695 second class upper (2.1) aspirants who courageously trailed the Red Scrolls in this “proof of evidence.” Not left out are the 1,276 students that came out with 2.2 (second class lower) to demonstrate to the world that the right to be a good lawyer belongs to, not only those on top of the class in school, but also to everyone who is determined and committed to just make it happen, and the 2,501 students who got a PASS as proof that you don’t need to be on top to get to the top in life. The best is yet to come!
God bless Nigerian Law School
God bless Nigeria!
Thank you and best professional regards, Sir.
Sincerely, from yours in the struggle,
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (udems)
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