Prof. Awa Kalu is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In this interview with AMEH EJEKWONYILO, the former law teacher bared his mind on how to tackle the menace of examination malpractice at the Nigerian Law School. He also declared the use of caretaker committee by State Governors in the running of local governments as unconstitutional.
The monster of academic fraud has crept into the Nigerian Law School (NLS). The Director-General of the NLS, Mr. Olanrewaju Onadeko (SAN), put this in the front burner at the Nigerian Bar Association’s recent annual general meeting in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, where he lamented that some lawyers were caught doing this year’s final bar examination for students in the school. How can this problem be tackled?
Speaking strictly in a private capacity now because there is some academic work I am doing for the Nigerian Law School, that is the Council for Legal Education. I’m not speaking officially in that capacity; I’m speaking privately as a former lecturer.
The way my mind is working, is like eliminating examinations; formal examinations, allow the students to bring their books. If you don’t know it, you don’t know it. If you come into an examination that will last two or three hours and you have not prepared, if you bring the books there, you will not pass. I think that will cut out all this idea of going to hire practicing lawyers.
It sounds very radical but over the years, when you have complicated illnesses or ailments as you may wish to call them, you have to do something radical. So, if we have come to a stage where licensed lawyers are now belittling themselves to go and do examinations for up and coming lawyers who will end up as juniors in their chambers, then something radical has to be done.
First, since those lawyers were caught, they should be stripped of their licenses. It is a major fraud; if you are practicing, the license is to help in solving problems of clients. And a student who needs to pass exams cannot by any stretch of imagination be called a client. So, to that extent whichever lawyer was caught, should be sent to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for discipline.
And exam practice on its own is in our statute books; it’s an offence.
Prosecute them and strip them of their license to practice, and maybe nobody will think about it again.
So, two levels: One, many people will not be persuaded that if you allow students to come with their practice books, you won’t know where to open. If you are allowed to bring books, you are not going to try any form of malpractice; you won’t copy, you won’t bring in materials into the exams because you have already been allowed to do so, and then you are not going to look for somebody to come and sit for the exams for you. And then strictly, let those coming into the exam hall be fully identified. But it extremely devastating that a lawyer who is already in practice would go out of his way to commit such a terrible fraud. What it presumes really is that that lawyer himself got his license by subterfuge; may besomebody else sat for the exams for him and that is why he is encouraged to go and write the exams for another.
With the prevailing security crises all over the country, the need for state policing has become so real than ever. What are your thoughts?
All it will require to have state policing in place, is constitutional amendment.
The constitution permits the existence of a Nigeria Police Force, but prohibits setting up any other security organisation in the name of the police.
The police force over the years has accepted that you have to know the people you are policing. For instance, if you take someone from Cross River State to go and police in Yobe State, you confront problem of not being acquainted with the locality where you are posted. So, if you are in a new environment or neighbourhood, you first have to understand their ways of life; cultural beliefs.
To that extent, you can then say let each state create its own police force and you device a method of cooperation between state police and federal police. It is happening in some other parts of the world, including the United States. Definitely, there would be teething problems, but as the years wear on, you begin to see that the area of conflict would go away. For example, you have the public service of a state and you also have the federal public service. Nobody wakes up from the Federal Ministry of Finance to go and work in a state ministry of fiancé.
What do you make of the newly launched National Reorientation campaign mantra: Change begins with me?
Interpret it literally and you don’t have any problem with it. Change begins with me. Why not? If there is something that is not right, why should I do it? If there is something that is not right, why should an officer of government do it? So, if the government has recognized that its major assignment is to look after us and it says, ‘we will look after you as long as you look after yourself,’ then it is a very simple matter.
Change starts with me. I personally believe that change starts with me.
If all our ministers adopt that mantra, senators, members of the House of Representatives, members of the state houses of assembly, at every level of government admit that change starts with them that means if you are a civil servant, you begin to perform better. It is a very simple message which all of us can imbibe.
In view of the overbearing influence of State Governors on local government areas in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari is proposing an amendment to the Local Government Act in order to make the third tier of government meet the yearnings and aspirations of rural dwellers. Would that solve the problem?
From the constitutional framework which exists under the 1999 Constitution, we don’t have three tiers of government. The federating units are the federal government and the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory.
The local governments as the Supreme Court has held are under the control of the states, and if you look at Section 7 of the constitution what it directs is that a local government should be democratically elected. If a local government is not democratically elected, there must be a way to make it happen. Any state that does not have a democratically elected local governments, should be called to order at some level whether Council of State. That is the kind of amendment to the constitution that I would like to see.
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