National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN)

By Sylvester Ikechukwu Onyema

ON 7 December, 2019, the assent of the NOUN (Amendments) Act-2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari to remedy the quagmires the innocent law students of the nation’s most populous institution, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) found themselves in since their graduation from 2013 will be one year.

Key questions to the stakeholders are: Will the assent be celebrated as mere anniversary while the issues are still unresolved? Or could an executive instrument as critical as President’s assent be made fun of or taken for granted by subordinates?

President Buhari gave assent to NOUN (Amendment) Act on 7 December, 2018 which attracted ovations from every nook and cranny of the country on account of agonizing miseries the innocent citizens that enrolled in the federal university had passed through. The 8th Senate had earlier conducted a public-hearing with all the stakeholders including the Council of Legal Education (CLE).

At the public-hearing resulting from uproars from the victimized students, the Council of Legal Education pointed at the “Correspondence” as mode of learning in the NOUN Act as inconsistent with the rules and regulations guiding acceptable LLB – undergraduate programme for admission and assured that if rectified, NOUN law graduates would be included for admission into the Nigerian Law School.

Consequently, the senate moved into actions and after its rigorous legislative processes, passed the Amendment bill and transmitted it to President Buhari who without delay gave his assent. On the other hand, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu had put all machinery in place to see to the resolution of the conflicts to enable the trapped innocent citizens conclude their academic programme. All these efforts were geared towards resolving the crisis to assuage and remove the victimized citizens from the streets.

Regrettably, since the gazette of the NOUN (Amendment) Act few days after its assent by President Buhari which made it an implementable legal instrument, CLE has been allocating admission quotas to its ‘accepted’ universities in the country for vocational training in the Nigerian Law School excluding NOUN.

In fact, not less than three sets or sessions had been admitted, concluded and called to bar. In addition, the body had publicly invited applications from foreign students for admission into the Nigerian Law School. Meanwhile, law students that graduated from NOUN; a federal institution still roam the streets with no defined offences.

From report, a stakeholders meeting as mandated by the presidency finally held for the first time on 29th October, 2019 at the Federal Ministry of Justice with the Minister of Justice/Attorney General of the Federation, Abubarka Mallami (SAN) and management of CLE, Nigerian Law School and NOUN after much pressure. However, it is sad that no communique or resolution has been made public in respect of the meeting.

Or could it be that the silence is another premeditated gimmicks to keep the students to continue in endless waiting while fresh graduates from other universities are admitted to pursue their legal career? This is inhumanity to man.

Sadly, most of the arrowheads that craftily designed the maneuvers have their children studying either abroad or in expensive private universities in the country. Or is the Nigerian Law School; a facility owned by the federal government a personal property of some privileged citizens for them to dictate the shots?

The episodes must end so far. It’s important to note that these students committed no crimes for pursuing education in a government’s institution accredited by the statutory body; National Universities Commission. If any relevant body is uncomfortable with the action, the appropriate thing in sync with conventional norm is to clear the existing students and graduates, and place the faculty on moratorium. Nigeria cannot continue to display ‘commando’ leadership channeling muscles and powers where unnecessary. These students didn’t admit themselves into NOUN but by a management legitimately put in place by government.

The chairman of NOUN Law Graduates Forum, Carl Umegboro had so far been invited by the Department of State Security Service (DSS) five times over several proposed mass protests on the protracted crisis and he daringly honoured the invitations. Though, respectfully and responsibly treated during the meetings, nonetheless, the episodes must end so far. The continued frustration of these innocent law graduates from completing their career is not only inane and insensitive, but a big threat to national security.

A law degree without vocational training and call to bar is akin to a graduate in aviation, architecture, medical studies and other professional courses without professional endorsement to operate. By implications, these law graduates have been technically encumbered from working, deprived means of livelihoods for many years except those that are already in employment like the present Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu, and few other working NOUN law graduates.

To summarize, President Buhari should use his good offices to ensure that these quagmires come to an end without further delay. The episodes must end. There will not be any justifiable reasons to exclude NOUN law graduates from the ongoing session of admission in Nigerian Law School.

A government that is committing much resources to fight insecurity and corruption cannot at the same time allow flimsy excuses keep vulnerable people out of jobs. Many crimes are induced by idleness. Hence, enough of the gimmicks and tactical delays!

Ikechukwu Onyema wrote this piece from Lagos, Nigeria.