LAW SCHOOL AT 60: ‘IT’S A MIXED BAG OF GOOD AND BAD ALUMNI,’ SAYS JUSTICE SONOIKI
THE GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY OF THE NIGERIAN LAW SCHOOL: ‘THIS BIT I STILL REMEMBER,’ BY HON. JUSTICE IDOWU OWOLABI SONOIKI
- Formerly of Ogun State Judiciary and Member of the first set of the Nigerian Law School)
After Nigeria attained independence on 1st October 1960, the agitation to have Nigerians trained as lawyers in Nigeria became intense. Federal Government (had) to enact the Legal Education Act 1962 and the Legal Practitioners Act of the same year.
For our present purpose only the Legal Education Act is relevant.
That Act established the Council of Legal Education which was charged with the general responsibility for the Legal education of persons seeking to become members of the legal profession. That council, in exercise of the powers conferred on it by Section 4(3) of the Legal Education Act, established the Nigerian Law School (named at first, the Federal Law School) at 213A, Igbosere Road, Lagos, which was an all-purpose building containing Lecture Room Hostel for Students, Administrative Offices and Library.
The school was, according to the Act establishing it, to start a one year training course but due to protests, agitations and pressure from Law Students in Great Britain and Northern Ireland who had already graduated in Law from British Universities and who had also been called to the English Bar, there was a transitional arrangement whereby early students were to spend three months in the school. Thus, the pioneering students of the Law School in January 1963 were Messrs Sylvester Ayere Ajuyah, Isreal Amabara Idamiebi, Sunday Ojenonweya Chinke, Julius Sabinus Anyanwu, Nnamdi Onugha, Nnannna Nwa Wachukwu, Onyeabor Chukwunedum Obi and Idowu Owolabi Sonoiki, this writer. We were eight in number.
We had Mr. Guy Ruston Rudd, an Englishman, as the first Director of the School. He directed the affairs of the School. He was assisted by another Englishman, Mr. P. Willoughby, both were Solicitors. The idea was to teach us the rudiments of the courses in Solicitorship in England. Apart from these two expatriate teachers, we had Hon. Stephen Ajayi-Ogedengbe as a full time teacher and Chief Babatunde A. Ibironke a part-time teacher.
During our three months course, apart from the lectures from our above-mentioned teachers, we had occasional visits with Hon. Sir. Adetokunbo Ademola, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria as well as Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, Professor Teslim Elias, the then Attorney-General who saw to the enactment of the Legal Education Act and the Legal Practitioners Act and the renowned Professor L.C.B. Cower who officiated as Adviser on Legal Education to the Nigerian Government. We had moot trials and we were taken to courts of various jurisdictions Magistrate Court, High Court and the Supreme Court – to watch court proceedings.
We took our qualifying examination by the middle of March, 1963 and all the eight of us were successful. We were called to the Nigerian Bar on 20th March, 1963 and we were enrolled in the Supreme Court of Nigeria as Barristers and Solicitors on 21st March, 1963. A dinner was held in our honour at the Bristol Hotel, Lagos, which was attended by Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, Professor Elias, Professor Gower, Chief Rotimi Williams, the then leader of the Bar and notable distinguished Judges, lawyers and other professionals.
All of us went into practice as legal practitioners. In course of time, four of us were elevated to the High Court Bench viz: S.A. Ajuyah, J. S. Anyanwu, N.N. Nwachukwu and I. O. Sonoiki. One, O. C. Obi, became a Senator; another one became Attorney General in the South-South and the remaining two remained in active practice. To the best of my knowledge, none of us elevated to the High Court bench ever attained any higher position. This was not due to our lack of integrity or adequate knowledge of the law. By all means, we exemplified in our various spheres of jurisdiction. Our limitation to the High Court bench was due to our respective places of birth and the Federal character principle which made it impossible for any of us to rise higher.
The Nigerian Law School has made tremendous impact on legal education and practice in Nigeria. Before its establishment in Nigeria in 1963, the total number of legal practitioners in this country was just 1,300. Today (2013), I understand the school has produced over 60,000 students and that in place of the 4 storey building which we used as lecture rooms and hostel, there are now several buildings in the six campuses of the school now located in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Enugu, Yola and Yenogoa. I also understand that the average student intake every year now in the six campuses is about 5,000.
No doubt, the students of the School have risen to great heights and have done the founding fathers of the School and those of us the pioneering eight students proud. In such an unwieldy figure of over 60,000 graduates of the School in 50 years we cannot expect all to be shining examples. We have got bad eggs from among some of the graduates on the Bench and at the Bar. Like all educational institutions in the country the profession has had a mixed baggage of good quality and disappointing ones. On the whole, while the journey has not been all that edifying, it has not been hopeless. All told, the journey has been very worthwhile.
Editors Note: This article was first published in 2013 in commemoration of the 50 years of the Nigerian Law School.
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