By Carl UMEGBORO
THE sudden transfer of Hon. Justice B.O. Quadri of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt to Abuja Judicial Division after fixing a date for judgment on the Nigerian Law School admission tussle between the students of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and the Council of Legal Education (CLE), leaves much to be desired. The preliminary objection alone lingered in the court for over a year but finally was ruled in favour of the students prior to commencement of the substantive matters.
NOUN, a FGN-special project in compliance with the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on education was established by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. To motivate Nigerians, Obasanjo enrolled in the university’s programme, graduated and is presently doing a doctorate degree in Theology; all for authentication purposes.
The university’s ten faculties including Law are accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC) and it has notable Nigerians, including members of the National Assembly, offering one programme or the other without hitches except Law, which faces challenges with the CLE, a body vested with the responsibility of training of law graduates in the law school.
The students in a representative action through their counsel, Professor Amuda Kannike Abiodun (SAN), dragged the Council of Legal Education (CLE), the National Universities Commission (NUC), the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the NOUN to court in Suit No: FHC/PH/CS/111/2015 to explain why gates of the Nigerian Law School were shut against them, contrary to provisions clearly spelt out in the Students Handbooks which guaranteed admission for vocational training upon award of a Bachelor of Laws degree (LL.B) by the university, and also prayed the court, among others, to order the CLE to admit them into law school immediately. The CLE’s summative arguments pointed at the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) mode of NOUN as against the conventional method hitherto dominant in the country. Already, the matter has lingered in the court for about three years, leaving the graduates idle and in a dilemma with series of a adjournments, preliminary objections, absences of judge and public holidays aborting the court sittings. Nevertheless, the graduates doggedly maintained decorum, believing that since the university’s law programme which is the subject matter is duly accredited by the statutory body and approved by the federal government, justice will ultimately prevail.
Incidentally, on the day of arguments on December 07, 2016, Hon. Justice Quadri after listening to all the parties fixed January 27, 2017 for judgment with the students in high spirits, hoping futilely that the end had finally come, until the judge’s absence with no communication made it obvious. Usually, transfer of judges is not strange in the country but where such happens, two options are inevitable in sync with continuity in public service. The transferred judge is at liberty to personally deliver judgments on concluded matters or transfer case files to his successor to read the judgment.
As the judgment was not delivered as scheduled, it implies that the students who submitted to the legal system may perpetually be kept in the court with different technicalities. To start with, is the Nigerian Law School a fiefdom of some citizens? What offences did the students commit to deserve such resolute hate and discriminatory tendencies against them? From the arguments, it was obvious that all enabling laws are in favour of NOUN as the opposing party only anchored on the proficiency of the noble profession which in law is merely persuasive.
The dangerous implication is that having waited patiently since 2015 in the court and finally got to judgment but was tactically quashed for whatever reasons, the new judge may restart the case afresh which may linger again as evident in our judicial system.
Now, the questions begging for answers on account that justice is being denied these innocent students are: could it have been more ideal if these students had taken the law into their own hands with violence and, perhaps, a showdown that may warrant forceful closure of the Nigerian Law School campuses in the country? Is the court becoming a political party where political gimmicks are obtainable irrespective of the laid down rules? How long will the federal government watch a body under it subject its citizens to psychological trauma and deliberately frustrate with tactics and flimsy excuses innocent students who accepted its offers of admission and went through the same course-outlines as members of the agency?
Is it a normalcy for parties, after closing their arguments, to start the matter afresh after fixing judgment without appellate orders, perhaps, a party is not satisfied on the arguments presented by its counsel? Overall, can we continue with the slogan that ‘anything is possible in Nigeria’? Justice delayed is ultimately denied. Hence, if a court refuses to give a judgment on a matter it competently heard, it implies the country is rapidly drifting towards George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ where’ all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”.
Nonetheless, the federal government and the judiciary should not forget that the victims are students who put in their best time and resources in pursuit of a desirable career. Regardless of whatever reasons, it is a politically-motivated attack on the legal system not to deliver a judgment after listening to parties. Sadly, the court is the last hope of the common man. To substantiate the assumptions, the AGF who is the fourth defendant representing the federal government submitted a secret written brief and successfully urged the court to accept it as oral arguments in an open court. What an aberration!
Finally, on the judgment date, only the counsels representing the plaintiffs and NOUN were sighted at the court premises which was indicative that others were probably put on notice not to waste their time as the judgment would never come. This is, indeed a ridiculous and dangerous omen of egotism, tyranny and persecution.
Umegboro writes from Abuja.