Prof. Chioma Agomo, former dean of the faculty of law of the University of Lagos recently exited the university system after serving for 40 years. In this interview with Assistant Editor, Law and Foreign Affairs, JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, she expressed views on some legal matters and declared that corruption would continue to fester in the country until people experience a change in values. According to her, integrity, transparency, merit, and a sense of social responsibility must be enthroned.
There are people who believe that the standard in legal education is falling. What is your view on that?
My answer to this question has not changed from the view I expressed in 2007 when I was first asked this same question. In my view, we cannot isolate legal education from the general educational system, and other factors, which impact teaching and learning. We cannot separate legal education from governance. We cannot separate it from funding, from competing interests.
Having said that, I must add that education is at a crossroads, legal education included. There is a paradigm shift, which is beginning to show in the mode of interactions between teacher and students. The difficulty is that the facilities in place in some places do not match the number of intakes. In the days of smaller numbers, and effective tutorial system, it was easy to assess the quality of education. That has since gone, but the virtual learning mode now made imperative by the COVID-19 pandemic, has shown that there are viable alternative modes of legal education. The introduction of clinical legal education over more than a decade ago exposed students and lecturers to innovative ways of teaching and learning such that, law students at the point of graduating, would be expected to have acquired some lawyering and other requisite skills. These changes, I believe, are continuing in many law faculties. One area where I have recently expressed some concern is in the area of students’ willingness to engage themselves purposively in acquiring life-long legal knowledge and skills, beyond the acquisition of knowledge for the purpose of passing exams and nothing more. This is a cause for concern.
How can legal education be improved?
Education is a process. It is not static. It must change with the times. Legal education has come a long way, and it still has a long way to go. Globalisation and the internet have brought in their wake the gradual erosion of internal barriers and hindrances to access to changes across the globe. There are now ample opportunities and avenues to learn from other systems. However, there are still things that are needed within borders to improve on what is already on ground. Minimum standards as set by the National Universities Commission (NUC) from time to time should be strictly applied across the board to federal, state and private universities. Government cannot shy away from adequate funding of the system. It is share hypocrisy to give the impression that education in public institutions is free, and yet not fund the institutions adequately so as to provide a conducive learning environment.
Why is ethics not studied as a course and do you think it is needed in the legal curriculum?
It is not correct to say that ethics is missing from the legal curriculum. The legal profession is one that has strong ethics. Besides, it has always been part of the curriculum of the Nigerian Law School.
Will you subscribe to the view that law should be studied as a second degree?
I was asked this question in 2005, one year into my deanship of the Law Faculty of the University of Lagos. My response then was “Yes.” Eighteen years down the line, my thinking has remained largely unchanged. However, I have come to realise, that maturity is not necessarily a function of age. There are some young people with wisdom and maturity beyond their years, while there are adults who behave like immature babies. What is needed to sustain the quality of students admitted immediately after secondary school education is a thorough screening process as is currently the case, which uses a three-tier structure. Furthermore, the increasing popularity of the school of foundation studies, which prepares students for the Joint Universities Preparatory Examinations Board (JUPEB), has provided a further maturing period for intending students.
For 40 years you taught law in the University. What do think about scrapping the law school such that universities prepare students for non-residential Bar exams?
I do not think it is a good idea to scrap the law school for a non-residential Bar exams. The law school provides a common ground for law graduates from the various law faculties to undergo their professional training. It should not be scrapped for uniformity.
As an insurance expert, what is the legal consequence of non- compliance with group life insurance provision of the Pension Reform Act?
The Revised Guidelines for Group Life Insurance Policy for Employees 2020, jointly issued by the National Insurance Commission and National Pension Commission, provides in paragraph 7.3 that where an employer failed to carry out a Group Life Insurance on behalf of the employees and death occurs in active service, such employer is liable to pay the 300 per cent of the gross emolument for Group Life Insurance Policy to the beneficiaries of the deceased employee in line with the provisions of the Pension Reform Act 2014. According to paragraph 7.4 of the Guidelines, an employer who fails to insure its employees for up to the 300 per cent of their gross emoluments, is liable to pay the difference to the beneficiary of the deceased employee. Gross emolument for this purpose means the annual total remuneration of the employee before any deductions.
For years, Nigeria has had to live with unjust labour treatment of contract staff, which deprives workers of entitlements in cases of death, dismissal, retirement or even resignation. How do you think this can be tackled?
This is a sad reality of today’s world of work. I believe it is most prevalent in the banking industry. The oil and gas sector appears also to have its fair share of contract staff. Unfortunately, the economic situation makes it difficult for those affected to leave and seek employment elsewhere. The treatment of contract staff by employers runs counter to International Labour Organisation (ILO’s) concept of decent work, which advocates fair remuneration, social protection and social dialogue, among others. The only effective way out is through unionisation. It is only collective labour that can fight for the rights of its members. Individual employees are powerless to fight for themselves.
Transparency international has consistently rated Nigeria as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. In 2020, Nigeria ranked 149 of 180 corrupt nations in the world on yearly corruption perception index. According to the United Nations (UN), every year, $1 trillion is paid in bribes, while an estimated $2.6trillion are stolen yearly, a sum equivalent to more than five per cent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Judicial corruption topped the ICPC corruption ranking last year. How can these corruption trends be reversed?
Corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of the society. It is now obvious that it has continued unabated under the present administration. It merely goes to show that no matter who is in power, corruption will still flourish unless or until people have a change in values. Integrity, transparency, merit, and a sense of social responsibility must be enthroned. Again, there must be the political will to sanction offenders appropriately, no matter whose ox is gored. Selective treatment demoralizes people and encourages others to continue to engage in corrupt practices.
Would you agree with the idea that the Marine Insurance Act has become archaic and so, should be reviewed to reflect common trends in other jurisdictions?
My answer is yes.
Nigerian Insurance bill, which practitioners say would revolutionise the sector is currently before the National Assembly. Are you aware of the state of the bill today?
I do not know the state of the bill. I know that I was sent a draft for my comment some months ago. I did not comment because this matter has dragged on for years. I recollect that I was one of those co-opted into the Committee that revised the Insurance Act, 2003. It was a thorough exercise under the chairmanship of Professor Joe Irukwu. This was around 2009. I am not sure of the exact year. That we should still be dealing with the same matter in 2021 leaves a lot to be desired. The potential of the Insurance Industry to drive the economy has not been fully explored. It is sad.
Now that you are retired, what next for you?
I have been able to come this far through the grace and mercy of God. This is just the ending of one phase. The next phase is in His hands.
How can you sum up your experience over the years in teaching and researching legal issues as well as the challenges you overcame?
As I said during my exaugural lecture, it has been a fruitful and deeply satisfying journey. It has been a journey reflecting the invisible hand of God guiding me through the highs and lows. He blessed me with destiny helpers. There were challenges. It was not an easy journey, but God saw me through each stage. To Him alone is the glory. I must not fail to add that the Faculty of Law of the University of Lagos is a family. There are great people within its walls. There are men and women of impeccable integrity. The Faculty is a home away from home. It was a great privilege to have spent my entire working years in the University of Lagos.
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