By October this year, some law graduates will be marking two years of dashed hopes of becoming barristers no thanks to the unjust, anti-poor commercialization of the law school programme. Just about few weeks ago, those students who had thanked their lucks for crossing the debacle of over N200, 000 fees, were alarmed after learning that the fees have again being hike by over 60 percent by the law school management. The current commercialization going on in the nation’s law schools, which was accentuates about three years ago, is a fall out of the failure of the Obasanjo/Bayo Ojo administration to successfully privatize the law schools. Then, notable pro-democracy activists like Chief Gani Fawehinmi had resisted the obnoxious policy which made the government to retreat. Since then, government has ensured unmitigated commercialization of the law schools. As things are going, the next set of law graduates of our ivory towers will be asked to cough out nothing less than half a million naira just to have practical bar training. This sum is more than triple of what most of the law students will pay as fees for their five year programme in universities. Yet, most of these students still find it difficult to pay fees in their respective institutions as a result of the poor financial state. It should also be added that this law school fees do not cover cost of books (which are exceptionally costly) and materials, project works, sustenance, etc. Surely, current generations of students are in real deep shit! The law school fees hike is unjustifiable and indeed ridiculous. It is unjustifiable because the law school management / The Council on Legal Education (whose member live opulently on the nation’s public resources) does not take into cognizance, the economic reality in the country. Also, law schools are public institutions which are funded by the government from the collective treasury; therefore, it is criminal for the law school management to commercialize what should serve as public good. Education (either ministry of Education or Justice) is a social service which must be funded by government from collective resources and not from the lean purses of poor students and their parents. It is worthy of note to state that the law schools’ management/Council on Legal Education could not account for past fees and allocations as the law schools lack basic facilities especially living facilities while students are made to provide all the materials which ordinarily should be provided by the schools’ managements. Worse still, the students are not allowed to express their view as any view considered dissenting is censured. It is a known fact that the per capita income in Nigeria is less than $500 (less than N60, 000) while workers’ wage is averagely less than N40, 000 per month. This is aside the fact that most pensioners are living in absolute penury while the so-called small scale entrepreneurs are finding it extremely hard to survive the adverse economic conditions. Yet, this set of people constitutes the absolute majority of the nation’s working population. With this scenario, the attempt of the law school management to continually hike the schools’ fees is deliberately meant to ensure that only the children of the very rich who constitute just one percent of the nation’s population (most of whom earn their income through legitimate and illegitimate looting of the nation’s resources), have access to quality education and subsequently quality lives – another euphemism for neo-liberal ideology of the survival of the fittest. This commercialization policy is ridiculous because those who are advocating this policy are products of highly subsidized education during the 1960s – 80s welfare states. It is ironical that while the like of Obafemi Awolowo et al who toiled to get educated, ensured free and highly subsidized education for current generation of ruling but ruining class who are hell-bent in preventing poor young Nigerians access to functional education. While all statistics point to the fact that Nigeria is at the lowest rung in human development indices, it is highly ridiculous and unthinkable that our policy makers and administrators will, through deliberate actions, continue the very same policies that had put us into this current mess. Is it not hypocritical that the same administrators that are mouthing the need to deepen “the democratic experiment and rule of law” can not bring themselves to understand that well informed and educated minds, including lawyers are vital for raising public awareness in a civil society? According to reports, the management/Council on Legal Education was said to have argued that law profession is not cheap, thus those who want become learned minds must be ready to pay for it. But our “learned” management forgot or ignored the fact that, despite hundreds of thousands paid by law school students, most of them graduate to collect poverty wages, if at all they get employed, not because their services are not needed, but because the neo-liberal capitalist economy of survival of the fittest which has made majority of the population impoverished, has turned those who should be middle class to working class while sustaining a tiny layer of moneybag lawyers. What then define cheapness of a profession than this? One even expect the law school management to understand the simple fact that what determines quality of education has nothing to do with school fees but the availability of adequate facilities and friendly environment. If school fees are a basis factor of quality, Nigeria would not have produced thousands of great minds who passed through public funded schools. In fact, since education has been commercialized and privatized, the quality of education has completely dwindled as a result of chronic under funding that accompany these policies, which has led to decayed facilities. What the law school management/Council on Legal Education is doing should not however be seen as an isolated case in the nation’s polity. It is indeed an organic part of the government neo-liberal policies of commercialization and privatization which tend to hand over public resources to the already rich few while the toiling majority who produce the resources are made to live in penury. It will be recalled that the current hike is a continuation of the past increments during the Obasanjo regime. The current nefarious commercialization is an attempt to introduce privatization of law school through the backdoor. What is being implemented in the law school is also being implemented in the public education. For instance, all the tiers of government are united in commercializing and privatizing education. While many state governments have started hiking fees in the public schools, the federal government, through the minister of education, Dr. Ajah Nwachukwu, has directed public tertiary institutions to commercialize education by a minimum of N40, 000. Consequently, many federal government-owned tertiary institutions have started hiking fees indiscriminately even when previous fees collected from students, and public resources expended on these schools have not been accounted for as most of these institutions still lack basic teaching and learning facilities. This clearly shows that the current Yar’Adua government is a continuation of the ruinous past despite all its mantras of rule of law. Nigerian students, especially law students must resist this policy. They must pressure their organizations to lead civil actions to stop the policy that will jeopardize the future of law students. Furthermore, Nigerian students must join hands with the workers’ movements to stop the onslaught against public education and the poor masses in general. They must force government to commit public resources to public education because Nigeria’s resources, if judiciously used could provide functional and free education for all, while also developing social infrastructures without tears. It is funny that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has not deemed it fit to resist this policy while other students’ organizations especially the various law students’ societies and NANS have maintained criminal silence. This is not unexpected as most of the law students’ associations pose themselves egoistically as elites despite the fact that most of their members are poor. For instance, in OAU, the law students’ association has become a tool for corrupt governments officials (who are invited to public programmes on campus) while its leaderships are either corrupt or anti-student. This is a nature taken after their mother organization, NBA. NANS on the other hands has become a pawn in the chessboard of the various sections of ruling class, who have contributed collectively to the pauperization of the poor Nigerians. Gone are the days when Nigerian students teamed up with workers’ and professional organizations like NLC and NBA to defend common interests. Progressive Nigerian students must rise to the historic challenge.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters