HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE NIGERIAN LAW SCHOOL
Prior to the establishment of the Nigerian Law School in 1962, training of Nigerian lawyers was done mainly in the United Kingdom. In order to become a legal practitioner, one had to be called to either the English or Irish Bar, or enrolled as a solicitor in any of these countries. By Order 15 of the 1876 Supreme Court Civil Procedure Rules, the Chief Justice of the Federation was empowered to admit to practice, any person who satisfies him;
-That he is entitled to practice as a Barrister or Solicitor in England, Scotland, or Ireland; and
-That he is of good character.
However, there were defects in the training of the Nigerian lawyers in the United Kingdom. For example, to qualify for Call to the English Bar, all that an aspirant needed was to get admitted into one of the Inns of Court and the minimum educational requirement was the General Certificate of Education 'O' Level. Attendance at organized lectures was not compulsory, provided that an aspirant kept the 12 (twelve) dinner terms.
After his Call, the Barrister or Solicitor was then required to take a three-month post call practice course and serve compulsory pupilage for one year. Needless to say, the training did not take the Nigerian Legal System into consideration. Both Customary Law as well as statutes and the Nigerian constitution were alien to them. Moreover, in the United Kingdom, the lawyer trained as either Barristers or as Solicitor, but upon return to the country, because of the fusion of the two, they practiced as both Barristers and Solicitors, obviously without training in one area. Again, a university degree was not a requirement for the admission to the Bar and some Nigerians who were not graduates got called to the Bar even without undertaking the 3 months post-call practice course or even the one year compulsory pupilage.
These glaring inadequacies prompted the Federal Government to set up a committee in 1959; known as the Unsworth Committee. The terms of reference of the committee were inter alia to consider and make recommendations for the future of legal profession in Nigeria, with particular regard to legal education and admission to practice; the right of audience before the courts and reciprocal arrangements in this regard with other countries.
The committee had Mr. E.I.G. Unsworth, the then Attorney-General, as Chairman. Others were the Legal Secretary of the Federation, the Regional Attorneys-General, the Solicitor-General, the Legal Secretary to the Southern Cameroun and six distinguished legal practitioners. They made several recommendations, one of which was that Nigeria should establish its own system of Legal education to meet the needs of the country as well as establish a Nigerian Law School to provide practical training in the work of Barrister and Solicitor.
Based on these recommendations, shortly after independence, precisely in November 1961, the then Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, invited the Chief Justice of the Federation and the Attorney-General of the Federation to constitute a Board which would make arrangements for the establishment of a professional Law School for Nigeria. The Board recommended the establishment of the Nigerian Law School. This recommendation was accepted and implemented by the government vide the Legal Education Act of 1962 (reenacted as the Legal Education (consolidation, etc) Act'. Cap L10, LFN 2004. The Council of Legal Education was established by the same Act.
In January 1963, eight students were admitted for the 3-months course and in October of the same year, the one-year programme commenced. The site of the school then was 213A, Igbosere Road, Lagos. The school remained at the site until 1966 when as a result of the increase in students intake, St. Joseph's Hall, Broad Street was acquired for use. The need for further expansion saw the movement of the School to its permanent site in Victoria Island in 1969, where the Lagos Campus is now located.
In 1997, the Federal Government moved the school from Lagos to Abuja. Due to the incessant closure of universities between 1993 and 1996, Law School students enrolment dropped and by 1997 when there was relative stability, the Council of Legal Education was faced with the problem of clearing the backlog of students who had qualified but could not obtain a space in the school, as the facilities in Bwari, Abuja were grossly inadequate to meet the demands. This persisted until 1999 when the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, G.C.F.R. approved the establishment of the Lagos, Enugu, and Kano campuses with Abuja as the Headquarters, to remedy the admission challenge. Since then, two additional campuses have been established in Yenagoa (Bayelsa State) and Yola(Adamawa State) on approval of the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, G.C.F.R.
On the 18th day of June, 2021, the Council of Legal Education with the concurrence of the Honourable Attorney General approved the establishment of another Campus of the Nigerian Law School at Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The brand new Campus was sponsored by the government of Rivers State under the leadership of the Executive Governor, His Excellency Nyesom Wike, CON.
The Nigerian Law School has certainly come a long way, evolving from a mono campus situate in Lagos, Nigeria, to a multi campus setting with seven (7) campuses with Abuja as the headquarters. It has also evolved from a three (3) month course programme in 1963 when eight (8) students were admitted, to a one year course programme of over five (5) thousand students, with reviewed curricula and teaching methodology to meet the needs of the contemporary legal profession in Nigeria.
To date, the Nigerian Law School has graduated over 180,000 lawyers, including the current Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria His Excellency, Professor Yemi Osibajo, G.C.O.N., SAN, all the Judges of the superior courts of record and almost all the legal practitioners in Nigeria.