In line with the laws that govern legal education in Nigeria, before a person can be qualified to practice law, he or she must have acquired a Law Degree (LLB) from a duly accredited university and in addition, pass through the Nigerian Law School for a one year (or more, in the case of students from foreign universities) intensive training and thereafter, called to the Nigerian Bar by the Body of Benchers. 

To be successful at the Nigerian Law School (and to be ultimately called to the Nigerian Bar) goes beyond passing the Bar exams. The Council of Legal Education must certify that the student is fit and proper to be called. 

Generally, as explained by a South African Professor of Law, Magda Slabbert, in his article:

It is commonly accepted that in order to be “fit and proper” a person must show integrity, reliability and honesty, as these are the characteristics which could affect the relationship between a lawyer and a client or a lawyer and the public.

Thus, the fit and proper requirement is not for law students alone. All legal practitioners must always maintain the fit and proper status to remain in the legal profession. The status demands much more than integrity, reliability and honesty. It includes competence, diligence, and comportment, among other things. 

Clearly, there is a myriad of factors that define what constitutes fit and proper. For instance, failure of law school students to meet the class attendance requirement of 75% (or failure to attend certain mandatory classes), absence at law dinners, dress code violation, fighting, exam malpractice, lateness, violating hostel rules, misconduct during lectures, disobedience, etc are all conducts that may make a student to fail the “Fit and Proper” test. Therefore, students of the Nigerian Law School usually put up their best behaviour in order to avoid being found wanting on any ground.

The bottle of water saga

From the news making the rounds, a student of the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus, apparently dared the authorities by allegedly misconducting himself/herself at one of the law dinners.

In the inelegantly drafted query addressed to the student, the allegation was that during one of the Law Dinners, the student was found “putting a bottle of water in [his or her mouth] when a glass cup was on [the] table”. 

The student was asked to explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against the student for violating Rule 6(29) of the Code of Conduct for Students of the Nigerian Law School on dinner etiquette and manners.

You may wonder, why will a student be in trouble for drinking water straight from the water bottle instead of making use of the glass cup made available?

Apart from the conduct being a violation of the rule on dinner etiquette and manners, the Nigerian Law School lecturers spend quality time teaching the students acceptable dinner etiquette and manners before the dinner. These include ensuring appropriate dress code for the dinner. The students must go on everything dark except for the white shirts/tops. That is, dark suits, dark tie, dark shoes and socks. The ladies must avoid make-up (may be mild) and their hair must be natural and neatly packed, with no dangling earrings. In other words, no form of appearance resembling night club attendance is tolerated.

Naturally, failure or refusal to abide by the teachings would attract sanctions. Law is a noble profession and lawyers are trained to be noble, and this nobility must be displayed at all places including at dining  halls.

In all, there are three dinners a Law School student must attend. The students usually dine with some senior members of the Bar mostly from the Body of Benchers who file in into the dining hall by procession. 

The purpose of dining is not basically to deal with hunger or starvation. Rather, it is to train the students on how to imbibe the right etiquette during dining.

The first two dinners will be at different Law School campuses while the third will be on the day of call to Bar at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja with all the successful students at the Bar exams in attendance.

It is usually at the time of this third dinner that relatives, friends and well-wishers in attendance on the day of call are asked to exit the hall of the call to Bar ceremony to enable the aspirants to the Bar to have their last dinner as is customary. This has been the reason some persons with misguided information peddle the rumour that the law students are being initiated into some form of cult.

Back to the query

Meanwhile, regarding the query, the kind of response given by the embattled student would determine whether there would be a hearing and subsequently, the severity of the punishment to be administered. The ultimate punishment is disqualification from being called to the Bar until perhaps on a later date. 

Although drinking water straight from the water bottle instead of using a glass cup is unacceptable, it is not clear whether “putting a bottle of water in the mouth” is the same as drinking water directly from the water bottle. Except the student can prove that “putting the bottle of water in the mouth” was for an entirely different purpose, the conduct is disallowed. However, it may not be safe to push this line of argument. 

Nonetheless, though the Nigerian Law School is strict in enforcing its rules, the institution exercises discretion favourably and may be lenient in deserving cases. 

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has advised a number of both established and startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.

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