Reflections on 2022: My Nigerian Law School Experience

On 7 December 2022, I was called to the Nigerian bar. I am officially a qualified barrister and solicitor! My law school journey was truly intense, and I went through a rollercoaster of emotions in the almost two years it took to complete the journey. Since my time at the Nigerian Law School (NLS) pretty much defined my 2022, I thought it would be a good angle from which to approach my annual end-of-year reflection post. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

The Pandemic

The year was 2020, and the coronavirus pandemic had struck. I flew from the UK back to Nigeria in March of that year, and I completed my university education from home. Fast forward to July 2020 or thereabout. I handed in my final paper for university and started applying to NLS. The resumption date was set for September 2020. I was excited for the experiences awaiting me at law school.

In the meantime, I started my first full-time job in August 2020, on the understanding that I would be leaving for law school in a month’s time. But September came and went, and there was no word from law school. Then October. Then November. What was supposed to be a temporary job became a long-term employment.

Eventually, NLS issued a statement that the new resumption date was January. Still, January came and went, and we did not resume. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment. It soon became apparent that my life plan would not go how I intended it. I had assumed that I would start law school in September 2020 and finish in July or August 2021, undergo the national youth service programme from 2021 to 2022, and start my master’s programme in 2022. Little did I know that I would not even start the main law school programme (Bar II) until the end of 2021.

Bar I

Finally, we got word that we would resume law school in February 2021 for the Bar I programme. I was excited again. Bar I is a short compulsory course for NLS students who studied law abroad to get familiarised with the Nigerian legal system. From my first week of resumption, I was already angry and stressed out. The tiresome registration process and the less-than-ideal hostel conditions made me switch off completely. I simply did not want to be there. My vlog on my first week at NLS illustrates this in more detail.

Over time, I guess I started to adjust, and it wasn’t so bad (but it wasn’t so great either). We wrote Bar I exams in May 2021 and went home for the holidays. At this point, I was still hopeful that we would start Bar II in a month’s time (June 2021) and finish in January 2022 (everyone told me that Bar II was eight months long). Then, I would somehow be able to start youth service immediately and still finish in December 2022. I was clearly clinging to a false sense of hope.

Bar I–II

The period between Bar I and Bar II made me very anxious, particularly because of the uncertainty. Not knowing when I would start Bar II, let alone finish it, was quite upsetting. I felt like my time was being wasted. We even got word at some point that we would resume Bar II in September 2021. As per usual, September came and went, and nothing happened. Nothing happened in October either.

Finally, we resumed Bar II on 29 November 2021 (so, effectively, in December). That made it a six-month break between Bar I and Bar II. Six months! It’s not like I was sitting at home doing nothing. I was working and doing a number of side projects. But still, knowing that in those six months, I could have almost finished Bar II, I was not happy with the ridiculously long break. In fact, if I had decided to do a one-year master’s programme after university, I would have already finished it by that time.

Then, I started to have feelings of regrets. Why did I come back to Nigeria after university? Why did I even study law in the first place? I started to really question my life choices. I was certain that with hindsight, I would not have gone to law school at all.

Bar II

When I resumed law school for the Bar II programme in November 2021, I definitely did not have any feelings of excitement. I just wanted to go in there and get it over with. We had just about two weeks of lectures before we closed for the year. I started applying for master’s programmes during this time. At least, I was sure that I would be done with law school before my master’s programme began (spoiler alert: I was wrong).

The main work of Bar II started in 2022. As Bar II progressed, I started to have feelings of fear when I realised how intense the workload was and how strict (and regressive) the grading system was. Everyone always says the workload in NLS is crazy, but you don’t realise just how crazy it is until you experience it yourself. I was worried that I would not be able to keep up and achieve good grades by law school’s standards.

We went for our externship programme in various courts and law firms from March to May 2022. This period really helped me to get on track with my revision and become more confident in my legal knowledge. The end was finally in sight, and I was prepared to tackle whatever the Council of Legal Education would bring in the exams.

After a series of revision sessions and pre-bar tests, I wrote the long-awaited Bar finals from 27 August to 3 September 2022. I felt a bit emotional after my final paper. It seemed unreal to me that the series of lectures, tutorials, and administrative requirements that had been such a burden in my life for about two years all came down to what I wrote in that one week of exams.

Immediately after my final paper, I went to Sweden for my master’s programme, which had already been ongoing for about two weeks. My NLS experience was finally over – at least, assuming that I passed the exams.

Results Day

The panic I felt towards results day was intense. My mind started playing tricks on me, and I even had moments where I was worried that I might fail. I remember telling my mum that I did not want to plan my call to bar reception until I saw my results and was sure that I passed. In the characteristic style of NLS, they did not release the results on the day they said they would. My anxiety turned to indifference. At this point, I was tired of their antics. I convinced myself that no matter what the case was, I would not fail. When the results came out on 17 November 2022, I saw that I passed with good grades, and I could finally say with certainty that I had completed law school.

The Present

Throughout my law school journey, I went through a rollercoaster of emotions – from excitement to disappointment to anger to anxiety to regret to fear. Now, all I feel is gratitude, because I know that everything played out exactly the way it was supposed to. Without these specific experiences, I would not be where I am today. In particular, if not for the long breaks from law school, I would not have gained the experiences that enabled me to get into the master’s programme I am currently enrolled on.

In my end-of year post last year, I wrote about how 2021 gave me the gift of time, because I was able to do so much during the six-month break from law school. I would say that 2022 gave me the gift of patience. In spite of the unforeseen challenges I faced, my year turned out better than I could have imagined.

This year, I finally had my post-COVID graduation ceremony from UCL.

This year, I started an interesting master’s programme in Sweden.

This year, I made amazing new friends.

This year, I got an exciting editing opportunity.

This year, I secured a small grant for one of my side projects.

This year, I got called to the Nigerian bar – the largest bar in Africa.

Allow me to reintroduce myself:

I am Rukevwe Otive-Igbuzor, Esq.

(…and you cannot talk to me anyhow!)

Addendum (03/01/2023)

I can’t believe I wrote a whole post on my law school experience without talking about the security situation. Clearly, too much happened in law school for me to even effectively relay the experience. To cut the long story short, insecurity is generally a problem in Nigeria, but it is particularly bad in Bwari, where my law school campus was located. During both Bar I and Bar II, the insecurity got worse around the exam period, and there was visible apprehension among students.

One particularly bad incident was when, toward the end of July 2022, terrorists attacked the Nigerian Army Presidential Guards Brigade in Bwari, killing eight soldiers and injuring three of them. There were even rumours that the terrorists meant to attack NLS, but they were stopped by the Presidential Guards Brigade. After that incident, I moved out of Bwari and completed the remaining month of law school from home, taking one-hour trips to and from Bwari every day. So trust me that when I say my NLS experience was intense, I’m not kidding!

Normally, the security challenges in Bwari – and, indeed, in some other NLS campuses – should have formed extenuating circumstances for students, but I bet the Council of Legal Education would never consider that. One day, we will talk about how the difficult conditions in Nigeria are normalised. For now, I choose to focus on my success!

I will say one positive thing, though. My lecturers were amazing, and you could tell that they genuinely wanted all of us to succeed. They went the extra mile to make sure we not only understood the difficult concepts but also knew how to answer questions in the exams. Special shoutouts go to Dr Olowononi, Mr Mmuozoba, and Mr Osamolu, who were my favourite lecturers!

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