Beating the odds by conquering the world at a stage as large as the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition is one thing. Doing so on your debut is even more incredible. This was the feat achieved by law students of the University of Calabar, Nigeria, who after winning the Regional (Africa) Rounds of the competition went on to finish second at the World Rounds in Washington DC, USA. Legal Pages got a unique one-on-one with the high achievers in their first interview since the competition. The team comprised of Ebruka Nelly-Helen, Ushie Augustine Eneji and John Chinomso Kaunda; with Barr. Ms. Anne Agi as the staff adviser.
One of the team members explained that “we are members of the International Law Students Association (ILSA) and as a Chapter; we get updated with listings and invites for International moot court competitions. The Space Law Competition was one of those listings we received from ILSA.”
On the steep preparation into the unchartered field of Space Law, they hinted that “it was very difficult for us as a team considering we do not offer International Space Law as a course, nor do we currently study international law. So finding books and resource materials to aid us in our research and the preparation of our memorials and oral arguments was a challenge.”
The team had to go a long way into their preparations combing through pages of research all in a search for authorities to base their arguments upon. A vital part of any moot preparation is research and the team was privileged to have Ms. Nelly-Helen on board and with them. With her, they were able to obtain multiple resources online as well as get access to many necessary International treaties and Conventions to aid our case. Her passion and enthusiasm for the subject was very encouraging to the team and addition motivation.
One of the biggest challenges for institutions participating in international competitions is funding/sponsorship and the University of Calabar Team faced a similar hurdle at the initial stage. The university administration facilitated the students with only round trip air tickets which could allow them to attend the Africa rounds, all other expenses were shouldered by the students. It proved to be a worthy sacrifice as they were eventually crowned the winners of the much coveted Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot in Africa despite the many challenges they had to surmount along the way to this very prestigious victory.
It was specifically difficult and stressful to secure funds for the team! They spent a lot of time sourcing for funds than preparing for the Competition. They had to forego many classes and even some assessments in school to run around looking for sponsors. Applications were made to several persons and government establishments. A lot of personal funds were spent while trying to get funds and it got worse trying to secure visas as several team members had visa challenges that required multiple visa applications and as such the team expended more and more funds from personal resources which burnt into the team’s already thin funds.
They are deeply grateful to their staff adviser and coach, Ms. Anne Agi who provided for the team from her resources several times. She paid for domestic flight tickets, hotel bills, feedings and Visa applications for some members of the team and printing out over 10 copies of our memorials all from her funds. Eventually a few days to the Conference, the team was able to secure some funds from the Governor of Cross River State without which they would never have made it for the Competition.
“Following all of those obstacles, we will say the biggest highlight of the African Regional Rounds is when the team of Judges pronounced us winners and African Champions. It was truly an exhilarating and heartwarming moment for us all and words are not enough to explain it.” The team recount to legal pages the exhilarating moment when they were announced the winners of the African rounds.
At the regional rounds at the Department of Trade and Industry, South Africa, their team defeated the likes of the University of South Africa, the Niger Delta University (NDU), the University of Pretoria, University of Ibadan, Makerere University, Uganda, the University of South Africa and the Niger Delta University, etc. Nelly told Legal Pages that “it was a wonderful experience. I had the opportunity of learning a lot and as a passionate space enthusiast, I was delighted to be among other young pan-African students and learned a lot from them. It was great meeting other professionals in the Space Industry and in charge of organizing the competition. Being honored with the award of the best oralist at the regional level, I was encouraged and developed more confidence in my advocacy skills. Summarily I’d say it was a memorable experience and my interest in Space Law was further heightened!”
Augustine had a couple to share about his experience leading to the regional rounds. “I was not a Space Law enthusiast from the beginning as I had no idea what the subject matter was all about. Nelly introduced the idea of Space Law to me. During my first encounter with the memorial questions, they all seemed so abstract and alien. Out of this was born a curiosity to understand it all. I began to develop more interest after signing up for the moot court competition. Advocacy has always been a strong point for me and being able to argue my case against other prestigious and strong Universities and come out tops showed me that I can achieve whatever I want through sheer hard work and determination and it does not matter that it is something I knew very little about previously.”
Kaunda recounts that “it was a life-changing experience, emerging as the African Champions and then coming second in the World out of nearly 100 Universities. This gives me the ground for new opportunities and new goals. It has opened me up to the international community and widened my network. In all, I will say the most interesting and impactful experience I got was the life lessons that came with preparing for such a herculean task. I learnt patience, consistency, hard work, optimism, etc. These lessons will truly live with me forever”
“As I look forward to the future, I am more determined and certain to make my impact felt in International Law as I look forward to adjudicating on International issues with the best law firms in the world.”
The team, after coming up top in the continent, proceeded to the world finals in the USA, facing schools from mother continents including North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. “The Washington experience was quite intense as we saw ourselves faced with schools who had a long history in their attendance of the Manfred Lachs International Space Law Competition and winning the finals several times, like McGill University in Canada.”
The team had to scale the hurdles of the semi-finals defeating North America and facing the Judges from the International Court of Justice. As newcomers, it was quite a challenging and life-changing moment for them. The pairing alone initially scared them as they had doubts about how good their memorial would be especially when placed against such formidable opposition.
The team fondly recall it was an overall awesome experience and the organizers of the Competition did all to make them feel comfortable. They were always on hand to help them with questions and issues they had. They are forever indebted to Ms. Melissa Force of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) who was in charge of the teams. She was very welcoming and made sure we had all that we required. Support and encouragement also came from the South African delegation. Ms. Lulu Makapela of the South African Department of Trade and Investment (DTI) was always afoot to encourage and support them. Ms. BezaTestaye of the Ethiopian Space Agency was also a source of warmth and strength in Washington.”
Getting to the final against the University of Ljublijana, Slovenia amidst a lot of excitement and looming expectation, this being their first time at such a high level. It was a dream come through particularly because this was their first time to the Competition and to come this far; felt like a worthwhile journey. However, they aces a lot of pressure from all the expectations from family, friends, the coach, University and African Space Community but there was a lot of encouragement them too.
At the end of the finals in Washington, Augustine Eneji won the award for best oralist, and the team ranked runner-up.
The team reminisce on their success; “our main support has been God. He came through for us in miraculous ways. We won’t have been able to make this trip without our amiable but firm coach/Staff Adviser – Ms. Anne Uruegi Agi. She was very instrumental to our success preparing us for the Competition, editing our memorials, coaching us, providing funds and soliciting for funds on our behalf and watching over us in DC and praying for us. We are very grateful for her generous assistance. A very special appreciation goes to the Executive Governor of Cross River State, for his overwhelming support and immense contribution to the team’s ambition to take part in the competition. He provided us with the funds needed to make our trip happen. We would never have made it to the Competition but for His Excellency. We are indeed very grateful to Him… We are also thankful to the Dean of our Faculty, Professor Michael Okom. He was always supportive of all efforts to raise funds for the team and even expended his funds at some point for the team. He constantly prayed for us and encouraged us. He was willing to do everything legitimate to ensure we have the funds required. We participated in this Competition because of his dream to internationalize the University of Calabar Faculty of Law. We are happy to be part of this dream.”
“Dr. Jake OtuEnyia of the Faculty of Law was particularly instrumental to the team getting visas to travel and getting the Governor of Cross River State to provide us with funds. He was truly a support base. We thank him immensely. We also thank several Professors of our Faculty for their support and encouragement through this all. Prof. Israel Worugji, Prof. Jacob Dada and Asso. Prof Rose OhiamaUgbe. All the lecturers were truly supportive and we thank them.”
“Dr. Stephen AdiOdey, Chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) was also a huge contributor to the success of the team and we cannot thank him enough. We thank Dr. Francis Chizea of the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency (NARSDA) who was simply a great source of strength and support for the team. He checked up on us every step of the way and attended the Competitions with us. The South African Delegation was a great source of strength and encouragement. Ms. Lulu Makapela was always present at all our competitions and supported us through it all. She was just awesome. We also thank NomfunekoMajaja of the DTI.” Members of the Ethiopian Space Agency were also on hand to support us in Washington. Of particular mention is Ms. BezaTestaye of Ethiopia. We thank TemidayoOniosun of Space in Africa and his team and Dr. Daniel Gbujie of Team 54 Project for their support.”
“Our parents were simply amazing throughout this experience. They were always there to support and bear with us in every sense of the word. They are truly our heroes. We thank the entire student community of the University of Calabar for their support.”
The team continues to reminisce on a very life changing journey that widened their horizons and has changed their perspective; they continue to hope for an Africa with heightened interest and dialogue in Space and space law and other schools getting interested in the world beyond.