Hello there and welcome to December. It’s been some eleven months of uncertainty, and for a large portion of tertiary students in Nigeria, it’s been eight months of academic inactivity. However, our conversations on topical issues at Legal Pages have not suffered a setback as law students continue to prove their worth despite being out of school.

On the November series of Law Student of the Month, we speak to Damilare Disu, a final year student at the Obafemi Awolowo University. He recently won the NICArb Annual Essay Writing Competition 2020. He speaks to us about the industrial action by public university lecturers, his productivity during this period, and social media regulation. Read the full interview below.

  1. Kindly introduce yourself.

My name is Disu, Damilare. I am a final year law undergraduate at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria. I am passionate about excellence in legal scholarship and enthusiastic about seizing opportunities that align with my short- and long-term ambitions. If you are lucky to catch me during my spare time, you will find me on a bicycle, playing monopoly and ayo with my friends, or laughing heartily with my friends.

  1. It’s been eight months since schools were shut. How have you been holding up? Particularly, what challenges have you been facing in terms of staying productive during the period?

Well, for me holding up hasn’t been so challenging. Notably, when schools were shut in March, I had an intuitive prediction it would be for a long time. While I never anticipated that the length of time would be because of the industrial action, I imagined that the closure would last till at least August, as I discussed with some of my close friends. That being said, I have tried staying productive by taking writing jobs, reading up on my areas of interest, and of course, by participating in any competition which catches my fancy. Doing all these hasn’t been easy sometimes. My biggest challenge during this period has been procrastination. Although it’s a personal habit I struggle with, the comfort of being at home has exacerbated the effect.

Damilare speaking at the Taiwo Afolabi Maritime Blueprint Competition in 2019
  1. As at the time of this interview, do you see an end in sight to the strike action and are there indicators of government commitment to revamping the educational sector?

Yes, I see an end to the strike soon. Already, the government and ASUU have reached a compromise, I believe. On the other hand, I do not think the government is keen on revamping the educational sector. I will give just two reasons for this. First, the 2021 budgetary allocation for education is the least in nearly a decade. Year by year, the Nigerian government has always fallen short of recommended budgetary allocation of at least 15% for this sector. But the 2021 budgetary allocation for education is shy of 6% by a few points. Equally, the tardiness with which government responds to issues in the educational sector mirrors their insouciant stance towards revamping this sector.

  1. Congratulations on winning the National Institute of Chartered Arbitrators Essay Competition. What was the focus of your essay?

Thank you very much. My essay answered the question of whether sovereign immunity is a sufficient defence to preempt execution of state assets in international commercial disputes. On full consideration of all issues, my paper was able to establish that executing state assets in commercial disputes is very difficult, nay impossible in many cases.

Damilare (2nd right, on podium) being presented the Essay Competition 1st prize at the 2020 NICArb Conference, Lagos
  1. Do you see arbitration or dispute resolution in general as a prospective area of practice for you? If not, what do you have your eyes on?

Well, I can’t say for now. I am open minded and not ready to commit yet. While I appreciate the foresight of some of my colleagues who have established interest in the colonization of a particular field of legal interest, my opinion is that such is premature for me. I haven’t even graduated or been called to the bar! You know, I compare selection of prospective areas of interest to a party where various pots of soup ranging from egusi, ewedu, edika ikong etc is paraded before me. I can’t conclude I love egusi best or that I would want to eat egusi all my life if I haven’t even tasted ewedu and the rest. Nevertheless, I do not rule out a future in the practice of disputes for myself. Moreover, there would always be a market for disputes no matter how meticulous lawyers are in trying to avoid disputes. This is because, no matter how thin you slice it, there would always be two sides! So, I am open, and I am not ready to commit yet. But this is my opinion, it doesn’t make it right and shouldn’t be a yardstick for people’s choices. Its just a personal opinion.

  1. There have been recent threats of censorship on the use of social media by the current government in Nigeria. In fact, Barack Obama was quoted as calling the internet a threat to democracy. Do you think certain freedoms can be an existential threat to peace and order? If it is, will censorship achieve any viable results?

Yes, I believe certain freedoms can be an existential threat to peace and order and should be curtailed. On social media, it would be sentimental to aver that it should never be regulated. The era of social media probably became dominant in the last two decades, and the law is still in the process of adjusting to the panoply of legal challenges it presents. For those who are a bit familiar with legal history, the law is evolutionary and it must continue to develop to address fresh and novel societal challenges. Take, for instance, 10 years ago, there was almost nothing like cyberstalking, cyberbullying etc. But now, the law is classifying these things as wrongs. In the same spirit, legislation which seeks to address incendiary dangers of unregulated social media such as the incitement of tribalism, racial hate, and statements which seek to heat up policy and cause a breakdown of law and order, must be expeditiously addressed by the law. But in a clime like ours, I am unsure if such legislation would not be a tool for political repression. So, should there be laws which would censor social media? YES. Would these laws be effective in Nigeria? I am unsure.

Damilare (6th from right) being presented the winner’s award at the All Nigerian Universities National Advocacy Competition, having led the Obafemi Awolowo University team to victory.
  1. In your opinion, how can laws and the courts contribute to cutting down the cost of governance and disabling corruption in African countries?

Well, it is not the role of the courts to reduce cost of governance! The responsibility belongs to the Nigerian Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission which determines the monies and allowance earnable by public officials. Sadly, this commission is almost an appendage of the executive arm and cannot act unimpededly. This year, this commission still lamented the high cost of governance in Nigeria and sought for cuts. But it was the Federal Government who blocked the proposal for salary reviews. So, the commission is a tethered bulldog barking furiously with no freedom. On issue of disabling corruption, the courts have a role. They mustn’t let corrupt elements escape on the altar of technicalities. For instance, I disagree with the decision of the Supreme Court in Kalu’s case. If the court had factored in public policy considerations, then someone who has been convicted for stealing so much shouldn’t be a free man. The effect of such decisions is that looters are emboldened. So, our courts can do better!

  1. Any final words?

If there is anything you truly desire, don’t leave it to chance, invest significant efforts into it. Don’t believe that somehow you would be lucky. Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance, but strong men believe in cause and effects. Indeed, the world is governed by laws of cause and effects.

Thank you very much for your time, Damilare.