A week ago, the African Regional Round of the Manfred Lachs Space Law Competition was held at Pretoria, South Africa, between the 8th and 9th of May, 2019, where University of Calabar, Niger Delta University and University of Ibadan came first, second and third respectively, making the country proud in the long run. Besides, the best oralist also came from the University of Calabar; while University of Ibadan clinched the prize for the best memorial. In an exclusive interview The Transverse’s Adeyemi Ayeku engaged one of the representatives from the University of Ibadan, Nnanta Ijeoma, who commented on the competition, the challenges they faced while preparing for it and the opportunities the participation has opened for them. Enjoy the excerpts below:
The Transverse: How do you feel about participating in an international competition?
Ijeoma: I am happy because I have long desired to argue before an international panel of judges, with rules different from what is obtainable in Nigeria. Usually, I feel arguing before international panels is either overhyped or is truly a difficult one, so I wanted to do it and now, I honestly don’t think it’s a big deal. It simply demands learning new rules and applying them.
TT: What’s the competition about?
Ijeoma: The competition is a Space Law Competition. Space Law is simply the laws in the form of treaties, conventions, international agreements, etc. that govern how countries can make use of the space, comprising the Moon and other celestial bodies. The competition is organized yearly by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), and each year, a particular subject is dealt with. This year’s competition was centered on the Military Uses of Space Resources. The competition was first held in Pretoria, South Africa (at the Department of Trade and Industry) and this is the African regional round mainly for Universities in Africa to compete from which the winner shall be chosen to represent the whole of Africa at the World Round in USA later this year.
TT: How many teams were represented at the African Regional Round?
Ijeoma: This year, six schools competed from the whole of Africa – the University of Pretoria, South Africa; the University of South Africa (a University equivalent of National Open University in Nigeria); the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; the University of Calabar, Nigeria; Niger Delta University, Nigeria; and Makerere University, Uganda. There were two rounds where each school competed against other schools, each time acting as the Complainant and at another time acting as the Respondent. The case scenario was between two imaginary countries (Suniza being the applicant and Azasi being the respondent).
After all the rounds, there was a final round between the Niger Delta University and the University of Calabar, where the latter emerged as the winner. Niger Delta University was first runner-up and University of Ibadan was announced as the second runner-up. University of Ibadan was also announced as the University with the best Memorial. Best Oralist was from the winning school. 200 euros was given to the winning school, 125 euros for best memorial and 100 euros for best oralist.
Last year, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa represented the whole of Africa at the World Round and won. So, Africa is like the defending champions in the whole world. We don’t know if this position will be maintained after the upcoming world rounds at USA
TT: What were the Challenges you faced when preparing for the competition?
Ijeoma: The major challenge we faced was sponsorship. We had a budget of about 500,000 for three persons. We wrote to the University for sponsorship, and it said it won’t be able to pay as the University has no money. We wrote to law firms, but all, except two, didn’t support. We met a young Magistrate at the competition I attended at UNILORIN in the name of Ateyobi John Kehinde and he helped us with some numbers of those we could call. I personally called about thirty SANs and texted them and submitted letter to some but we didn’t get money from any. Finally, Mrs. Abimbola of Prime Solicitors in Ibadan (that is the private law firm of the Outgoing AG of Oyo State) gave us 100k because the firm was one of the firms we wrote letters to. We used the money for visa.
The organizers of the competition assisted in making the visa processing a faster and quicker one by contacting their embassy in Nigeria as time was against us. We continued looking for the money for the flight. We met a young man at the VFS who committed to support. He eventually gave us 50k. Two days to the supposed day of our departure, we had only 50k for flight. Then I called Mrs Funmi Roberts, the Principal Partner of Funmi Roberts & Co. again and after making necessary confirmations, she gave us 200k. We got 20k from Mrs Oguntuwase, a very good woman in our class. Dr. Akintayo, present NBA Ibadan Chairman and our Lecturer gave us 30k. That’s a total of 300k. So, we paid the flight for two people. We tried but couldn’t get more money for the third member of the team in the name of Olomo Babatunde Alexander. We were still requesting money even on the day of departure. Unable to get any, only two out of the three participants representing UI left for South Africa for the competition, leaving the third participant feeling dejected.
Due to the whole struggle for sponsorship, we barely had enough time to meet and prepare, especially due to the fact that we were not even sure we would make the competition. You will agree with me that for the team with best written argument not to win a competition, then there must have been something wrong with its preparation. We were always typing letter of sponsorship, going from one law firm to the other, submitting letters and what have you.
As the team lead, it was particularly a very difficult experience for me as I got a lot of insulting and bad remarks and responses from some of the SANs I called. But it was also a wonderful experience. I have learnt a lot. We also had the support of the ILSA President at some points. Dr. Akintayo also supported greatly in making suggestions on how we can get sponsorship.
TT: How did you receive the news of the team’s excellence with the memorial?
Ijeoma: With total and complete surprise. We were surprised because the memorials we sent were more or less our drafts. We had other arguments we were yet to add. Plus we had better and more logical structure we intended to introduce to our argument. However, the organizers of the competition adjusted the date of submission of the memorials and unfortunately for us, the new date happened to fall on the days we had exams, so we couldn’t really make any modification to the initial one we had.
This is why we were shocked when UI was announced as the school with the best memorial. This means that if we were able to add and remove arguments and restructure as planned, then such memorial should not fall short of producing the winners if proper and expected assistance was present. The fact that we prepared three persons and ending up having only two participants also speak of this lacuna. Despite this, we still emerged second runner-up. It was very obvious that intellectual wise, the University of Ibadan team should have been the team representing Africa at the World Rounds but the necessary help was denied to the extent that this greatly affected even the performance of the team. Howbeit, we give God the Glory for everything.
TT: Was there any form of reward for your excellence?
Ijeoma: Yes, for the memorial, we were given 125 Euros.
TT: Did you receive any support from your lecturers while preparing for the competition?
Ijeoma: Yes we did. Dr Adigun, Akintayo and Dr Olaniyan (Sub-Dean) supported us. The Dean also signed the letters we sent to law firms for money. He also signed the one we sent to the University.
But they can do better. When we got to South Africa, we discovered that we were the only team that comprised of only two members. The University of Niger Delta came with a lecturer and with their HOD. The lecturer told us that their University can never send out any student to leave the country for a competition without one or two adults accompanying them. These two adults were always ensuring their student participants were up and doing. The only school without an adult (Uganda) came with extra two students to give moral support to those speaking. The participants of UI were not even complete in number due to sponsorship talk less of extra persons.
TT: Having seen other students, what can you say about the quality of Nigerian students in relation to the former?
Ijeoma: Well, bearing in mind that all the awards in the competition were won by the three Nigerian Universities that participated, we can conclude that Nigerian students are more clever. All we need is a better system. For instance, space law is taught in the University of Pretoria but this is not the case in Nigeria. Also, the students had a coach with them training and correcting them at every point in time. But guess what, despite this, the University of Ibadan in the first round of the competition competed against the University of Pretoria and won. This means that as a Nigerian, either due to the difficult system I have been exposed to or due to innate biological qualities of the African child, I am naturally more qualified but in the absence of the needed system and support, this natural quality may become invisible.