How Extracurricular Activities Sharpened my Passion for Law

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The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience…The law embodies the story of a nation’s development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics.’[1]

Like most of my mates in secondary school, I choose to study law for very vague reasons. First, previous attempts at studying law were unfruitful, so I took up the mandate to become the first lawyer in my family. The law books littered around the house – the relics of forgotten ambitions, ensured that I never forgot my mandate. Also, I had a teacher who daily inundated us with stories of how lawyers could earn millions from signing a document and nothing more. My decision to apply to study law was based on my desire for a seemingly obscene form of power, and a mandate to fulfill two generations of unfulfilled dreams.

By 2014, I finally became a student of the Faculty of Law of the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), after two attempts at UTME, and two industrial actions that affected OAU. The pent-up energy was there, finally in the white and black, greeting senior colleagues with a typical firm handshake, attending PUL101 (Legal Methods) Class, I was finally a law student. Life couldn’t be better, or so I thought.

My cloud nine came crashing with a series of below average results in PUL101 assignments that challenged my very sense of self-worth. Hey, wasn’t I the Assistant Head Boy in my secondary school? How could I score so low? Then borrowed courses in the arts added to salt to injury with grades in the lower cadre. Now, these things feel silly, but for a first-year student, they were (and still are) a big deal. It seems the purpose of the first year is to destroy any carryover fantasies. By the end of the first semester, I was on a borderline 2.1, regretting my choice of law but lacking in the nerve to go public.

So, I took what seemed to be the path of least resistance – participating in extracurricular activities. I was at such a low point in life that it was either I dropped out, took drugs, or found something I could do well.

Confidence, resilience and public speaking

So in three years after my first year, I went from being a boy who was too shy to read his poems before a small crowd of 20, to become a confident orator and OAU’s representative to debate competitions.  Many other accomplishments followed: I won the ‘Debater of the Year’ award. I ran for a seat in the Students’ Representative Council (the Parliament of the Students’ Union) and won. Within the same period, I participated in the founding of the Tax Club, Intellectual Property Law Club, and the ADR Society. I have contributed to blogs and served as editor for blogs, and I am currently involved in a student-based campaign against Female Genital Mutilation.  I have also held two positions in religious organizations, all within OAU. At the same time, my grades have largely fluttered and settled within the same range.

Some friends have said my life is a frenetic buzz of activity with no depth, but this is my response. From debate competitions, I have discovered a passion for public speaking that I would have never known existed within me if I stuck to the triadic motion of class, library, and hostel.  My reputation within the Faculty is mainly based on my ability to deliver top notch quality at short notice. I have prepared winning debates in less than 24 hours, so when I put in my CV, ‘ability to work under pressure,’ it isn’t just a line to score a few points. I have developed a resilient spirit, and this disposition has led me to victory several times. There have been instances of defeat in debates, but I swore in the presence of teammates that I would get my ‘revenge.’ And in subsequent editions, I did. I stand to be corrected, but isn’t that the raison d’être of the litigation and appeal system?

Knowing myself through politics

From involvement in politics as a student, I have quickly weaned off all my fantasies about how politics is the tool to develop our society. The ugly truth I have seen is that politicians, whether in the National Assembly or the Students’ Representative Council are out to line their pockets. The only way to develop our society is for individuals to seek to improve themselves because, in the end, the society is simply a collection of people. If I hadn’t got involved in politics, I would have carried over these fantasies to the outside world and might have made a mistake to run for office, and waste four years achieving nothing, because of vested interests.

Networking with professionals

My involvement in academic clubs has exposed me to experiences within and outside the legal profession. I have honed my research skills to the extent that my peers see me as a repository of knowledge as regards Tax, and Intellectual Property. Since Taxation Law is a course for my final year, my friends and I that are members of the Tax Club will go into the class with an air of familiarity gained from brainstorming on real life tax issues, not rote learning. I have also been opportune to make presentations before established professionals in the corporate world and struck good relationships with some of them that will come in handy after school.

Leadership skills

My leadership experience in religious organizations gave me a clearer picture of myself and helped me identify my flaws. I have become less critical of people in authority. My failures have taught me humility, and I have learned the necessity to take the initiative when others avoid it, just to ensure that a particular project fails. I may not be the best leader, but I’m better than I was before.

Writing skills

What about blogging? What sprouted as an outlet for my love for writing has grown into definite career path- digital media law. In other words, my far-flung extracurricular activities, which started as an escape from the frustrations of studying law, have paradoxically led me back to my passion, with an even stronger zeal to make something out of it. Did I forget to add that those colleagues who accused my lack of depth and scoffed at our seeming unseriousness with academics, are now seeking us out, trying to learn how we juggled everything? As we get closer to graduation, more of them realize that the limited jobs out there are not necessarily for the brainiest, but those who know how to position and package themselves well.

In sum, I will like to state that it is not wise to study law in isolation from society. It will quickly become dry and frustrating that way. Law is the fabric of society. It follows our practices, our norms. It is not a hermitage. It is not the unchanging Pythagoras theorem.  An understanding of the law can only be developed by an intentional exposure to the norms that guide human civilization. Law is our story, but to read the book, you have to get out of the library and read the faces of people.

[1]  The Common Law, 1881, Oliver Wendell Holmes,  Justice of the US Supreme Court (1902 -1932)

Akintunde Ifeanyichukwu Agunbiade is a 400-Level student of the Faculty of  Law, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ife. He is a decorated public speaker, having represented his Faculty and the school in national debates, and winning the award for “Debater of  the Year”, from the Law Students’ Society, OAU, for the 2015/2016 Session. He is also a member of the Students’ Representative Council (Parliament of the Students’ Union), representing the Faculty of Law. He participated in the formation of the Tax Club, Intellectual Property Law Club, and the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) Society. He also led the team that drafted the constitution of the Tax Club within 8 days.

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