Between a rock and a hard place; this seems to aptly describe the present predicament of the vice-chancellor of Ambrose Alli University, AAU, Ekpoma, Edo State, Ignatius Akhakhia Onimawo, a professor of human nutrition, (nutritional biochemistry) as the crisis rocking the university over an allegation of sex-for-marks leveled against the institution’s chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Monday Igbafen, festers.
The matter hasnot only shifted to the law court, it has also become a subject of criminalinvestigation by the Edo State police command. The university had on WednesdayFebruary 13, 2019, suspended Igbafen, an associate professor of philosophy,over alleged “gross misconduct bordering on sexual harassment and threats ofsex-for-marks”, an allegation he vehemently denied.
According to astatement by the institution’s DeputyRegistrar, Information/Public Relations Officer, Edward Aihevba, Igbafen was found culpable of anoffence which was said to have been committed in 2011, by the university’sinvestigative panel. It claimed a relative of one of the victims had threatenedto take the institution to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other RelatedOffences Commission, ICPC, if Igbafen was not prosecuted. The statement furtherexplained that on receipt of the petition, the university management had askedfor his comments but his response was found unsatisfactory. “He was thereforearraigned before the SSDC (senior staff disciplinary committee). As due processdemands, he has been suspended from the university, pending the determinationof the allegation leveled against him” the statement concluded.
Igbafen had in a swift reaction, described the allegationas an act of blackmail and intimidation because the union had consistentlyresisted the vice-chancellor’s attempt to emasculate it for standing up againsthis alleged financial impunity and maladministration. Telling his own side ofthe story in an interaction with journalists in Benin, the embattled ASUU chairmanaccused the Vice Chancellor of financial impunity. He said Onimawo had not beenable to account for about N5.5 billion he received from TETFUND and NEEDSassessment intervention funds to public universities, which he asserted wereproducts of struggles by ASUU. He also accused the VC of elevating his wifefrom the position of a typist to Lecturer l, amongst other allegations ofhigh-handedness. Aihevba however, dismissed Igbafen’s allegations as frivolousand advised him to face the allegation against him and leave thevice-chancellor alone.
If indeed the sinister motive of the VC was to give a doga bad name in order to hang it as alleged by Igbafen, the plot appeared to haveboomeranged as the hunter has seemingly become the hunted. A few weeks ago, thetable dramatically turned as both Igbafen and the family of the alleged victimof sexual harassment turned the heat on the vice chancellor. While Igbafen hasdragged Onimawo, the university and Aihevba before the National IndustrialCourt sitting in Akure, Ondo State, the Edo State police command is alsoinvestigating his petition bordering on criminal defamation and forgery againstthe vice chancellor. Investigations by the magazine however, revealed thatwhile the police had since March 19, 2019 obtained his statement on thepetition submitted on his behalf by his lawyer, Onimawo had allegedly beenplaying hide-and-seek with the police who had invited him for his statement.The vice chancellor and the PRO had initially been invited for interrogation bythe police Thursday March 21, 2019, but they failed to show up. It was learntthat the appointment had to be rescheduled because the VC claimed to have losthis father-in-law and was on his way to Calabar.
For the police desirous of making progress in the case,it was a case of if Mohammed would not go to the mountain the mountain would goto Mohammed. With the failure of Onimawo to honour their invitation, the policedecided to move to Ekpoma to obtain his statement and that of the university’sspokesman. It also turned out to be a wild goose chase as the duo, the magazinegathered, was not available. With police investigation apparently running intoa cul-de-sac as a result of seeming helplessness or clay-footedness by theinvestigating team, ASUU believed the development was a deliberate ploy byOnimawo to frustrate the case.
A concerned ASUUmember wondered if the police would have appeared this helpless if the case hadbeen the other way round. According to him, “if it was Prof. Igbafen who wasbeing investigated for these serious crimes, would the police not have doneeverything to arrest him at all cost? The National Industrial Court has howeverlisted the case before it for hearing on May 7, 2019, with the defendantssummoned to appear before it. The case with suit number NICN/AK/08/2019 wasfiled March 22. Igbafen is seeking a declaration that the publication of thedefendants jointly and severally, in various media outlets, including theAmbrose Alli University, Ekpoma official bulletin of February 13, 20019, andvarious newspapers is defamatory of his person. He is also demanding a full andunqualified apology to be issued and signed by the defendants in the variousmedia outlets as enumerated above, and “the sum of N5, 000,000,000 (FiveBillion Naira) being exemplary and aggravated damages for defaming anddisparaging the character and reputation of the Claimant, thereby lowering hisestimation in the society and exposing him to hatred across the globe”. Aboveall, Igbafen is praying the court to issue an order restraining the defendants,their, privies, servants and agents from further defaming his name andcharacter.
Investigationsby the magazine revealed that the seeming reluctance by Onimawo to honourpolice invitation may not be unconnected with the request to produce the authorof the petition the management of the university had acted on to suspend Igbafen. In a new twist, the allegedvictim of the sexual harassment saga, one Itohan Omoike, nee Okhihie, and hermother, Eunice Okhihie, acting through their lawyer, had threatened to initiatelegal actions against the authorities of the university if it did not stop whatit called a “diabolical ‘python dance’, retract all embarrassing publications concerningOmoike, and offer her an “undiluted apology”. The law firm of J. O. Udaze, Esqalso demanded a handsome compensation for his clients, “as otherwise, I havethe irreversible instructions of my clients to set the machinery of justice inmotion against your establishment without further correspondence from thesechambers”.
Udaze, in hisletter to the vice chancellor, expressed his clients’ astonishment that amatter which had been dispensed with in 2011, was being resurrected in2018/2019 “by wicked and malevolent elements who have purposes of their own toserve”, and clarified that“for the avoidance of doubt, there is no Engr. J. A. Okhihie Ph. D. in myclients’ family and the said Engr. J. A. Okhihie had no mandate from my clientsto dig and rake into the matter under reference which to my clients, is as deadas Dodo, and spent”. He expressed his clients’ embarrassment by “theseunwarranted and surreptitious turn of events”.
It was on the strength of this that Osehon Irehovbude Esq, of A. B. Thomas & Co, Oloke Chambers petitioned the police on behalf of Igbafen urging them to question the vice chancellor and Aihevba “over this clear case of criminal defamation and forgery” or produce the said petitioner. Producing the petitioner is however not the only dilemma the VC has found himself in. A source who should know also hinted the magazine that the governing council of the university at its recent meeting demanded from Onimawo and his management team, the original copy of the 2011 report of a panel which allegedly indicted Igbafen but they could not produce it consequent upon which the matter which was to be discussed, was reportedly stepped down. The university authority was however not in the mood to respond to the issues at stake as its spokesman said he had no comment on the issues relating to the crisis. Aihevba pointedly told the magazine that “the Igbafen matter is over-flogged. They are not things that we want to talk about. There are better things that we are achieving that the university wants to talk about. It’s every day Igbafen, Igbafen, sexual harassment; Police and all that. That is not what the university wants to be doing now. Ask me about achievements; ask me about progress, not a man who is drowning and grabbing at straws and mud-slinging everywhere. We don’t want to pay attention to that. I have no comment on that at all”. When asked about their refusal to