After about 11 years of intense suffering and multiple litigations, justice, on Friday, came the way of a University of Uyo lecturer, who was arbitrarily fired after he was accused of proceeding on annual leave without clearance.
Giving judgment in a long-drawn case, which had several twists and turns, Justice Ernest Chukwu of the Federal High Court ordered the university to unconditionally reinstate Inih Ebong, a former head of the university’s Theatre Arts department.
An outraged Justice Chukwu ruled that Mr. Ebong, an associate professor, should be reengaged after severely rebuking the university authorities for disregarding due process and mistreating the thespian without any basis.
Mr. Chukwu also directed the university to pay Mr. Ebong all the salaries, allowances and other material and non-pecuniary benefits that are due and accruing to him before, during and throughout the period his appointment was terminated and throughout the period he was unlawfully suspended.
The court also made an order of cost to the tune of N400,000 against the university while the institution is also to pay him one year salary for every six years he was to be on sabbatical since 1995.
Reacting to the judgment Saturday, an apparently elated Mr. Ebong said via a text message to PREMIUM TIMES, “After tortuous 10 years and 9 months of dogged determination, perseverance, guts and patience, the eagle has finally landed on the crest of this heart, unafraid of the terror of the threshold.
“This fearless, indomitable, long-suffering gadfly is soaring back into the University of Uyo, buoyed majestically on the wings of the Eagle! Spread the good news, sound the trumpets, beat the drums and roll out the royal carpets. . . . The victory dance has just begun!!”
The lawyer for the university, Mike Akpabio, was not in court during the judgment, and could not be reached for comments Saturday.
The university, under the leadership of Professor Akpan Ekpo, current Director General of the West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, Lagos, had stopped Professor’s Ebong salary on August 1, 2001, after accusing him of abandoning his duty post and proceeding on leave without permission.
After he protested and challenged the disciplinary measure, the university, on December 18, 2001, suspended him from duties indefinitely and placed him on half pay (basic salary only).
On March 28, 2002, Mr. Ebong’s appointment was terminated, and he was barred from entering the university.
But the court found that the university indeed approved Mr. Ebong’s annual leave via a letter from the institution’s registrar, and that the stoppage of his salaries, suspension from duties and eventual dismissal were unlawful and done out of malice.
Justice Chukwu further wondered why the lecturer was never queried or tried, in line with the law establishing the university, before he was fired.
For the about 11 years the case lasted, Mr. Ebong knew suffering in its full nine letters. This writer extensively reported on the professor’s travails right from the beginning, following his sack, his numerous cases in court, his ejection from his Uyo apartment, his sale of his belongings to feed his family, his eventual movement from the city to his rural hometown to become a subsistence farmer to at least feed his family.
Below is one of the articles written by this reporter for TELL magazine in 2004, documenting a part of Mr. Ebong’s story.
Inih Ebong, associate professor of Theatre Arts, University of Uyo, remains a thorn in the flesh of his employer two years after his sack
BY MUSIKILU MOJEED
The incident is still fresh in the memories of the authorities of the University of Uyo, UNIUYO, Akwa Ibom State. The institution’s calendar for the year 2000 was being distributed to senior staff of the university. There was no hitch in the distribution until the dispatch reached the desk of Inih Ebong, an associate professor of Theatre Arts. Ebong collected the calendar and, almost immediately, returned it to the university with a cover letter entitled: “Return to Sender.” In the letter, the lecturer declared that the faces in the calendar were not deserving of any space in his living environment.
A few months before the calendar episode, the university had, after promoting him to the rank of associate professor, sent him a congratulatory letter. But Ebong wrote back denouncing the congratulatory message. He said he was suspicious and skeptical because the sentiments expressed in the letter were totally inconsistent with the injustice and embarrassment he had suffered in the university.
A one-man anti-corruption crusader, he had grown both as a whistle blower and a fiery critic of his colleagues and employer. A tireless and meticulous letter writer, Ebong stood out like a sore thumb as the fiercest critic of the university administration. Almost on daily basis, he churned out and circulated widely, within his campus and beyond, letters castigating one university official or the other for professional misconduct, double standard, immorality or complicity to commit crime.
But what manner of man is Ebong? Some of his colleagues described him as an intriguing character, a man whose middle name is “controversy.” Everywhere he had worked in the last 27 years, Ebong had been controversial. His propensity to always take on his employers dates back to his days at the University of Calabar.
The university, shortly after hiring him as a graduate assistant, sent him to the Michigan State University in the United States and later the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom for his masters and doctorate respectively. But Ebong, on his return, complained that the university starved him of fund while abroad. And to seek redress, he promptly slammed a lawsuit on the university. It was a titanic battle that eventually forced the lecturer to relocate to the University of Jos, UNIJOS. At UNIJOS, Ebong was again a thorn in the flesh of the institution’s administrators. And he was eased out. But Ebong is not one to leave without a fight. He dragged UNIJOS to court before moving on to UNIUYO.
But it was at UNIUYO that Ebong’s ‘eccentricity’ blossomed the most. The lecturer was, ‘on principle’, perpetually opposed to the university’s administration. When the university could no longer tolerate him, it, in 2001, accused him of having gone on leave without permission and stopped his salary. Though Ebong petitioned the university’s governing council, describing the allegation as an “extremely wrongful” one, he was given the boot.
That of course sparked a chain of legal bouts. So far, Ebong has instituted four civil suits against the university. Apart from wanting his dismissal reversed, the lecturer also wants UNIUYO committed for contempt of court for disclaiming him on the page of a newspaper even when he was still contesting his sack in court. Ebereuke Ekanem, an Uyo-based lawyer, took up his case and has, on compassionate ground, been representing him in court without charge.
Yet, Ebong’s life is a study in asceticism. A lecturer of 25 years standing, he has no car, a house or any landed property to call his own. And his apartment seriously belies his status as an associate professor. The windows have no blinds and the floor devoid of either carpet or tiles. Except a few old-fashioned chairs, a shelf and a transistor radio, the apartment is bereft of furniture and electronics. But his private study is rich and it houses Ebong’s most prized possession in life.
In his current travails, he would, perhaps, have enjoyed some support from the Academic Staff Union of the Universities, ASUU, but Ebong had, in 1999, controversially resigned his membership of the union.
The last two years have, indeed, been turbulent for this don. Since he was abruptly sacked in early 2002, Ebong has undergone severe economic and psychological torture. Putting meals on the family’s table, paying his children’s school fees and supplying their other needs have now become near impossible.
To worsen matters, the lecturer now faces the risk of being ejected from his sparsely furnished 3-bedroom apartment due to his inability to pay about two years arrears of rent he currently owes his landlord. The apartment itself has, since 2002, been disconnected from electricity supply by the National Electric Power Authority, NEPA, because Ebong could not pay his bills. And the lecturer has sold off his television set, video and compact disc recorders, computers, generating set, mobile phone and other valuables ” to keep body and soul together.”
Today, Ebong treks long distances to keep appointments, his clothes are old and his shoes ‘rickety,’ yet there seems to be no hope of changing them soon.
“Things are really tough for me but I am determined to continue to keep a lively cheerful disposition because I know that God would one day bring justice to bear on my case,” the embattled lecturer declared.
Culled from TELL magazine of June 21, 2004.