A lecturer unjustly sacked by a Nigerian university 18 years ago, who secured a court judgement ordering his reinstatement and compensation early this year, is now fighting for life because of severe ill-health.
The lecturer, Inih Ebong, was an associate professor in the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Uyo, when his appointment was unlawfully terminated in 2002. Akpan Ekpo and Peter Effiong were the vice-chancellor and registrar of the institution respectively at the time.
Three successive vice-chancellors of the university have refused to reinstate him, despite an unbroken string of victories at different courts.
Mr Ebong, before his sack, had a running battle with Messrs Ekpo and Effiong who saw him as a thorn in their side for speaking up regularly against alleged maladministration and corruption in the school.
The National Industrial Court in Uyo, in January, said the termination of Mr Ebong’s appointment was “malicious, ultra vires, and unlawful”.
Justice M. A. Namtar ordered the university to reinstate the lecturer and pay him N10 million damages, in addition to his accumulated salaries and allowances.
The university appealed the judgement.
Mr Ebong, who has been without any alternative source of income in the past years, is now incapacitated by a cardiovascular disease and appeared unable to continue with his about two-decade fight for justice against his university and its officials.
His doctor, a consultant cardiologist, told the lecturer that he has 20 per cent chances of survival.
“They want me to die, I will not die,” Mr Ebong muttered to a PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter, as he gasped for air while struggling to sit down on a sofa in his sitting room, on Wednesday.
Mr Ebong, looking terribly emaciated, walked with abnormal gait into the sitting room, guided by his wife, Uduak.
“It was worse than this,” the wife said to the reporter. “He wasn’t able to stand or walk on his own three days ago.”
The lecturer has been taken to at least three hospitals in Uyo for treatment, including the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, the wife said.
He left N155,000 unpaid bills in one of the hospitals, St Athanasius Hospital. Another hospital, Prime Clinic, wrote off over N200,000 of Mr Ebong’s bills, having noticed he did not have the ability to pay.
An editor of a national newspaper, who is aware of the case, sent N50,000 donation to the lecturer.
While at the hospitals, Mr Ebong drank water in place of food, whenever his family could not afford a meal for him, the wife said.
Mrs Ebong worked as an entertainer at the Ibom Hotels & Golf Resort before she was laid off due to the lockdown trigerred by the coronavirus pandemic.
“He has been seriously ill. In fact, there were days I thought he would not make it to the next day,” Mrs Ebong said of her husband.
“His condition, as you can see, requires intensive care, but we don’t have the money to pay medical bills. We don’t even have the money for feeding and school fees for the children,” she said.
The lecturer, for now, is ‘hospitalised’ at home and is being nursed by the wife.
He is taking prescribed drugs, like metolazone, torsemide, and digoxin, used in the treatment of heart failure, liver or kidney diseases.
Des Wilson, a professor in the Department of Communication Arts, University of Uyo, is among the few friends of Mr Ebong who have been trying to help him.
Mr Wilson said Mr Ebong’s ill-health began around February when the university appealed the court judgement which ordered his reinstatement.
“It was like somebody had thought he had reached the end of the road and then he suddenly saw them…. They know that they would never win, but just to delay him with the hope that he would die in the process,” Mr Wilson said.
Mr Wilson said the only hope for now is to wait for the University of Uyo to have a new vice-chancellor who may look into Mr Ebong’s case.
“As a lawyer that he is, I expected he would be better than the others before him. But he has shown that he is still as vindictive as the others,” Mr Wilson said of the current vice-chancellor of the University of Uyo, Enefiok Essien.
“I think it is by the grace of God that he (Ebong) is still breathing.
“He needs some more care. The little we have been chipping in is very inadequate, especially for a wife that is not working, and the children are in school.
“We have gone on for months without pay, I just borrow from here and there.
“He needs help, but I don’t know where that help can come from. I would have asked my colleagues to chip in something, but when you see that people also are in the same shoes with you, they don’t have anything, they are trying to survive….”
Mr Ebong’s lawyer, Nsikak Effiong, told PREMIUM TIMES that the University of Uyo could drag the case till it gets to Supreme Court just so they could “punish” his client.
“So far, I have not received brief of argument from the university since they filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, Calabar. By the end of this week, I shall file a motion for the appeal to be dismissed because the 45 days that is provided under the rules would have elapsed.”
The lawyer said he has taken steps outside the court to appeal to the authorities of the University of Uyo not to even bother about his client’s reinstatement, but to just pay him his entitlements for him to get proper medical attention.
“For sure, the intention of the university is to make sure that he dies. That, I can confirm. That is why they have gone on appeal,” the lawyer said.
[Mr Ebong is gravely ill and needs help for urgent medical care. You can reach out to him through his wife, Uduak +2349046469446), or send him a donation (Inih Ebong, Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB) 0042760051).]