The Minister for Education, Adamu Adamu, has inaugurated a panel to investigate the controversies surrounding the appointment of Professor Eniefiok Essien as the new vice chancellor of the University of Uyo despite the Court of Appeal indicting him for sexual assault and forgery.
The panel on Mr. Essien was among the ad hoc committees set up recently by the minister to investigate petitions on 10 tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
Mr. Adamu said the committees were set up because of allegations of abuse of due process, mismanagement and immorality, as well as fraud and corruption in the affected schools.
Besides UNIUYO, the other schools to be investigated are Federal University, Dutsin-Ma, Katsina State, Michael Okpara University, Umudike, Abia State, and Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State.
Others are University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Calabar, Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State, Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State and Yaba College of Technology, Lagos State.
The committees’ terms of reference includes “to carefully study and investigate allegations in the petitions on the institutions or individuals.
“To seek to determine the veracity of claims and counter-claims by considering the circumstances and talking to as many witnesses as possible.”
PREMIUM TIMES had on November 8, 2015 exclusively reported Mr. Essien’s indictment by the Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar, for sexual assault on a female law student, Linda Onyebuchi Essell.
Mr. Essien was also indicted for forgery in the 2005 case.
The newspaper has been consistent in reporting developments on the case.
Mr. Essien, 55, assumed duty as the fifth vice chancellor of UNIUYO on December 1, 2015, despite protests and tension in the federal university.
He was dean, faculty of law before his appointment as vice chancellor by the governing council of the school.
Thirteen days to his swearing-in, his predecessor, Prof. Comfort Ekpo, wrote to the minister for education, requesting that his (Mr. Essien’s) appointment be suspended because of his ‘fractured integrity’.
An anti-corruption group, Civil Society Network Against Corruption, also wrote to the minister, asking him to stop Mr. Essien from becoming vice chancellor of the University of Uyo.
“A university ought to be a citadel of learning where world-class citizens are produced,” the group said in its letter to the education minister. “In order to achieve this role, it should be headed by respectable member of the society or academia with proven track record and untainted character.”
The process that led to the court indictment of the new VC began in 2005 when Ms. Essell, expelled for examination malpractice, accused Mr. Essien of manipulating the university system against her because she refused his love overtures.
The sexual assault on Ms Essell reportedly took place in 1995 when she was doing her second year in law.
Mr. Essien, then a senior lecturer in law, invigilated Ms. Essell in the examination in which she was accused of cheating. It was him who accused the then student of examination malpractice. It was also him who chaired the Examination Malpractice Panel that tried her and recommended her expulsion from the university.
Ms Essell, claiming that she was being victimised for an offence she said she didn’t commit, went to the Federal High Court, Calabar, and obtained a judgment which nullified her expulsion.
The university appealed against the judgment, but still lost at the Court of Appeal.
“Sometimes in April, 1995 around 1pm, Essien, after our lectures on Contract of which he was a lecturer, summoned me to his office. He told me that I had the last opportunity to redeem my career which was billed for a doom by expulsion if only I could accede to his simple love overtures which will take nothing from me,” Ms. Essell said in her affidavit before the Federal High Court, Calabar.
Mr. Essien was also accused of forging the signature of one of the panel members, as well as doctoring the report of the panel proceedings.
The Court of Appeal, in affirming the judgment of the lower court, held that Ms. Essell’s statements as contained in her affidavit were “serious indictment” on Essien.
Since there was no counter-affidavit by Mr. Essien, the Court of Appeal held that Ms. Essell’s allegations “not having been challenged, contradicted and controverted, must be deemed to be true and correct”.
The Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the university’s Governing Council, Kimse Okoko, had confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that the council received a petition against Mr. Essien after the selection process had ended.
Mr. Okoko said at the time the petition came, it was too late for the council to investigate the allegations against Essien.
“I still confronted him (Essien) when I got the petition against him, and he told me that the whole court case took place when he was away in the UK for his PhD,” Mr. Okoko said.