After a protracted legal battle, justice finally came the way of Edet Akpan, an associate professor of mathematics, whose appointment with the University of Uyo, Uniuyo, was terminated in 2004 for raising questions over the way the university was being run.
Mr. Akpan was reinstated after he won his case against the school both at the Federal High Court, Uyo, and the Court of Appeal, Calabar.
He was the chairman of the university’s branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU around 2002 when Akpan Ekpo, a professor of economics, was the vice chancellor of the university.
The then union leader had criticized Mr. Ekpo’s leadership style as being inimical to the progress of the university.
The termination of Mr. Akpan’s appointment followed a familiar sequence within the school during Mr. Ekpo’s tenure. Firstly, he was queried in his personal capacity as a lecturer for speaking up against the university administration. Next, the school acted on an anonymous letter which alleged that Mr. Akpan forged his certificate, and suspended the lecturer in 2003 without giving him an opportunity to defend himself.
He was not even given a chance to see a copy of the letter that was written against him, PREMIUM TIMES gathered. He was also barred from entering the school.
All these happened despite a subsisting order from the Federal High Court, Uyo, restraining the school from taking any action against the lecturer.
The police also reportedly investigated the forgery case and exonerated the lecturer.
Mr. Akpan, afraid that the university could still sack him despite the controversial suspension, ran back to the court a second time. He obtained another order which restrained the school from acting further on the anonymous letter.
The school went ahead to terminate his appointment in March 2004, in defiance of the order of the court.
Interestingly, the travails of the union leader coincided with the period in which the National Universities Commission, NUC, withdrew accreditation for several courses in Uniuyo, including courses in the faculty of social sciences where the then vice chancellor, Mr. Ekpo, came from; a development that the federal court took notice of while delivering judgment in the suit challenging the termination of Mr. Akpan’s appointment.
“Let me further observe here and hold that what the defendants termed insubordination and misconduct are constructive criticism of an inept administration that finished last in the accreditation exercise in all the universities in Nigeria,” Justice E.S Chukwu of the federal high court, Uyo, said in his judgment in 2013.
While ordering the university to reinstate Mr. Akpan, Justice Chukwu noted that the university had become “a place where the truth will always be punished senselessly”.
The judge continued: “If there is any person that his appointment should be terminated, it is the Vice Chancellor; and his kangaroo panel (that) should be shown their way out.
“If they had honour, they ought to have resigned and not witch-hunt innocent citizens like the plaintiff whose association (ASUU) cried foul or complained of gross incompetence in the university administration.”
The court also ordered Uniuyo to pay Mr. Akpan his emoluments for all the years he was kicked out of his job and N500, 000 to cover the cost of litigation.
After the tenure of the then vice chancellor, Mr. Ekpo who later became the Director General, West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, Lagos, two other vice chancellors – Akaneren Essien and Comfort Ekpo – came and left without recalling Mr. Akpan.
In February this year, the university recalled Mr. Akpan back to the classroom, after trying unsuccessfully to have the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court nullify the judgment of the trial court. While the Court of Appeal upheld the judgement of the High Court, the Supreme Court rejected a request for stay of execution by the university.
The university’s spokesperson, Godfrey Essien, declined to comment on the reinstatement when contacted. He said the governing council was yet to brief him on it.
However, Kimse Okoko, a professor and immediate past chairman of Uniuyo’s Governing Council, who confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Akpan had been reinstated, said it did not make any sense dragging the issue further at the Supreme Court.
The lecturers and students in the department of mathematics threw a surprise party to welcome back Mr. Akpan who had put in about 29 years of service in Uniuyo and was an associate professor for eight years before he was sacked.
Mr. Akpan said he should have been promoted to a full-fledged professor in 1998, and still hopes that that could be done before his retirement in June.
“My belief is that you can suppress the truth only for some time. At the appropriate time, the truth will surface,” Mr. Akpan said in a sober tone, when PREMIUM TIMES met him in his office at the university.
He now has strands of white hair on his head.
The former ASUU chairman, who is married with five children, said his survival out there was nothing but a miracle from God.
While he was out of his teaching job he spent time on farm work and preaching engagements in the Methodist Church.