In the last few weeks, Edo State-owned Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, had been in the news, but not for something to cheer. The institution is at loggerheads with its lecturers under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, following the suspension of its local chapter chairman, Monday Igbafen, associate professor, department of philosophy over allegation of gross misconduct bordering on sexual harassment. Igbafen believes the allegation was orchestrated to intimidate the union for insisting that the right thing be done in the university. In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, the embattled chairman debunked the allegation leveled against him by the authorities of the university, describing it as “pure witch-hunt and pure blackmail” by the vice-chancellor, Ignatius Onimawo, a professor of nutritional biochemistry. Igbafen who has slammed a N200 million suit on the institution for alleged defamation of character, stated defiantly that “I am even challenging them that if they say I victimised her, they should go and bring all her scripts; let them assess the scripts outside the university”. The face-off between the duo, however, took a dramatic twist just recently, when the family of the alleged sexual harassment victim dissociated themselves from the travails of the embattled ASUU chairman, threatening to sue the university. The family also disowned the said family member who purportedly wrote to resurrect the contentious sexual harassment case while Igbafen has also reported to the state Commissioner of Police, a case of defamation of character and forgery against the vice chancellor. Between Igbafen and Onimawo, it is fight-to-finish as the journalist turned university teacher bared it all, exposing how the vice-chancellor resorted to blackmail when the various desperate attempts to comprise him failed. It is most revealing.
Recently, you were suspended by theauthorities of Ambrose Alli University on an allegation of sexual harassment,but you claimed you were being blackmailed. The question is why would thevice-chancellor want to blackmail you with such a grievous and damagingallegation?
Let me give you the genesis of the wholeproblem. In 2011, in fact, just to let you know the political dimension to thewhole problem, it was in the heat of our ASUU election and the information wentout that I may likely emerge the chairman. Meanwhile, the university said theyreceived a petition against my person and one Dr. Blessing Agidigbi in the samedepartment with me, department of philosophy. To cut the long story short, apanel was subsequently set up to investigate the petition and at the end of theday, they said they submitted a report. I wasn’t sent that panel’s report. Whatwe just heard was that they warned the other person who is no longer alivetoday because he died, I think three years ago. Mine was to be queried, and Ireceived that query; that was, I think in early 2012, and I responded to thequery stating my innocence very clearly to the university administration. As Ispeak to you, until very recently, nothing was heard about that story anylonger. And as at that time, I was Lecturer 1. From then till now, I have sincebeen head of department of philosophy- for two years – and I have enjoyed allmy working career there, including my promotion from Lecturer 1 to associateprofessor in 2014; nothing was said.
But the funny aspect is that once they hearabout ASUU, that Igbafen is coming, they would start shouting that they have acase with him. And when I now became chairman of the union in 2015, thisvice-chancellor came in. His attitude was that he could take over the wholeuniversity and do what he liked without any challenge from anybody. But as aresponsible union on ground, we felt that everything we do in the system shouldbe done according to due process. That is what the union had been insisting on,and of course, the current vice-chancellor’s hands are full of so manyarbitrariness and others. So, our union had always been at loggerheads with himuntil last year when we were to do another election. The man showed openinterest that Igbafen cannot come back as chairman. We were able to dig it outand at the end of the day, I won even with his sponsorship of candidates. Andso, what is bringing up this one is the recent development over our strike.When the wife showed open interest and was insulting professors; she wasdirectly calling our members to break the strike, and the union felt that wasnot going to be possible. So, we had to issue a release on her conduct; andsince then, the man had been aggressive. And before I knew it, he told me thathe endorsed a petition to me over an issue of 2011 and for which even as wespeak, I don’t even know what that report said then. Before I knew it, he hadgone to resurrect the problem; he sent a suspension letter. And before we knewit, it was already in the press shouting Igbafen has sexual harassment casebased on which he’s being suspended. I have stated my own side of the storythat it is pure witch-hunt, pure blackmail; and of course, his plan is to getat the union for insisting that he should do the right thing in the university.
And one of those things is the irregularappointments that he has done. For more than one year, he was running thisuniversity as a sole administrator because there was no governing council; so,he committed so many unprocedural things that the union said he should not andshould be reversed. Some of the illegal appointments he did, conversions, wherehe personally moved his wife that is so desperate now, from non-academic cadreto lecturing cadre – to Lecturer 1 which of course is unprecedented. Our unionsays that is not going to be possible – for you to move somebody who had no teachingexperience in the university from nowhere to Lecturer 1; and even as at then,without a Ph.D.
But the university’s Public Relations Officerexonerated the vice-chancellor; he said it was the former VC who did theconversion of the VC’s wife.
No, it’s not true now. It is not true. Thefiles are there in the university; we wrote to the Council to investigate it.And of course, the irregular appointments and others, we told the Council. Wealso wrote to the vice-chancellor to investigate his allegation of fake Ph. Dsamongst our members. As I speak to you, no report on it. We understand thatsome of the people he’s using are people with fake Ph.Ds. I don’t want tomention names. The union has been insisting that he must fish out those peoplewith fake Ph. Ds that he’s shielding. For God’s sake, we cannot even vouch forhim now that he can carry out that job because he has deep-rooted interest.That is why we are calling on Council to do it.
Under what circumstance did he make thatallegation?
Yes. Let me explain to you. In 2015, I washead of department when he came in as vice-chancellor. I was also ASUUchairman. I was in Senate when he brought a report to Senate that there werefake Ph. Ds in this university. He specifically mentioned a department. And aschairman of a responsible union in senate, I was not comfortable. So, we tookthe matter to our ASUU congress; it was extensively debated and based on that,we wrote to him that the union would cooperate with him to fish out the fakePh. D holders in this university. We have all those resolutions. After writinghim, he refused; meanwhile, you originated the allegation. We wrote to him asecond time, he didn’t do it. Then the third time, we wrote to him; then he nowgrudgingly set up a committee. Till today, the exercise did not see the lightof day. But our congress insisted that we must not allow the matter to be sweptunder the carpet. I understand he promoted a dean without Ph. D in the area ofhis discipline. They are the people he’s using.
So, there are so many things ASUU had beeninsisting must be done right and that is why he’s after the soul of ASUU inthis university. And they believe that because Igbafen is the arrow-head as thechairman of the union, the best thing is to get at Igbafen. And that is why hewent back to 2011, over a matter that was already settled – look, I want tochallenge the vice-chancellor to bring out the lady or bring out the man hesaid wrote the petition. I am even challenging them that if they say Ivictimised her, they should go and bring all her scripts; let them assess thescript outside the university.
What the university is saying is that it wasthe lady’s parents who petitioned the university, alleging that the matter wasswept under the carpet and threatened to petition ICPC to take it up.
That is what I am saying. I am disputing thatclaim. What we are hearing now is that the VC presided over the forgery of thatpaper. If they doubt it, let the man come out. As I speak to you, I havealready consulted my lawyer; they are already serving the university, servingthe man. Let the man come out, let the lady come out.
From what we learnt, there are other issuesagainst you that the university is threatening to blow open.
Let them bring all those issues out. If youare running an ideal system, there is an infraction somewhere, won’t you dealwith the infraction, and by conclusion of dealing with the infraction let thewhole world to know if it is important for the whole world to know? Do youshout to the whole world that well, I am looking for something that I will useto nail somebody? Does that make sense? Just because you approached me, yousaid Chairman, I should step down all these matters. I told them no, I am notthe owner of ASUU. ASUU has a structure; I am just the chairman, and as thechairman, I can’t run the union alone. So, all these issues, they are issuesthat we normally debate on the floor of congress, and some at the leadershiplevel. If a decision is taken at the leadership level, I cannot go back on thosedecisions. So, my business is to enforce them, and that is what is going on.Let me tell you, when this vice-chancellor came, he didn’t meet anything onground to work with. Since he came, the university has received more than N5.5billion for the past five years. Out of that money, this vice-chancellor hasreceived more than N3.4 billion from TETFUND, and N1.2 billion from NEEDSassessment. Are you saying we don’t have right to ask questions whether thesefunds are properly used or whether they passed through due process in awardingcontracts? How can a vice-chancellor be in the university, only him is runningthe system; there was no Council. He alone is doing all those things, ideally,he’s supposed to get approvals from a higher authority, then ASUU should notspeak when ASUU struggled for the money to be brought to the university?
They are saying that you should have knownthat TETFUND is being closely monitored and there is no way it can be misusedbecause there are checks.
What I am saying is if there are procedures,are those procedures being followed? If you have a university where there is noCouncil, almost all the committees of the university have been moribund;they’ve not been properly constituted. That is what we are saying. If you saythere is a TETFUND allocation to the university and that allocation is expectedto be used for the physical development of the university, there arecommittees. And those committees, there are council representatives in each ofthose committees. We didn’t have Council for more than one year. How were thosecontracts awarded? In fact, the last one we wrote to him a few days ago; may bethat is what is adding to this fire of Igbafen must go. For instance, the NEEDSAssessment funds, when he came in, he met N714 million that the union wasfighting that it should be quickly utilised so that the university can accessthe second tranche. Then the second tranche came, over N500 million, making itabout N1.2 billion. Now, before you can use that fund, there must be a functionalBMC – budget monitoring committee. He awarded 12 contracts, since August tilltoday, he didn’t call that BMC. He was inviting inspectors from Abuja to comeand inspect the contracts he awarded without BMC. And when they did on-the-spotassessment of what was going on, the BMC delegation, they went there; theydiscovered that so many things that were on paper, like where you have 10, youhave three there. We just wrote a letter to the chairman of the BMC to say thatour union will not be able to cooperate until they verify all those things. Howwere those contracts awarded? Who conceived those projects? What about the billof quantities, BOQ; where are they? What are the estimates for all thoseprojects? So, these are all the issues. So, when somebody will sit down andlook for everything to nail somebody because you feel that if you get rid ofthe person, you can have your way and run the system the way you like; and theunion is saying no, that cannot be possible here.
Another thing we learnt was that before thestrike was broken by the management, ASUU and some stakeholders were invited bythe VC to deliberate on how to get the lecturers back to school because theuniversity had run into financial crisis and could no longer pay salaries asschool fees were not being paid, but you refused to cooperate. Did thisactually happen?
You see the blackmail? Why is it that it’sIgbafen, Igbafen? When the strike started; the strike was declared in FUTA,Akure. That was November 4, 2018. It was a national strike, and so when I cameback, as chairman, of course you must summon congress to brief congress. Afterbriefing congress to formally declare the strike here, I went to meet thisvice-chancellor. I said VC sir, you know it’s through this struggle that we getmore funds to the university; the state does not give you money for now forcapital projects. All the projects you have in the university is by TETFUND orby NEEDS Assessment and the strike that we are in now is to attract more fundsto public universities, including AAU. So, it is not against you, it is notagainst our state government, but for government to increase funding to publicuniversities in Nigeria; so, please we need to be on the same page so that wecan prosecute the strike. He agreed with me and at the end of the day, told methat he had suspended his inaugural lecture series. And secondly, that he hadalso postponed part-time exam. We brought him to congress; he re-affirmed thosethings. We now went to bed thinking that we were on the same page.
Do you know that less than a week, I startedgetting reports in the secretariat that the VC was insisting that they shouldgo and break the strike and write the exam? I said after having understandingwith him? I said that cannot be possible. Before we knew it, they had broughtout time-table. I said why should the VC be behaving like this? How can we makearrangement to prosecute this strike, the same man agreed, then he is goingbehind to do all these things? And of course, there is no responsible union thatwill stand by and watch while the strike is collapsing on its head. Theleadership of the union met and said we must resist it. We wrote to our membersto stay away. We have monitoring teams in all the branches; Ekpoma has one. Aschairman of the branch, I am not a member of the monitoring committee. They goto the field; they don’t fight anybody. If they see any of our membersviolating the strike, they only put your name down and go away. While all thesewere going on, we thought we could manage it.
I was never invited to any meeting. Theonly meeting that I was invited to, was the meeting that Council said we shouldcome; that they wanted to see us and that was after the inauguration of the newcouncil and we were already on strike. If you are on strike, you cannot attendany meeting until you get clearance from the national leadership. And we wroteto our national headquarters to say we were being invited by the pro-chancellorfor a meeting. (Lawson Omokhodion). When we now got instruction from our nationalleadership, they said we cannot attend any meeting, but that we should write aletter explaining to the pro-chancellor that we are sorry, we would not be ableto honour the invitation until after the strike. And we just called for hisunderstanding. And that was all. Before we knew it, this man went to open theschool. Nobody called me again. Even when I was making efforts to reach him, herefused; he didn’t bother. So, he thought he had more than enough lecturers toteach and break our strike. So, nobody invited me to any management meeting, orstakeholders meeting to say we need to open the school so that we can begetting money. It is not true. So, when he discovered that he was unable tobreak the strike here, the wife now started intimidating our members, callingthem on phone, threatening them.
The union now met over it and said this iswrong. What is the role of a vice-chancellor’s wife in the running of theuniversity? We had to issue a statement to demand for what is the status of thewife of a vice-chancellor. And the union is saying that there is nothing like afirst lady in the university. So, that was what happened. So, when he nowdiscovered that the union was too strong for him to break, and shortly, thestrike was suspended, they now resorted to this, particularly because theywrote something about the wife. Even what the union wrote about the wife wasnot circulated to the press. We merely raised some questions. So, what isgoing on is that you have a desperate vice-chancellor who believes that he cancow everybody in the system so that he can run the system the way he likes. Andthe union said no, it’s not possible. He made several attempts to compromiseme, but he failed.
How did he attempt to compromise you?
He called me, for instance when we werechallenging the irregular appointments he was making, he said I should go andbring candidates for employment. When I went to his office with the secretary,he said no, no, no, I am inviting you as a staff not as chairman. He took meinside. This is a secret thing. He was telling me you see, go and bring yourown list. I now said list? I just laughed. When I came out, my mind said thisman, what he’s trying to do is to compromise me so that all those his illegalactivities, the union can no longer challenge them. Shortly after that, thewife called me and told me look, chairman, anything you need, just call me;don’t call anybody. And one of them also called me to say bring your bankaccount. Few weeks after, the registrar called me and told me we are stillwaiting for your list. I told them I don’t have any list. Then before I knewit, they set up one committee that was working on interview of a so-called listof staff that they wanted to employ. They put my name to come and sit on apanel to interview them and I wrote them that we are not part of that becausethere is no council on ground so he cannot be doing those things. Before I knewit, they sent my name to bursary; they kept money there for me.
They started calling me from bursary; come andsign for your money. I said I am not a contractor. Really, I have not done anywork for the university that would warrant me to go and sign for cheque in thebursary; the only thing I get is my salary. So, at the end of the day, I wentthere; I discovered that they paid me some money for a job I didn’t do. Ididn’t sit on that panel and they were paying me sitting allowance. I had towrite to the bursar to withdraw that money and the bursar wrote back to me tosay sorry, they have gone to pay that money into the university’s account; seethe evidence. They brought the evidence to me.
How much was it?
Sixty thousand naira that time – sittingallowance for one day – all in desperation to compromise me. And so, it’s notthat I’m against this man. You do what you know is right, that had been theinsistence of the union. So, when they discovered that they were not gettingthe cooperation, this man insisted that I would never be chairman again – thesecond tenure. That year we did election, there was nothing the vice-chancellordidn’t do – campaigns of calumny – oh, we have stolen the union’s money, wehave done that to the point that he now divided the union and created aparallel exco he appointed. That was how we dragged that matter to governmenthouse. Government intervened; government said look, there cannot be somethinglike this; go back home and conduct your election. We came back home, for thefirst time in the history of our university, the vice-chancellor spearheadedcampaign against me and he ensured that he mobilized his cronies there. Theysat there till in the night. And what happened? Sponsored people, all hiscandidates failed. In the history of our union, that was the highest turn-outof our members, professors and all that. And they insisted that Igbafen is ourchairman. And as I speak to you, they met recently and re-affirmed thatIgbafen is our chairman, and he remains our chairman; we have implicitconfidence in him and the problem that he is having – the suspension – is afallout of the union’s insistence on due process and all.
And they have mandated the union to takeall steps, including legal option, to check the tyranny of the vice-chancellorhere who believes that blackmail and witch-hunting are his weapons. I have beendue for a full professor since 2017. Just recently, he stepped down mypromotion and the promotion of the secretary, and so many ASUU members here.This man came and removed all local ASUU members from positions as directorsand others. This man came, for just a minor issue on the floor of congress,removed the secretary of the union at the branch level as head of department,queried him. He removed the guy before he queried him for an issue thathappened on the floor of congress. So, he believes so much in intimidation. Hehad tried so many things to destroy me, it didn’t work. And I stood my ground.And what you are seeing is also a play-out of his desperation and I alsobelieve that this one would fail. If not because of the damaging effect, itwill fail.Follow Us on Social Media