Between a rock and a hard place; this seems to aptly describe the present predicament of the vice-chancellor of Ambrose Alli University, AAU, Ekpoma, Edo State, Ignatius Akhakhia Onimawo, a professor of human nutrition, (nutritional biochemistry) as the crisis rocking the university over an allegation of sex-for-marks leveled against the institution’s chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Monday Igbafen, festers.
The matter has not only shifted to the law court, it has also become a subject of criminal investigation by the Edo State police command. The university had on Wednesday February 13, 2019, suspended Igbafen, an associate professor of philosophy, over alleged “gross misconduct bordering on sexual harassment and threats of sex-for-marks”, an allegation he vehemently denied.
According to a statement by the institution’s Deputy Registrar, Information/Public Relations Officer, Edward Aihevba, Igbafen was found culpable of an offence which was said to have been committed in 2011, by the university’s investigative panel. It claimed a relative of one of the victims had threatened to take the institution to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, if Igbafen was not prosecuted. The statement further explained that on receipt of the petition, the university management had asked for his comments but his response was found unsatisfactory. “He was therefore arraigned before the SSDC (senior staff disciplinary committee). As due process demands, he has been suspended from the university, pending the determination of the allegation leveled against him” the statement concluded.
Igbafen had in a swift reaction, described the allegation as an act of blackmail and intimidation because the union had consistently resisted the vice-chancellor’s attempt to emasculate it for standing up against his alleged financial impunity and maladministration. Telling his own side of the story in an interaction with journalists in Benin, the embattled ASUU chairman accused the Vice Chancellor of financial impunity. He said Onimawo had not been able to account for about N5.5 billion he received from TETFUND and NEEDS assessment intervention funds to public universities, which he asserted were products of struggles by ASUU. He also accused the VC of elevating his wife from the position of a typist to Lecturer l, amongst other allegations of high-handedness. Aihevba however, dismissed Igbafen’s allegations as frivolous and advised him to face the allegation against him and leave the vice-chancellor alone.
If indeed the sinister motive of the VC was to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it as alleged by Igbafen, the plot appeared to have boomeranged as the hunter has seemingly become the hunted. A few weeks ago, the table dramatically turned as both Igbafen and the family of the alleged victim of sexual harassment turned the heat on the vice chancellor. While Igbafen has dragged Onimawo, the university and Aihevba before the National Industrial Court sitting in Akure, Ondo State, the Edo State police command is also investigating his petition bordering on criminal defamation and forgery against the vice chancellor. Investigations by the magazine however, revealed that while the police had since March 19, 2019 obtained his statement on the petition submitted on his behalf by his lawyer, Onimawo had allegedly been playing hide-and-seek with the police who had invited him for his statement. The vice chancellor and the PRO had initially been invited for interrogation by the police Thursday March 21, 2019, but they failed to show up. It was learnt that the appointment had to be rescheduled because the VC claimed to have lost his father-in-law and was on his way to Calabar.
For the police desirous of making progress in the case, it was a case of if Mohammed would not go to the mountain the mountain would go to Mohammed. With the failure of Onimawo to honour their invitation, the police decided to move to Ekpoma to obtain his statement and that of the university’s spokesman. It also turned out to be a wild goose chase as the duo, the magazine gathered, was not available. With police investigation apparently running into a cul-de-sac as a result of seeming helplessness or clay-footedness by the investigating team, ASUU believed the development was a deliberate ploy by Onimawo to frustrate the case.
A concerned ASUU member wondered if the police would have appeared this helpless if the case had been the other way round. According to him, “if it was Prof. Igbafen who was being investigated for these serious crimes, would the police not have done everything to arrest him at all cost? The National Industrial Court has however listed the case before it for hearing on May 7, 2019, with the defendants summoned to appear before it. The case with suit number NICN/AK/08/2019 was filed March 22. Igbafen is seeking a declaration that the publication of the defendants jointly and severally, in various media outlets, including the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma official bulletin of February 13, 20019, and various newspapers is defamatory of his person. He is also demanding a full and unqualified apology to be issued and signed by the defendants in the various media outlets as enumerated above, and “the sum of N5, 000,000,000 (Five Billion Naira) being exemplary and aggravated damages for defaming and disparaging the character and reputation of the Claimant, thereby lowering his estimation in the society and exposing him to hatred across the globe”. Above all, Igbafen is praying the court to issue an order restraining the defendants, their, privies, servants and agents from further defaming his name and character.
Investigations by the magazine revealed that the seeming reluctance by Onimawo to honour police invitation may not be unconnected with the request to produce the author of the petition the management of the university had acted on to suspend Igbafen. In a new twist, the alleged victim of the sexual harassment saga, one Itohan Omoike, nee Okhihie, and her mother, Eunice Okhihie, acting through their lawyer, had threatened to initiate legal actions against the authorities of the university if it did not stop what it called a “diabolical ‘python dance’, retract all embarrassing publications concerning Omoike, and offer her an “undiluted apology”. The law firm of J. O. Udaze, Esq also demanded a handsome compensation for his clients, “as otherwise, I have the irreversible instructions of my clients to set the machinery of justice in motion against your establishment without further correspondence from these chambers”.
Udaze, in his letter to the vice chancellor, expressed his clients’ astonishment that a matter which had been dispensed with in 2011, was being resurrected in 2018/2019 “by wicked and malevolent elements who have purposes of their own to serve”, and clarified that “for the avoidance of doubt, there is no Engr. J. A. Okhihie Ph. D. in my clients’ family and the said Engr. J. A. Okhihie had no mandate from my clients to dig and rake into the matter under reference which to my clients, is as dead as Dodo, and spent”. He expressed his clients’ embarrassment by “these unwarranted and surreptitious turn of events”.
It was on the strength of this that Osehon Irehovbude Esq, of A. B. Thomas & Co, Oloke Chambers petitioned the police on behalf of Igbafen urging them to question the vice chancellor and Aihevba “over this clear case of criminal defamation and forgery” or produce the said petitioner. Producing the petitioner is however not the only dilemma the VC has found himself in. A source who should know also hinted the magazine that the governing council of the university at its recent meeting demanded from Onimawo and his management team, the original copy of the 2011 report of a panel which allegedly indicted Igbafen but they could not produce it consequent upon which the matter which was to be discussed, was reportedly stepped down. The university authority was however not in the mood to respond to the issues at stake as its spokesman said he had no comment on the issues relating to the crisis. Aihevba pointedly told the magazine that “the Igbafen matter is over-flogged. They are not things that we want to talk about. There are better things that we are achieving that the university wants to talk about. It’s every day Igbafen, Igbafen, sexual harassment; Police and all that. That is not what the university wants to be doing now. Ask me about achievements; ask me about progress, not a man who is drowning and grabbing at straws and mud-slinging everywhere. We don’t want to pay attention to that. I have no comment on that at all”. When asked about their refusal to