UNIZIK SCANDAL: ICPC PROBES UNIVERSITY FORMER VC, LECTURER

Samson Folarin

The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission has begun a probe into allegations levelled against a suspended senior lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Dr. Peter Okemezie; and a former Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Prof. Joseph Ahaneku.

The Director, Public Enlightenment of the ICPC, Mrs Rasheedat Okoduwa, said the agency had received a petition against the two.

She promised that the commission would work on it, adding that investigation would be done after the allegations were processed.

“Yes, we have received a petition on the case and we will work on it,” she said.

UNIZIK has been enmeshed in a scandal in recent time following reports that Ekemezie, a lecturer in the Department of Pure and Industrial Chemistry, forged several certificates.

The immediate former VC, Ahaneku, was alleged to have covered up Ekemezie, an accusation he has denied.

Ekemezie was alleged to have forged a BSc certificate from the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State; a case he is standing trial for at a magistrate’s court.

The Anambra State indigene was also alleged to have plagiarised several academic papers, using them to gain promotion and special favour from his university.

He was also allegedly involved in several cases of obtaining money by false pretences, two of which were reported by our correspondent.

His purported claims to being an external examiner in two universities were denied by the authorities of those schools.

However, Ekemezie was caught in a fresh web of controversy regarding how he acquired his postgraduate diploma, master’s degree and doctorate from the school without allegedly meeting the minimum requirement.

The PhD in particular was allegedly completed in 14 months, instead of 36 months (three years).

While the school of postgraduate studies says the onus is on the university’s senate to review the matter and do the right thing, the university’s spokesman, Dr Emmanuel Ojukwu, says the PG school should own its mess.

The Dean of the School of Postgraduate School, UNIZIK, Prof. Philomena Igbokwe, insisted that only the institution’s senate could decide on the matter.

She said, “It is not the PG school that needs to take a step; it is the university. The PG school offers a degree of the university. So, the university will advise on what to do.

“He (Ekemezie) is on suspension pending the determination of the criminal case against him. I was informed that a number of panels were set up by the university and they have reported on various aspects. But when all is said and done, it is the senate that will decide what is applicable for this kind of offence.”

The Director of Information and Public Relations, UNIZIK, Ojukwu, however, said it was not a senate matter.

He noted that the roles played by Ekemezie’s supervisor and the dean of the postgraduate school at the time needed to be investigated.

“As regards a 36-month programme being finished in 14 months, the dean of the PG school has already told you that it is abnormal and unusual. What else do you want to hear? It means it is wrong. There is no way it can be padded. There is no where you can do a PhD in 14 months.

“So, if something like this happens, it means that the supervisor, the supervisee, and the people at the postgraduate school at that time who authorised the person’s graduation should be held and not the senate,” Ojukwu added.

The spokesman, while lamenting the embarrassment the matter had brought to the institution, said the new VC was strict and in a few weeks’ time, “everything would be sorted out.”

The PUNCH gathered that Prof. P.C. Nnabude, the Dean of the School of Postgraduate Studies at the time the controversial PhD was awarded, is now a member of the university’s governing council.

When our correspondent asked him about the matter, he said he could not remember it.

“Nobody is happy about these issues and we are all aware that they ought to have been treated, but they were not. But now, they are being looked into. I think it is better you leave them to the school to handle. The school will get to the roots of all these things,” he said.

Our correspondent contacted Ekemezie’s former Head of Department, Prof. T.U. Onuegbu, who allegedly passed the contentious PhD.

Onuegbu, however, claimed that The PUNCH dialed a wrong number after our correspondent introduced himself and the reason for the call.

When our correspondent insisted that phone application, True Caller, revealed her identity, she said she could not speak on the phone and wanted a face-to-face interview.

While our correspondent sought details for the interview, the phone went dead.

She had yet to respond to a text message seeking clarification of her role in the matter as of press time.

Ekemezie’s supervisor, Prof. P.A.C. Okoye, who had earlier spoken to our correspondent on the telephone, had also insisted on a face-to-face interview before shunning calls and a text message from The PUNCH’s Anambra State correspondent, Tony Okafor.

The immediate former VC of UNIZIK, Ahaneku, insisted that he never aided or shielded Ekemezie.

On the controversial PhD, he said, “Anything that is irregular, immediately the right thing is discovered, of course the right thing will be done in order to reverse whatever decision was taken in the past.

“That is why they have to do full scale investigation over that and I am sure by the time they are done, those in the PG school, those in the department and those that actually participated in making sure that this kind of thing was given within that period will definitely…you know until you mentioned it, it never came to the knowledge of any person.”

A source close to the records in the school of postgraduate told our correspondent that there had been discussions around the controversial PGD, M.Sc and PhD certificates.

The source said the lax system of the school was exploited to award the certificates because there was no mechanism in place for checks.

He said between 2015 and now, there had been “serious restructuring” in the PG school and some “crooks” in the system were finding things difficult.

The governing council of UNIZIK had stated in a release that although there were several allegations against Ekemezie, it could not discuss any of them because he had a criminal matter in court.

A senior lecturer in the school, who asked not to be identified, told our correspondent that the decision not to discuss the allegations was wrong.

The source added that it could also be an attempt to give the suspect “soft landing.”

“The only criminal case before the court is the BSc certificate forgery. And despite that, UNIZIK has proved beyond doubt that this man started working with the forged BSc certificate. The findings of the school committee predate the court case. The findings were in 2014 and the police arraigned the man in 2018.

“And what of the plagiarism, which is not in court? A preliminary report of the school had already indicted him. Why has it not gone to the senior staff disciplinary committee? Why is the council silent on the false claims of being examiner at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, and University of Benin, which is not in court?” the source said.

Another source in the varsity faulted the process that led to Ekemezie’s suspension.

He said, “They have not invited the petitioners or called anyone in his department to talk. Your first publication was on May 23, and instead of calling an emergency meeting, they waited for over one month before acting.

“They should have called an emergency meeting and set up a panel with a two-week mandate. And then they could base their action on the panel’s report and suspend him. Suspension is a management decision.

“The VC was supposed to suspend him and then send the matter to the senior staff disciplinary committee. The committee’s report is what the VC will table as an agenda before the council, which will then act on it.”

However, the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Act showed that the council could also suspend for a “good cause”.

According to Section 17(3c) (3d), good cause means “conduct of a scandalous or other disgraceful nature which the council considers to be such as to render the person concerned unfit to continue to hold his office; or

“Conduct which the council considers to be such as to constitute failure or inability of the person concerned to discharge the functions of his office or to comply with terms and conditions of his service.”

A source insisted that all those involved in the certification of Ekemezie against extant regulations should be called to question.

“As a professor, you should know the nitty-gritty of administration. If a professor has supervised someone and awarded him a PhD in 14 months, his professorship is questionable. Why is the school silent about that?” the source asked.

The UNIZIK Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Charles Esimone, and the Chairman of the Governing Council, Azeez Bello, did not take their calls or respond to several messages from our correspondent.

Copyright PUNCH.                

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