The Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, has sacked a senior lecturer, Peter Ekemezie, over allegations of certificate forgery, plagiarism, among others.
The PUNCH learnt that the decision was taken at the end of the 117th general meeting of the varsity’s governing council.
The council, while ordering Ekemezie to hand over all the school property in his possession to his head of department, banned him from visiting the campus.
In addition, the certificates of all workers of the institution were to be verified, beginning with the academic staff.
This was after weeks of reporting by The PUNCH on the senior lecturer, who had been allegedly covered up by some powerful forces in the school for years.
He was to be promoted from the position of a senior lecturer to a Reader (associate professor) despite the allegations against him when our correspondent began reporting the case.
Ekemezie was employed by UNIZIK in July 2010, but his employment immediately generated controversies because he was allegedly employed as Lecturer 1 Level 11, instead of Lecturer 2, Level 9.
Sometime in 2013, one Mrs Egolum claimed that the 46-year-old collected money from her to help her process a special degree programme at the University of Port Harcourt.
Investigation into the allegation by a senior staff committee set up by the management of UNIZIK led to the discovery that Ekemezie himself was allegedly parading a forged BSc certificate.
The committee’s recommendation to the management was reportedly swept under the carpet.
A few years after, some lecturers accused Ekemezie of using plagiarised works to gain promotion and special favours from the institution, an allegation confirmed by another committee set up by the school.
Like the BSc certificate, the recommendations were also allegedly ignored.
Ekemezie himself wrote a petition to the Commissioner of Police, Anambra State, accusing some lecturers of fighting against his promotion and planting incriminating documents in his curriculum vitae to implicate him.
The police investigated and discovered that he lied. He was subsequently charged with giving false information and certificate forgery.
Still, the university did not act.
The Chairman of the Governing Council, UNIZIK, Azeez Bello, while promising that the council would act on the matter, said some members of the institution’s senate might have been compromised.
Ekemezie’s claim to being an external examiner at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, and University of Benin were denied by the authorities of those schools.
The Anambra State indigene later concocted lies against our correspondent and filed a suit before a Magistrates’ Court. The matter was struck out.
Further investigation into the academic records of the lecturer showed that he allegedly did not also meet the minimum number of years for his postgraduate diploma, master’s degree and Doctor of Philosophy.
The Dean of the UNIZIK School of Postgraduate, Prof. Philomena Igbokwe, while reacting to enquiries from our correspondent, said the lecturer completed his PhD in just 14 months, instead of 36 months.
“According to extant regulation, the timing is not in line with (the) approved duration,” she had said.
The revelation opened floodgates of criticism of the school’s system by some academics and online readers of The PUNCH.
Our correspondent learnt that the university governing council met last Wednesday and Thursday and deliberated on the various issues.
A release by the Director of Information and Public Relations, Dr Emmanuel Ojukwu, titled, ‘Governing Council of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Interdicts Dr Peter Ekemezie,’ stated that the matter had been on for some time.
“The governing council at its 117th general meeting held on Wednesday, June 26, 2019, considered the report of the appeals and petitions committee on the petitions against his person titled, ‘Fraudulent Claim of Patent by Dr Peter Ekemezie and other irregularities in his current appraisal.’ Council noted that the matter, which had lingered for more than five years, was a criminal case, pending before the court of law. It, therefore, resolved to suspend deliberations on it.
“Guided by the provisions of Section 13.1.5 of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Senior Staff Conditions of Service, the Governing Council decided to interdict Dr Peter Ekemezie from his duties in the university with effect from Wednesday, June 26, 2019.
“Council, thereafter, directed as follows: He shall be entitled to receive one-half of his salary; he is required to hand over all the university property in his possession to his head of department and he is forbidden from carrying out his duties or visiting the university except with the express permission of the vice-chancellor,” the statement said.
A source privy to the resolutions at the meeting told our correspondent that there was an instruction for the verification of staff certificates.
The source explained that it was to restore sanity to the system.
“The council was very angry that this case lingered this long. The new vice-chancellor is a pastor with the Deeper Life Bible Church and he is strict and firm. He said even if his own sister committed an offence worthy of sacking, he would do it,” the top varsity source said.
Speaking with our correspondent on Monday, the varsity spokesman, Ojukwu, confirmed the verification of the certificates, adding that it would begin with the academic staff.
He said the new management of the varsity, led by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Charles Esimone, was determined to redeem the school image.
“This council is determined to do the right thing to correct all the anomalies. The society should learn from the university. So, the VC wants to restore the quintessential university culture and this has started,” he added.
The Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, UNIZIK chapter, Dr Steven Ufoaroh, said the verification of staff certificates would expose more workers with fraudulent claims.
He said, “The university council members and the VC are living up to expectation because the issue of discipline ends at their doorstep. If this had been done earlier, all the attacks on the school image would have been unnecessary. I believe with this, all similar cases may be exhumed and people will sit tight and know their proper placement based on their academic qualifications.”
A former Head of Department of Pure and Industrial Chemistry, Prof. John Nduka, lamented the poor appraisal system which ensured the promotion of Ekemezie without verification of his academic claims.
He blamed the former vice-chancellor, Joseph Ahaneku, for the rot in the system, adding that several letters he wrote to him calling attention to the problems were ignored.
Nduka said, “If Ekemezie started work in 2010 with an alleged forged BSc certificate and somebody is just talking about it today, after he had gained promotion, what do we say about that?
“The issue of forged certificate had been known in the institution before the former VC promoted him to become a senior lecturer. The records are there. The committee report was dated January 23, 2015. That is over four years already. Does it take donkey’s years to handle such matters?
“The university law is that when you have a case, a university committee is set up to do preliminary investigation and if a prima facie case is established, the management places such a person on suspension. Then the VC refers the matter to the senior staff committee within a minimum of three months and maximum of six months and after that, the senior staff committee submits its report to the VC, which he will then send to the council. The council only ratifies the decision of the committee. It does not take more than six months. Maybe the new VC has woken up.”
The Director of General Studies, UNIZIK, Rev. Fr. Obi Oguejiofor, described as “shameful” the silence of the former administration over the matter.
The professor of philosophy explained that ASUU held a congress on Monday over the latest revelation that Ekemezie had his PhD in 14 months, adding that the union chairman was mandated to take up the matter with the VC.
He said the news of Ekemezie’s suspension and certificates verification were good for the school’s reputation.
“I spoke to the former VC, but he did not act. This matter is a big shame to whoever is connected to UNIZIK. I told the former VC to his face. But he left him to operate for years. I fail to understand a situation where someone with all the allegations against Ekemezie would be left to roam round for that long; it is not tolerable” he added.
A senior lecturer in the school, Dr Chigozie Anarado, said the decision was long overdue.
He noted that the varsity authorities must review how its standards sunk to the present level and make radical changes.
Anarado said, “It is a mixed feeling for me because I believe this ought to have been done a long while ago. But it is better late than never because at the end of the day, posterity will judge us.
“But we must go beyond that. We need to unravel how we got to this point ab initio. It is good that verification of certificates is done because there could be more fraudulent academics lurking around the corner. I am sure it is not only in UNIZIK you have this kind of thing. When you see something like this, you can be sure it is a representation of what is happening in other varsities. But it is important that we begin to clean up so that we can ultimately make the society a better place.”