The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has suspended the recent decision by the Governing Council of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) to sack Ugochukwu Uche, a professor at the university, who exposed several falsifications and apparent forgeries by another professor, Uche Modum.
SaharaReporters has done several investigative reports on the questionable credentials used by Mrs. Modum, a former Commissioner with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), to obtain promotion to the rank of professor at UNN. Our reports have also detailed various attempts by UNN’s Governing Council, headed by Emmanuel C. Ukala, a lawyer, to shield Mrs. Modum and pressure the whistleblower, Mr. Uche, to recant.
A source who was privy to the Governing Council’s deliberations told SaharaReporters that Mr. Ukala “virtually made a unilateral decision to sack Professor Uche.” The source added, “even though most members of the Council cautioned against moving too rashly, Ukala basically railroaded the council in a desperate move to shield Professor Modum.”
UNN’s decision to sack Mr. Uche, who is currently teaching in the Netherlands on a leave of absence, defied a series of letters from the NHRC. Since 2013, the NHRC has been investigating the dispute between the Council and Mr. Uche, who refused to back down from his well-documented exposure of Mrs. Modum’s questionable claims about her record of publications as well as other discrepancies in her official curriculum vitae.
A source told SaharaReporters that the NHRC’s investigation into the Governing Council’s possible violation of Mr. Uche’s right have been delayed for almost two years because “UNN has failed or refused to respond to the numerous correspondences from the NHRC. Till date, UNN is yet to submit the documents requested by the NHRC.”
In its letter to UNN, the NHRC warned that, by refusing to comply with its directive to submit its investigation reports on the fraud allegations, the university had contravened the provisions of the NHRC Act.
Established by the 1995 NHRC Act, which was amended in 2010, the human rights body is empowered to receive and investigate complaints concerning violations of human rights and make determination as may be deemed necessary. The Commission also has the powers to summon and interrogate witnesses and to enter any property for purposes of obtaining evidence or information. Under the Act, it is an offence for any person or authority to obstruct the Commission or refuse to provide evidence or any documentation when requested by the NHRC. Refusal to comply with enquiries, summons, directives, recommendations and awards of the Commission is also a punishable offence.
“The UNN Council chairman, Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, who is a SAN [Senior Advocate of Nigeria], knowingly violated this provision of NHRC Act all in an effort to shield an accomplice of his, a lady credibly accused of committing academic fraud,” said our source.
Another source at UNN, who asked for anonymity, confirmed to SaharaReporters, that the University had received a letter from NHRC dated October 22, 2015 and signed by the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Professor Bem Angwe. The letter gave the UNN authorities two weeks to submit the proceedings of their entire investigation into the allegations of academic fraud made against Mrs. Modum. The documents were meant to enable the human rights commission to determine whether the university gave the whistleblower fair hearing before putting pressure on him to withdraw his expose or face sanctions.
Despite several letters from the NHRC demanding evidence that UNN gave fair hearing to Mr. Uche, the university failed to submit the requested documents but went ahead to fire Mr. Uche at the behest of Mr. Ukala. Following the university’s shocking move, the NHRC stated that it would investigate the sack.
The whole saga involving the Governing Council’s effort to shield Mrs. Modum began when Mr. Uche, in his capacity as UNN’s Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration, discovered significant discrepancies in the credentials submitted by Mrs. Modum to earn promotion to a professor. SaharaReporters obtained documents showing that Mr. Modum’s submitted documents included a forged letter from a top American journal, Management Accounting (now renamed Strategic Finance) purportedly accepting two of Mrs. Modum’s academic papers for publication. Mrs. Modum also falsely claimed in various official documents that she worked for the nonexistent “Jones and Jones Inc.”, a certified public accounting firm purportedly based in Dayton, Ohio, USA. She had also changed her official date of birth, without which she would have since retired from the service of UNN. In addition, Mr. Uche discovered that Mrs. Modum’s CV, which was published on the UNN website, contained false claims of several “published articles” that were nonexistent.
Even so, a committee set up by the University Council to investigate the allegations ignored the clear evidence Mrs. Modum’s falsifications, including a letter from the editor of Strategic Finance confirming that the journal’s “acceptance letter” submitted by Mrs. Modum was a forgery.
SaharaReporters also confirmed that the accounting firm where she claimed that she worked in the US was nonexistent at the time. Several of the papers listed as having been published in her official CV were also nonexistent. Finally, her age discrepancy was also evident from official university documents obtained by SaharaReporters.
Not only did the university’s “investigation committee” ignore the evidence in order to pursue the agenda of shielding Mrs. Modum, its members also found Mr. Uche guilty of “character assassination without concrete facts” and asked him to apologize to Mrs. Modum.
Mr. Uche’s lawyer wrote to UNN officials to point out the anomaly of their procedures as well as their conclusion about his client. He reminded them that his client was not the subject of any investigation but a witness in the investigation of Mrs. Modum. He also informed the university authorities that, despite the incontrovertible evidence of Mrs. Modum’s multiple forgeries, he had advised his client to leave the outcome of the investigation to the collective conscience of the Council members. He however made it clear that his client was willing to submit himself for trial under UNN’s procedures that uphold the principles of fair hearing and natural justice. He demanded that, in keeping with proper procedures, his client should be formally informed of the charges against him, be allowed to defend himself in the best possible way, including the opportunity to cross- examine his accusers.
UNN’s Council spurned Mr. Uche’s formal request for a copy of the proceedings that led to the verdict that he was “guilty of character assassination”.
Mr. Uche was subsequently invited to appear before another Council Committee established to investigate numerous complaints against the administration of the then Vice Chancellor, Bartho Okolo. The chair of the committee, Harrison Onwu, denied Mr. Uche’s request for legal representation. He also refused to entertain any presentation on the substance of the numerous forgeries by Mrs. Modum, claiming that a previous Council had settled the matter. One of our UNN sources said Mr. Onwu’s sole agenda was to pressure Mr. Uche to recant his exposure of Mrs. Modum and “throw himself at the mercy of the Council, which was aligned with Mrs. Modum.”
“The Council was in a dilemma and wanted a solution to save their faces and that of Professor Modum,” said the source. He added: “If Professor Ugochukwu Uche had agreed to withdraw what he said about Mrs. Modum, the Council would then have removed the apology requirement while leaving the guilty verdict of character assassination intact.”
Mr. Uche however rejected the idea, insisting that all he wanted was to be given fair hearing or for the Council to thoroughly investigate his allegation that Mrs. Modum had committed academic fraud, a scandal he exposed as part of his duties as the Dean of Faculty of Business Administration.
When the UNN’s Governing Council ignored his requests for due process and respect for his right to fair hearing, Mr. Uche petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in August 2013. In his letter to the human rights body, he pointed out that UNN authorities had violated his right to fair hearing by, one, finding him guilty when he was not on trial, two, refusing to give him a copy of its investigative proceedings that resulted in a ‘guilty’ verdict against him, three, refusal by the Onwu committee to allow him legal representation and, four, refusal by the committee to allow him to present evidence on Mrs. Modum’s forgeries. His letter to NHRC also noted the university council’s refusal to give him the opportunity to cross-examine Mrs. Modum on her fraudulent claims.
Mr. Uche’s petition to the NHRC also complained about Mr. Onwu’s undue pressure on him to plead with the Council to “temper justice with mercy” instead of giving him the fair hearing he was entitled to.
One university insider told SaharaReporters that the UNN Governing Council made frantic efforts to frustrate the investigations by NHRC, principally by ignoring a series of correspondences from the human rights agency.
An investigation by SaharaReporters revealed by Mrs. Modum’s apparent forgery of an acceptance letter from the editor of the journal, Management Accounting, was one of a series of questionable, false or exaggerated claims of her scholarly work. A review of her 1995 “professorial appraisal form” shows that Mrs. Modum at the time claimed that she had produced two books (one published and one accepted for publication), three book chapters (one published and two accepted for publication) and 15 journal articles (six published and nine accepted for publication).
Till date, none of the nine journal articles and the two book chapters that Mrs. Modum claimed to have been accepted for publication in 1995 has been published. Astonishingly, most of these ostensible articles/ book chapters later appeared in her 2008 official CV posted on the University website as having been published in entirely different journals/ books whereas such papers do not exist. (Mrs. Modum’s 1995 professorial appraisal form and 2008 CV are attached).
A retired professor who taught at UNN told SaharaReporters that the numerous forgeries by Mrs. Modum were “exceptional and do not in any way reflect the professorial standard there [at UNN].” He added that Mrs. Modum was promoted to a professor “during a crisis period that saw the emergence of Professor Umaru Gomwalk as the sole administrator of UNN. During that period, most administrative organs of UNN were suspended. Given that her husband, Professor Paul Modum, was one of Gomwalk's close allies, all Mrs. Modum had to do to be made a professor was to 'manufacture' as many journal and book acceptance letters as possible.”
A senior academic at UNN’s Enugu campus told SaharaReporters that it was now public knowledge at UNN that Mrs. Modum and a few others “obtained their professorship under shady circumstances.” He provided SaharaReporters documents “showing that the Professor Shehu Galadanchi Visitation Panel to the University (1986-1998) recommended that such dubious professorships awarded under Gomwalk be reviewed and the Federal Government White Paper also accepted the recommendation.” According to him, “Although the UNN Council ad hoc committee on the implementation of the visitation report, headed by Professor Francis Okafor, recommended that a special committee be set up to undertake the task of identifying beneficiaries of untenable promotions, some powerful Council members at the time insisted that it was ‘best to let the sleeping dogs lie.’”
According to one source, Mrs. Modum would have since retired from the services of UNN, and thus escaped public exposure of her false credentials, “but she decided to alter her date of birth in the records of UNN.” SaharaReporters obtained two documents that reveal a discrepancy in Mrs. Modum age.
A lawyer familiar with the case told SaharaReporters that the “refusal of the UNN Council, led by a SAN [Mr. Ukala], to release the reports of its investigations to both Professor Ugochukwu Uche and the NHRC is bizarre.” He added that the Council’s attitude left the impression of “possible desperation on the Council’s part to cover up injustice. This is analogous to a court passing judgment and then refusing to make public the basis of its decision.”