The Governing Council of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), led by Emmanuel Ukala, a lawyer, decided to defy a request from Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for all the documents the University used to exonerate Professor Uche Modum who was accused of numerous academic forgeries and falsifications of credentials.
Several sources at the University told SaharaReporters that the Governing Council, at its meeting on December 1 and 2, 2015 decided to file a lawsuit against the human rights body.
SaharaReporters recently disclosed that the Human Rights Commission had questioned the University Council’s decision to fire Ugochukwu Uche, a former dean of the Faculty of Business at UNN, who accused Mrs. Modum, a former Commissioner with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, of falsifying her credentials in order to obtain promotion to full professorship.
Our sources revealed that Mr. Ukala specifically informed the Council that he had hired three Senior Advocates, including Ken Njemanze and D.C. Nwigwe, to sue the NHRC over the agency’s directive.
The controversy dates back to 2008 when Mr. UgochukwuUche, during a routine exercise as the then Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration, compared Mrs. Modum's official CV with her 1995 professorial appraisal form and discovered significant discrepancies. Specifically, Mrs. Modum’s 1995 appraisal papers claimed that she had authored two books (one published and one accepted for publication), fifteen journal articles (six published and nine accepted for publication) and three book chapters (one published and two accepted for publication). Mr. Uche discovered that, by 2008, none of the nine journal articles and two book chapters that Mrs. Modum claimed had been accepted for publication in 1995 had been published. Astonishingly, most of the papers were included in Mrs. Modum's 2008 CV as having been published in entirely different journals where they did not exist.
These discrepancies and false claims raised concerns about the authenticity of the acceptance letters Mrs. Modum had submitted for her professorial appraisal in 1995. Mr. Uche also pointed out that Mrs. Modum used the forged 2008 CV to gain Ph.D. supervision status at UNN.
In her three responses to Mr. Uche's query, Mrs. Modum, neither denied the discrepancies nor provided a clear explanation. Mr. Uche then officially reported the matter to the UNN authorities, in accordance with the UNN policy governing such discovery.
Curiously, in 2011, a UNN Council Committee ostensibly investigated Mrs. Modum and gave her a clean bill. In addition, the Council accused Mr. Uche of “character assassination without concrete facts” and ordered him to apologize to Mrs. Modum. This was despite the fact that Mr. Uche had showed evidence that, even after he exposed the forged CV in 2008, the Registrar of UNN still circulated essentially the same CV to the entire UNN community in 2009 when Mrs. Modum unsuccessfully contested for the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Unlike the 2008 CV, which listed 17 “published journal articles” (many of which do not exist), Mrs. Modum’s 2009 CV simply claimed that she had published more than 25 journal articles, even though she craftily avoided listing the said publications.
Mr. Uche protested UNN’s handling of his findings and formally requested for a copy of the investigation report and supporting documents to enable him to understand the basis for the Council’s exoneration of Mrs. Modum and insistence that he apologize to her. The Council formally denied his request.
In July 2011, Mr. Uche's lawyer wrote to the Council submitting evidence from a US-based attorney that confirmed that, apartfrom using fraudulent nonexistent publications to obtain promotions and other benefits, Mrs. Modum had also forged the acceptance letter of a journal, Management Accounting (now Strategic Finance), which purportedly accepted two of her papers for publication in 1992. In addition, the document exposed that Mrs. Modum had used different dates of birth andfalsely claimed to have worked in a nonexistent US auditing firm.
When UNN authorities rejected and returned the letter, Mr. Uchewrote an open letter bringing his travails to the attention of the entire Council. In 2013, after a Council Committee set up to investigate the numerous complaints against the then Vice Chancellor, B.N. Okolo, unsuccessfully tried to force him to plead with the Council to “temper justice with mercy,” Mr. Uchepetitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) arguing that it was wrong for the University to find him guilty when he was only a witness in its investigation of Mrs. Modum. He also requested to be formally tried in accordance with the regulations of UNN to enable him to demonstrate Mrs. Modum’s fraud beyond doubt.
UNN ignored several requests from the NHRC to submit its investigation reports on the case to enable the human rights agency to determine whether Mr. Uche was given fair hearing. Instead, Mr. Ukala compelled members of the Council to support his decision to sack Mr. Uche. NHRC immediatelysuspended the sack and gave the UNN authorities two weeks to submit the said documents. In reaction, Mr. Ukala disclosed to the Council that he would sue the NHRC.
A source at UNN told SaharaReporters, “The critical question is,why is the UNN Council determined to keep secret itsinvestigation report that cleared Professor Modum?”
A former Council member at the time of the 2011 investigations told SaharaReporters that the Ukala-led Council “might be afraid that releasing the report will expose and ridicule the powerful Council members who colluded to subvert justice.” He added that the guilty members included two former deputy governors, Benjamin Elue (a deputy governor of Delta State under former Governor James Ibori) and Patrick Adaba (deputy governor of Kogi State under the late Governor Abubakar Audu), and Mrs. O.A. Brown of the Federal Ministry of Education. The source accused the investigation committee of “simply citing and accepting the documents that Professor Modum submitted during her 1995 professorial appraisal asevidence that the nonexistent publications exist. How can it be explained that Mrs. Modum's 'publications' which the council committee reported to exist are merely articles with acceptance letters dated in the nineties? More than twenty years later, none of the claimed articles has been published?”
Ironically, the so-called acceptance letters included one purportedly issued by Management Accounting (now Strategic Finance), which the journal’s editor disavowed in writing, stating that the journal never wrote such a letter. The Committee report also falsely claimed that some of the journal articles Mrs. Modum listed as accepted for publication in 1995 had been published. But a simple search shows that such articles were never published.
In her defense, Mrs. Modum had stated that all her papers ostensibly accepted for publication but never published after 20 years were a mystery to her, but insisted that they were all accepted.
In the bid to save Mrs. Modum, the report further stated that her CV that was posted on the UNN’s website was a draft that was submitted by her department without her consent. The report was however silent on how several nonexistent publications, with journal titles, dates, volume, issue and page numbers entered her draft CV. Evidence that Mrs. Modum used the same forged CV to gain UNN approval to supervise PhD students wasdisregarded.
According to our source, several Council members resisted subsequent attempts by former Vice Chancellor B.N. Okolo to force Mr. Uche to apologize to Mrs. Modum. One Council member told SaharaReporters, “Some of us are surprised that Mr. Ukala, a SAN, has allowed himself to be dragged into this mess.”
A professor at UNN also revealed that “even Professor Malachy Okwueze, a former Deputy Vice Chancellor of UNN who was on the Committee, has expressed surprise at the sack action.”
A former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the university, Mrs. Rich Umeh, reportedly took exception to the underhand dealings of the Council. “Professor Umeh recused herself from the proceedings,” a source said, adding that Mrs. Umeh “subsequently refused to sign the report by the Council, defying extensive pressure.” The members of the investigation Committee who signed the investigation report were Mrs. Grace Offorma and Mrs. M.U. Eke, the secretary.
SaharaReporters had earlier reported that after the Ukala-led Council ignored letters from the NHRC and gave Mr. Uche two weeks to apologize or be sanctioned, the whistleblowing professor petitioned the Federal House of Representatives. The legislative body immediately asked the University to maintain the status quo and settle the matter within one month, failing which Reps would hold a public hearing on the complaint. In fact, the House fixed September 17, 2014 for the public hearing. Panicked by the prospects of a public hearing on this grand cover up of academic fraud, UNN Vice Chancellor Benjamin Ozumba on July 25, 2014 wrote to the House stating that the matter was handled by a previous Council. He however informed the House that, because of its intervention, UNN Council had suspended further action on the matter. He then pleaded for more time to enable the Council to review the matter. The House of Reps approved the request.
However, a source at UNN told our correspondent that the request for time was a deceptive ploy. “Once the tenure of the seventh National Assembly ended, the UNN Council sacked Professor Uche without recourse to the House or making known the findings of its investigations,” said the source.
At a September 29, 2015 meeting, Mr. Ukala railroaded the Council to sack Mr. Uche, despite protests by some members of the Council. He insisted that a previous Council had decided on the matter. A source privy to the deliberations of the Governing Council told SaharaReporters that when the minutes of the saidmeeting were taken to Mr. Ukala for approval, he personally rewrote the section on the sacking of Mr. Uche to give the impression that the matter was extensively debated and decided by a consensus in the Council. A Council member told our correspondent, “Although everybody present knew what happened, nobody spoke up as the deed [the firing of Professor Uche] had already been done”.
The source said Mr. Ukala was visibly upset as he discussed the NHRC letter suspending the sack of Mr. Uche. “He cursed the human rights commission and told the Council that UNN will never submit the requested documents but will instead take the NHRC to court to challenge its jurisdiction and powers to protest the conduct of UNN, another government agency,” said a source.
The Council’s meeting on December 1 and 2 2015 was the first time any of the several NHRC letters was brought to the attention of the entire Council of UNN.
In a recent interview with a local newspaper in Enugu, Starlite, published on November 9, 2015, UNN VC, Mr. Ozumba, wasasked why he never informed the UNN Council about the September 14, 2015 NHRC letter which defined the meaning of fair hearing and also demanded that the University submit all its investigation documents on the Mrs. Modum fraud investigation. Mr. Ozumba responded that he was overseas when the letter from the National Human Rights Commission came, adding that, by the time he came back to Nigeria, the University Council had wound up its sitting and had taken a decision.
But two members of the Council confirmed to SaharaReporters that the VC lied about being out of the country, adding that he was present at the meeting when the firing of Mr. Uche was discussed. “He had a golden opportunity to tell members of the council about the due process guideline from the human rightsagency,” said one source. He added that the VC’s silence was “recklessness of the highest order.”
When asked by the same newspaper whether he had taken time time to investigate the allegations against Mrs. Modum, the VC responded, “I have no knowledge of how to conduct investigations. Investigations are better left for investigative journalists and other relevant agencies saddled with such duties.”