Sources at the University of Nigeria (Nsukka), Nigeria’s first indigenous university, have disclosed to SaharaReporters that some members of the university’s governing council have resumed their plot to punish a lecturer, Ugochukwu Uche, who exposed fraudulent academic claims made by Mrs. Uche Modum, a professor of accounting at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) and a former Commissioner with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
One source told SaharaReporters that Mrs. Modum and her allies on the governing council were determined to move urgently against the whistleblowing professor, Ugochukwu Uche. “The woman’s [Professor Modum’s] supporters on the council feel that, once [President-elect Muhammadu] Buhari takes over, the atmosphere may no longer be conducive to carry out their reprisals,” the source said.
On December 13, 2012 and July 23, 2014, SaharaReporters published documentary evidence that showed that Mrs. Modum has been involved in multiple academic forgeries. One of the key forgeries was an acceptance letter from a top American journal, Management Accounting (now Strategic Finance), which purportedly accepted two of her papers for publication. The editor of the journal has since disavowed this shoddily forged letter in writing by the editor of the journal. Yet, the purported acceptance letter was part of the documents Mrs. Modum submitted in support of her application for promotion to the rank of full professor.
In her 2008 CV published on the UNN official website, Mrs. Modum also falsely claimed that she had authored 17 journal articles. Our investigation revealed that many of the so-called “published articles” she listed do not exist. Yet, the distortions on the CV became the basis of her false claim to the School of Postgraduate Studies UNN that she had published 8 journal articles on accounting and/ or in accounting journals. The essence of this false claim was to enable her to gain approval for PhD supervision in accounting.
Mrs. Modum also falsely claimed in her 2009 official CV, which was circulated to the entire members of the UNN Senate when she unsuccessfully contested for the Office of Deputy Vice Chancellor, that she had published more than 25 journal articles. She also claimed, incorrectly, in both her 2008 and 2009 official CVs that she worked in a nonexistent “Jones and Jones Inc.”, a certified public accounting firm purportedly based in Dayton, Ohio, in the US. In another apparent misrepresentation, Mrs. Modum filed more than one date of birth, enabling her to remain on the staff of the university past what should have been her mandatory retirement age.
For our previous reports on the controversy, see: http://saharareporters.com/2014/07/23/fresh-investigations-confirm-academic-fraud-uche-modum-accounting-professor-university and: http://saharareporters.com/2012/12/13/former-icpc-commissioner-uche-modum-embroiled-academic-fraud-unn.
One source at UNN told SaharaReporters, “While I consider Professor Modum’s reported misrepresentations to be grave, the brazen nature of the impunity with which very influential and high-ranking UNN officials have tried to muzzle Professor Uche and other voices of protest in the past is by far more troubling.”
Shortly after we first broke the story, the then Vice Chancellor of UNN, Bartho N. Okolo, publicly stated in writing that it was too late to punish Mrs. Modum. Mr. Okolo wrote: “UNN will be making a public statement on this and other attacks on a great institution. Prof. (Mrs.) Modum might have made a mistake, but does not deserve all the insults. It is already too late to do anything since she has been educating students in the most excellent manner. What she did not have in publications, she now has in experience.”
According to one source at UNN, Mr. Okolo’s main response to the controversy was to appoint a committee consisting of his friends and beneficiaries. The source then said the committee commenced the process of “silencing Professor Uche, the former Dean of the Faculty of Business for the crime of using due diligence during a routine credentialing exercise to discover and report discrepancies in the credentials of a senior colleague.”
The committee’s first move was to indict the former Dean for daring to embarrass Mrs. Modum. Mr. Ugochukwu Uche was reportedly verbally admonished. The whistleblower was ordered to apologize to Mrs. Modum, and then to accept an official reprimand that would remain in his academic record. If he refused the instructions, he was reportedly made to understand that he would lose his job.
Mr. Uche’s appeal that he was merely doing his job, and that he was prepared to leave the matter to “the collective conscience of the school authorities” was reportedly rebuffed by the powerful powerbrokers backing Mrs. Modum. According to our sources, that powerful bloc included the VC of UNN as well as several council members. “They are insisting that the professor [Mr. Uche] should recant or face serious punishment, including termination of his appointment.”
SaharaReporters learnt that at least one lecturer, identified as a female professor of ophthalmology who was a deputy Vice Chancellor under Professor Okolo, refused to sign the questionable report that cleared Mrs. Modum and indicted her accuser, defying extensive pressure.
A senior lecturer at UNN told SaharaReporters that, while he was not sure about the specifics of the case between Mrs. Modum and Mr. Uche, he was well aware of a chilling culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” prevailing at the university and enforced by perceived “power brokers” in dealing with issues of academic fraud. “Any lecturer who steps on big toes here is dealt with,” he said, adding that there were some charlatans at the university “willing to do whatever is needed to protect their own.”
Another lecturer told SaharaReporters that he had been victimized for raising questions about another colleague’s credentials, specifically related to claims about publications. “The truth is that what obtains here is not different from what obtains in other Nigerian institutions of higher learning and even larger society. People can get away with anything because there is a culture of impunity in this country. The hunter is easily turned into the hunted,” said the source.
The most recent investigation by SaharaReporters revealed that some of the major players in the unfolding drama are connected in interesting ways, and some of them appear to be playing out scripts based on personal relationships and ties. UNN’s current pro-chancellor and chairman of the university’s governing council, Emmanuel Ukala, is a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who is reportedly close to Mrs. Modum and her husband, E.P. Modum, a retired professor of French at UNN and a former commissioner in the old Anambra State.
According to highly reliable sources, Mr. Ukala is the personal lawyer to Mr. Nyesom Wike, the governor-elect of Rivers State. Mr. Wike, who once served as acting Minister for Education, appointed Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, who is also his kinsman, as pro-chancellor of UNN.
“In order to clear the way for the appointment of Mr. Emmanuel Ukala (SAN) as pro-chancellor, Chief Wike dismissed the former occupant of the office, Mr. Emeka Enejere,” a senior academic staff at UNN said. He added: “This was after Mr. Enejere had submitted a probe report on the administration of Prof. Bartho Okolo which documented numerous financial irregularities. The first assignment of Mr. Ukala as UNN Pro Chancellor was to quash the numerous findings of corruption against Mr. Okolo.”
SaharaReporters had earlier reported that the UNN’s former VC, Mr. Okolo, was involved in large scale contract splitting and award of contracts to nonexistent companies. See: http://saharareporters.com/2011/08/22/contract-splitting-fraud-and-cover-university-nigeria-nsukka. See also: http://saharareporters.com/2011/10/01/contract-splitting-fraud-and-cover-university-nigeria-nsukka.
One source at the university told SaharaReporters that, since our first report on Mrs. Modum’s credentials controversy, several stakeholders at the university “have expressed concern about the implications of sacrificing the institutional reputation of UNN in order to shield a single person, namely Professor Modum.” The source showed our correspondent copies of letters written by some UNN stakeholders to the pro-chancellor expressing concern about the implications of his complicity and/ or inaction in the matter involving Mrs. Modum. One of the letters was written by a first class honors graduate of UNN who is currently a vice chancellor in one of the universities in southwest Nigeria while a second one was written by another illustrious alumnus, a managing director of a commercial bank in Nigeria.
According to our source, “the pro-chancellor has, in his characteristic style, ignored all such letters.”
A professor at UNN who is familiar with this case told SaharaReporters wondered why the authorities at UNN would order Mr. Uche to apologize to Mrs. Modum “for character assassination even though they never informed him which of his assertions were false.”
SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Uche’s request to get a copy of the “character assassination judgment” was denied by the UNN Council in writing. The university also denied him legal representation.
The perceived breaches to Mr. Uche’s fundamental right to fair hearing reportedly led him to petition the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). He urged the NHRC to compel UNN to respect his basic human right by at least informing him of the specific aspects of his assertions about Mrs. Modum’s credentials the university had found to be false. He also asked the human rights body to ensure that UNN allowed him legal representation as a defendant and the right to cross- examine his accusers before the university could pronounce judgment.
A source at the NHRC in Abuja told our correspondent that UNN authorities simply ignored the inquiries the commission made in writing on the matter.
SaharaReporters learned that the lecturer who questioned Mrs. Modum’s credentials then petitioned the National Assembly claiming that the UNN Council was desperately trying to shield a serial forger and fraudster. The National Assembly reacted through a firmly worded letter captioned, PETITION TO INTERVENE IN THE ATTEMPT TO SUBVERT JUSTICE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA NSUKKA: INVITATION TO INVESTIGATIVE HEARING. The said letter directed UNN authorities to maintain the status quo and to settle the matter administratively within one month failing which the National Assembly would conduct a public hearing on the matter.
A source within the university’s council informed SaharaReporters that the prospects of a public hearing on the issue rattled Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, the council’s chairman. He reportedly told a few council members close to him that the best solution would be for Mrs. Modum to quietly retire. “The idea was that, once she retired, Council could then claim that the numerous allegations of forgeries against her would be deemed beyond its capacity to adjudicate.”
Our source stated that Mr. Ukala later changed his mind, and decided that the “best approach would be for the university to pretend to be looking into the matter until members of the National Assembly preoccupied themselves with the election season which was then fast approaching.” Our source added: “The logic was that, once every member of the [legislature] got into election mode, it would be impossible for the National Assembly to hold a public hearing.” SaharaReporters learned that, in line with this plan, Mr. Ukala “directed the management of the university to write the National Assembly to request for more time to enable the university to look into the matter.”
Convinced that the National Assembly was now effectively neutralized, the council of the university held a meeting a few days before the March 28, 2015 presidential and national legislative elections. The council once again raised the issue of forcing Mr. Uche to apologize to Mrs. Modum. According to one source, “during the meeting, Mr. Ukala feigned neutrality while his supporters canvassed that Council should ignore the National Assembly (as it ignored the NHRC) and sanction Professor Uche who reported the fraud for refusing to apologize to Professor Modum.”
Even so, one or two participants at the meeting reportedly advised caution, arguing that the most important duty of Council “is to ensure that justice is done in this matter,” said one source.
He said those who opposed rushing to penalize Mrs. Modum’s accuser felt that the documentary evidence against the accused professor was “very weighty.” He added: “It would be a shame if the UNN Council is found to be proactively aiding and abetting forgery. And unless Council has something to hide, the proper thing would be for it to cooperate fully with statutory organs that have oversight powers over its operations.”
Unable to agree, the UNN Council adjourned a decision on this matter to its next meeting, SaharaReporters learned. “This decision was very frustrating for Mr. Ukala,” said one source.
An Abuja-based lawyer told SaharaReporters that he believes the matter “should be the subject of a thorough public hearing once the next set of National Assembly members are sworn in.” He added: “The belief that the oversight intervention of the National Assembly, on matters of abuse of office and aiding and abetting of forgery like this one, will expire with the end of the tenure of the current National Assembly, is pedestrian and uninformed.” Referring to Mr. Ukala, the UNN’s chairman of council, the lawyer said he and other members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) would be “greatly embarrassed if it turns out that a man clad in the prestigious silk robe is involved in covering fraud and undermining statutory organs of government empowered to prevent such fraud and its cover up. In any civilized or less corrupt part of the world, such a senior member of the bar would be debarred and jailed if he is found to have played a role in covering fraud.”
Several UNN lecturers alleged that some of the Council members who appear most anxious to foreclose a thorough scrutiny of the allegations Mrs. Modum are people who had in the past been saved by the same corrupt system. One of them cited the example of Ernest Onwasigwe who was reportedly shielded when an external professor formally exposed the malpractice he committed in his desperation to become a professor. “An external evaluator wrote to the authorities here [UNN] and accused Professor Onwasigwe of attempting to bribe him to write a favorable report in support of his promotion to professorship,” said the source.
A lecturer at UNN said the question on many lips was what should be the fate of a Governing Council suspected of hounding a whistleblower, shielding a lecturer accused of making false claims about her credentials, and undermining statutory organs of the government empowered to oversee Federal institutions. “Unless the Council can convince its critics that they acted in accord with justice and ethics in this matter, they should be swept away as soon as possible by the incoming president [Muhammadu Buhari],” he said.
“As a stakeholder in UNN, I believe that the main victim in this shameful episode is the reputation of UNN,” said an Abuja-based lawyer who graduated from the university.