Scandal rocks University of Nigeria over sack of professor

University of Nigeria Nsuka Gate
University of Nigeria Nsukka Gate

SaharaReporters has learned that the Governing Council of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) has fired Ugochukwu Uche, a professor of accounting, who exposed several questionable academic claims and falsifications of credentials by Uche Modum, a longtime professor of accounting at the same university.

Several sources at the university, including some members of the council, told SaharaReporters that the decision to sack Mr. Uche was spearheaded by Mr. Emmanuel C. Ukala, a lawyer who chairs the Governing Council.

“We understand that the decision to terminate Professor Uche’s appointment was taken almost two weeks ago at a meeting of the council,” one of our sources, a lecturer at UNN, stated. “It has sent shock waves through the university, because it means that the council itself is more interested in protecting highly connected people like Professor Modum than in building a good image for UNN as a citadel of learning,” he added.

Our sources disclosed that Mr. Ukala came to the last council meeting determined to deal with the whistleblower who had reported that Mrs. Modum earned her full professorship by making misleading claims about her scholarly publications and work experience.

Mrs. Modum once worked as a Commissioner at the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). Her husband, Paul Modum, is a retired professor of French at UNN and a former Commissioner for Information in the old Anambra State.

SaharaReporters first broke the academic fraud story on December 13, 2012. It then published follow-up reports on July 23, 2014. On May 5, 2015, this website also exposed the plot by the Ukala-led Council to cover the academic fraud by sacking Mr. Uche.

Specifically, SaharaReporters focused on evidence that showed that Mrs. Modum apparently forged a letter from a top American journal, Management Accounting (now Strategic Finance), which purportedly accepted two of her papers. The shoddily written “acceptance letter,” which was disavowed by the journal’s editor-in-chief, Kathy Williams, in a letter dated June 24, 2011, was part of the documents Mrs. Modum submitted in support of her application for promotion to the rank of full professor.

Mrs. Modum also claimed in various official documents that she worked in a nonexistent “Jones and Jones Inc.,” ostensibly a certified public accounting firm she purported to be based in Dayton, Ohio, in the US.

Our investigation also revealed that Mrs. Modum had also changed her official date of birth, without which she would have since retired from the service of UNN. Wilberforce University in Ohio confirmed that Mrs. Modum’s current date of birth was different from her date of birth when she was a student there. Mrs. Modum has also admitted ownership of multiple dates of birth in writing.

Mrs. Modum’s CV, which was published on a UNN website, included claims to authorship of several nonexistent “published articles.”

The only official response from the University on Mrs. Modum’s apparent string of forgeries came from the immediate past Vice Chancellor, Barth Okolo, who on December 14, 2012 stated, “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.”

When Mr. Okolo’s tenure as VC ended in June 2014, Mr. Ukala seemed to step into the role of shielding Mrs. Modum, according to the views of several members of UNN community who spoke to SaharaReporters. Mr. Ukala served as a personal lawyer to Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. According to one source, it was Mr. Wike, as then acting Minister of Education, who appointed Mr. Ukala to chair the Governing Council at UNN after sacking the immediate past chairman, Emeka Enejere, in December 2013, less than one year into his tenure.

The source added that Mr. Enejere was pushed out after he documented and submitted a report that detailed numerous questionable and often fraudulent decisions taken by then VC, Mr. Okolo. SaharaReporters first broke the story that Mr. Okolo was involved in widespread contract splitting and award of contracts to nonexistent companies. Mr. Ukala’s first action as the university’s Pro-Chancellor was to quash his predecessor’s fraud findings against Mr. Okolo.

According to some of our sources who served in the present or previous UNN Council, it was in 2008 that Mr. Uche first brought attention to the significant discrepancies and false claims in Mrs. Modum’s profile and record.

Mr. Uche was then serving as dean of his faculty. “It was however not until 2011 (three years later) that the Council decided to investigate this matter,” a former council member told SaharaReporters. He added that a committee selected by Mr. Okolo acquitted Mrs. Modum of all the charges, even though several members were perturbed by the open agenda of shielding a senior, politically connected academic.

A source who was privy to the investigation stated that the matter would have ended there if the Council had not accused Mr. Uche of “character assassination without concrete facts” and ordered him to apologize to Mrs. Modum.

An investigation by SaharaReporters revealed that the issue actually divided the committee at the time. “Some of the members, including Professors Malachy Okwueze and Rich Umeh, felt that it was best to just acquit Professor Modum. But others, led by Professor (Mrs.) Grace Offorma and Professor Benjamin Elue (a former Deputy Governor of Delta State under Mr. James Ibori), insisted that the ‘small boy’ should be taught a lesson,” one of our sources disclosed. Mr. Rich Umeh eventually refused to sign the committee’s report.

On 29 July, 2011, Mr. Uche’s lawyer wrote to the University to explain that his client was only a witness when the Council committee was investigating Mrs. Modum, adding that, before he could be sanctioned, he should first be informed of his alleged offences, given the opportunity to defend himself with the aid of counsel of his choice, and allowed to interrogate his accusers. He made it clear that his client was willing to submit himself for trial once his fundamental right to fair hearing was respected. The letter also made it clear that if the Council decided to disregard the clear evidence of academic fraud, Mr. Uche had been advised to leave the matter to “their collective conscience.”

A lecturer at UNN stated that former VC Okolo was not eager to try Mr. Uche “because Professor Okolo knew full well that Professor (Mrs.) Modum had no defense for the things she wrote in her CV.” In fact, the former VC went to the extent of directing that the letter from Mr. Uche’s lawyer be returned on grounds of “improper routing.” This forced Mr. Uche to write an open letter to all the Council members providing evidence of the multiple forgeries and falsifications.

As a result, when Mr. Okolo subsequently tried to get the Council to sanction Mr. Uche for not complying with its decision to apologize to Mrs. Modum, several members openly advised him to be careful and warned that he could not get away with such level of impunity, our sources said. Notable among such members were Professors Grace Nzelibe, Gregory Akenzua and Benjamin Ozumba, UNN’s current Vice Chancellor. The issue remained unresolved until a new Council was appointed in April 2013.

The new Governing Council headed by Mr. Emeka Enejere set up a Committee headed by Mr. Harrison Onwu to hear the numerous petitions against Mr. Okolo. On August 6, 2013, Mr. Uche received a text message to appear before the Committee on August 7, 2013. His request to appear with his counsel was denied by the Committee. According to a source who was privy to the Committee deliberations, the Committee wanted to end the case by withdrawing the demand for an apology so that “everybody will move on.”

That attitude apparently explained why the Committee chairman, on several occasions, pressured Mr. Uche to simply urge the Committee to “temper justice with mercy.” “This would have provided the Committee the grounds to recommend that the demand for an apology be withdrawn,” one source said. He added that the Committee, however, had also resolved that the warning for “character assassination without concrete facts” would not be withdrawn as this would amount to the University admitting that the allegations against Mrs. Modum were true.

SaharaReporters also learned that the chairman of the Committee made it clear that his body was not interested in looking at the facts of a matter that had been “settled” by a previous Council. One member of that Committee told SaharaReporters that some powerful members privately acknowledged that Mr. Uche’s allegations against Mrs. Modum were sound, but they also felt that, as a young man, he must bow to authority.

Mr. Uche however explained that all he wanted was to be given fair hearing to enable him to authenticate his allegations of forgeries and falsifications against Mrs. Modum.

In August 2014, Mr. Uche wrote to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) requesting it to urge the University to grant him fair hearing. NHRC wrote two letters to then VC Okolo, dated August 20, 2013 and November 15, 2013, making a case for observing due process, including fair hearing. Brushing aside such appeals, the UNN Council now headed by Mr. Ukala wrote to Mr. Uche on June 20, 2014 giving him two weeks to apologize or be sanctioned.

Mr. Uche responded by petitioning the Federal House of Representatives through a letter dated July 3, 2014. His letter accused the Council of moving hastily to fire him without trial, thereby violating his fundamental right to fair hearing, and all in a bid to shield an academic colleague whose falsified credentials he had exposed. On July 22, 2014, the Public Complaints Commission of the House of Representatives wrote to the University to maintain the status quo and settle the matter internally within one month, failing which there was to be a public hearing.

A current Council member told SaharaReporters on condition of anonymity that Mr. Ukala was so rattled by the letter that he stated that the best way to save face was to ask Mrs. Modum to quietly resign, after which the Council would inform the National Assembly that the allegations raised were beyond the powers of the Council to adjudicate.

However, he soon changed strategies, deciding that it was best to give the impression that the Council was looking into the matter. “He stated that the tenure of the National Assembly would soon expire,” one Council source claimed. He added that Mr. Ukala directed Mr. Ozumba to write to the legislature to the effect that the University had suspended action on the decision of the previous Council and needed more time to settle the matter administratively. Mr. Ozumba’s letter was dated July 25, 2014.

Mr. Ozumba subsequently fixed September 17, 2014 as the date for a meeting between Mr. Uche and Mrs. Modum, ostensibly to broker a resolution. The date was also the day the House of Representatives had tentatively set aside for public hearings on the matter.

Mr. Ukala’s strategy of delaying action until the tenure of the House of Representatives seemed to work. In its interim report to the full House, dated January 14, 2015, the Public Complaints Committee concluded that UNN officials were cooperative and recommended that the extension of time be granted.

SaharaReporters learned that the peace meeting lasted less than one hour. Mr. Uche’s lawyer restated his position that his client had done his ethical and patriotic duty as dean of faculty, adding that he was willing to leave the outcome of the Council investigations to the collective conscience of Council members. He added that his client wanted the sanctions against him for being a whistleblower to be lifted or that he granted a trial in accordance with the rules of natural justice and fair hearing.

Several university sources said Mr. Ozumba played along with Mr. Ukala’s agenda of stalling a resolution on the matter. “A number of us were baffled that Professor Ozumba allowed Ukala to use him in an unprofessional and unethical manner,” said one of our sources. He recalled that Mr. Ozumba was, after all, one of the members in the previous Council who had told former VC Okolo that he could not get away with punishing a whistleblower while protecting a senior academic accused credibly of committing academic fraud.”

Another source agreed that Mr. Ozumba’s action was curious, but added that the academic possibly decided to align with Mr. Ukala and the powers behind him in order to strengthen his chances of being appointed the Vice Chancellor.

On April 1, 2015, the National Human Rights Commission wrote a second and final reminder letter to the University to respond to its inquiry on Mr. Uche’s demand for fair hearing. In a response to NHRC, UNN’s registrar, Anthony Okonta, claimed that the case against Mrs. Modum was that of plagiarism, adding that Mr. Uche had already been given fair hearing in accordance with UNN law. Dated May 27, 2015, the Registrar’s letter also confirmed that the Council had deferred to the House of Representatives by suspending action on the matter.

On September 14, 2015, the NHRC responded to the Registrar, asking the University to forward the entire proceedings of its investigations to enable the commission to establish whether fair hearing had been applied. The letter spelt out that fair hearing included informing the accused of the specific charges against them, giving them sufficient time to prepare their defense, and allowing them to appoint a legal counsel of their choice.
SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Ukala was so determined to fire Mr. Uche, who is on a leave of absence and teaching in the Netherlands, that he instructed Vice Chancellor Ozumba not to bring the NHRC’s letter to the attention of the full Council.

Several sources told SaharaReporters that some members of the Council protested vehemently when Mr. Ukala insisted at the Council’s September 29, 2015 meeting that Mr. Uche should be fired. “He [Ukala] overruled all protests on the grounds that the matter had been decided by a previous Council and therefore did not concern the current Council,” said one source familiar with the Council’s proceedings. He added, “Ukala simply ruled that Professor Uche should be sacked for disobeying the 2011 Council directive to apologize to Mrs. Modum.”

A professor at UNN told SaharaReporters that he was confident a law court would reverse the Council’s action. “Section 16 of the UNN Act makes it explicit that you cannot sack an academic staff without first formally informing him of the crimes he has committed and then setting up a joint Senate and Council Committee specifically to try him,” he said. He asked, “I wonder why Mr. Ukala, who is a SAN [Senior Advocate of Nigeria], would willfully violate UNN’s policy? It is a brazen case of corruption and abuse of office. It’s the kind of impunity that continues to derail the progress that the once prestigious UNN should be recording.” (SaharaReporters)

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  1. This sounds bizarre, but I trust Prof Ozumba’s judgement. He is a “Daniel come to judgement” at UNN? and cannot allow any form of evil to fester in the University. I still believe that the end of this matter had not been heard!

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