…Professor in titanic battle with university
From: JUDEX OKORO, Calabar
LEGAL fireworks will soon commence in Cross River State, where Prof Cyril Osim Ndifon has filed a suit at the National Industrial Court, sitting in Calabar, to challenge his suspension and possible sack.
In suit No. NICN/CA/01/2016, Ndifon, a senior lecturer and former dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Calabar, is asking the court to determine the legality of the action taken by the institution. If found to be illegal, he wants the court to quash the suspension and order the university to recall him promptly.
Ndifon filed the suit on January 12, 2016, and the matter came up for mention on February 11, 2016 and then adjourned.
In a letter to the university, dated January 18, 2016, counsel to Ndifon, urged the university to “diligently defend the suit in the interest of justice.”
The university suspended the lecturer last year following allegations by a female Law student, Ekong Nkang, who claimed that he raped her on Saturday, August 29, 2015 in his office.
When the story of the alleged rape broke, it attracted widespread condemnation as the parents of the student raised the issue and the social media became awash with strident calls for prosecution of Ndifon.
Back then, the victim in a statement on oath dated November 11, 2015, and obtained by Sunday Sun, accused Ndifon, who was the lecturer in-charge of a course, Law of Trust, of alleged sexual harassment.
She alleged that the lecturer forcefully had sex with her in his office when she went to recopy her script torn by him during a class test held that day.
In her statement, she said the lecturer had administered a test to the class. Barely 40 minutes after the test commenced, Ndifon was said to have ordered the students to stop writing and submit their scripts.
As the invigilators were going round to collect the scripts, Ndifon walked up to her seat, took her script and tore it in the presence of her course mates.
Shortly after leaving the hall, she met Ndifon again, who asked her to come to his office with the torn script. She said that her friends accompanied her to the office of Ndifon and waited outside the main office.
Continuing the tale, she said: “While I was in the office, Prof Ndifon instructed me to bring foolscap paper and directed me to re-copy my answer to the questions from the torn script in the presence of his secretary. As I began to write, he came in and instructed that I move to his private office on the last floor, where it would be more convenient for me to re-copy the test. I complied. Five minutes later, while writing, he came in with a glass of alcoholic wine, locked the door and told me to kiss him with the wine in his mouth, and I refused.”
Nkang spoke further: “Ndifon started to fondle me and attempting to forcefully kiss me and introduce the drink into my mouth. I continued to resist until he overpowered me. Thereafter, he dragged me to a chair in his office, put on a condom and tore off the trouser I was wearing and forcefully penetrated me and had sex with me without my consent. His staff probably did not hear all my struggle and shouts for help as the door and windows of his private office were closed and locked.”
She explained that the incident happened between 3-5pm. When the Professor was done with his deed, he opened the door and told her to go.
“I stumbled out of his office crying, weak, frightened and totally traumatized,” Nkang said.
While walking back to the hostel in the company of her course mates, who she claimed had patiently waited for her while she was at the dean’s office recopying the script, they met a man that took pity on her unstable condition. The man took her to the Airport Police station where she lodged a report of rape against Ndifon. Similarly, her parents reported the rape to the university, which conducted preliminary investigations and based on the findings, summarily suspended Ndifon.
In his reaction to the allegation, Prof Ndifon maintained that he administered a continuous assessment test that fateful day with his students and assigned one of his staff to invigilate.
Giving an account of what transpired in a letter to the registrar of the institution dated September 2, 2015, he said the invigilator made a call to him in the course of the test, to report that some students were unruly and misbehaving. Upon receiving the call, he rushed down to the venue. And when he got there, he observed that some students were really unruly. Given that the time allotted for the test had elapsed, he ordered the students to stop writing and submit their scripts to him immediately.
“All the students complied and submitted their scripts except the petitioner who continued writing and refused to submit her script to me even as I walked up to her requesting for her script,” he said.
He wondered why the petitioner who claimed she was raped in the secluded location of his office, did not scream when a visitor came to knock on the door .
He queried: “Why would a hapless girl who a while ago, claimed she screamed for help not seize the golden opportunity of the sudden presence of the third party, to ask for help?”
Ndifon maintained that after the petitioner had concluded recopying the script and submitted, she left in the company of two of his staff, i n s i s t i n g that “there was nothing in her demeanour to show that she had just been sexually assaulted, neither was her dress rumpled, torn or stained as meeting with my staff would have been a good first opportunity to report.”
He further said that he could produce witnesses to testify to his innocence of the allegations against him, declaring that the petition is “completely baseless, malicious, vexatious and a calculated attempt to harass and embarrass” his person and office.
The university seemed not to have been swayed by his response and denial of the allegation. Rather it slammed a summary suspension on him. The Public Relations Officer of the university, Mr. Eyo Offiong, when approached declined comments on the issue, but source indicated that the authorities of the universities were said to be worried about the development, which they believe could tarnish the image of the institution.
At the time of the incident, the governing council was in session to select a new Vice Chancellor. The members of the council were piqued at the development and have been pushing for more stringent disciplinary measure against the dean to serve as deterrent to other randy lecturers.
The source said: “Though we all hold that people are innocent until proven guilty, it was our collective decision that to protect the image of UNICAL, he should be temporarily relieved of his duties pending the conclusion of the judicial process.”
IGP steps into the matter
Following the report made to Airport Police Station back in August 2015, one Regina Ekanem was assigned by the police to investigate the matter. Ndifon was invited for questioning, briefly detained and later released on bail. And in line with the process for investigating a rape case, the victim was referred to police clinic for medical examination.
While the police in Cross River State Police Command was still dealing with the matter, a group under the aegis of Nigerian Feminist Forum, NFF, petitioned the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, Solomon Arase calling for the transfer of the case file toA buja.
On the strength of the NGO’s petition, the case was transfered to Force Headquarters, Abuja, where, it was learnt, that Ndifon and Nkang on October 6, 2015, appeared before a special committee headed by Supol Beatrice Odey and their statements were taken afresh.
Police medical report
After the matter was reported to the police, Nkang was sent to the police clinic at Otop Abasi Calabar, six hours after the alleged rape for examination. A copy of the report obtained by Sunday Sun, dated August 29, 2015, showed no evidence of rape. The report states in part: “No vaginal bleeding; no obvious painful distress and no skin bruises.” The examination further stated that there was absence of lacerations.
In the intervening period of six months as the suspension slammed on Ndifon has been in force, not much has been heard about the rape case, either from the university or the police headquarters.
Sunday Sun reporter learnt that no communications have been made to Ndifon, leaving him in limbo as the suspension has not yet been lifted, neither has the outcome of the investigations revealed to him. This situation has now set the stage for an epic legal battle between Ndifon and the university.