■ The Emeka Ike’s sad experience
By Chika Abanobi
Thou shalt not run a highbrow school on someone’s land. If, for any reason, you must build an elite school, then let it be on your own piece of land. This is because you will have a lot to lose and to regret about, if, like the mythical Evil Forest, in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, who kills a man on the day his life is sweetest to him, the owner comes demanding for his land anytime he feels you are not meeting the contractual obligations.
Ask Emeka Ike, the Nollywood film star, whose school, St. Nicholas College, located in the socially upscale area of Magodo, Lagos, was taken over, two years ago, by the owner of the land, after Magistrate Olagbegi Adelabu of Ikeja Magisterial District, entered judgement, on November 22, 2013, in favour of Samak Investments Limited, a company owned by Ike’s landlord.
But in a ruling delivered on February 23, 2016, Magistrate A.R Onilogbo sitting in Ikeja, granted leave to the actor to appeal the earlier judgment, as well as extended time to file the appeal. “By the provisions of Section 70 (1) of the Magistrate Court Law of 2009, which provides that leave of court is required in all civil appeals, the applicant (Emeka Ike) must therefore seek the permission of the court to file the appeal,” the magistrate said. “The nature of discretion required in such circumstances is one which requires the court to act according to rules of reason and justice and not private opinion; and according to the provisions of the law. It is my finding that the grounds of appeal as contained in the applicant’s notice of appeal dated 10th February 2014 raises inter alia, issues of mixed law and fact which thus require that he seek the leave of court to appeal in respect thereof.”
In the notice of appeal, the actor, through his lawyer, Jimilu Habu Bashir, is contending that the court lacked the jurisdiction to determine the case as at the time it did because both parties were still before an arbitration panel over the issue. The actor who is laying claim to N4 billion damages, argues that he was not given fair hearing as he was not allowed to participate in the proceedings that led to the judgement evicting him from the property.
Court judgement and appeal
Ike, in the company of John Okafor (Ibu), another top-notch Nollywood actor and other actors, had come to the Lagos headquarters of The Sun Publishing Ltd, to speak on his ongoing legal battle with Ibinabo Fiberesima-Egbuka over the presidency of the Actors’ Guild of Nigeria (AGN), when Education Review asked him to talk on the case, on why he had to contest the closure in court. We asked him also to address some damaging allegations trending on various social media on the administration and management of St. Nicholas College. They include the alleged failure/refusal to pay the salaries of his school staff, sometimes up to six months and the reported short-changing of parents/pupils through imposition of high school fees while employing non-professionals like young secondary school leavers to teach in the school.
“As at the time the property was given to me on lease basis, the building was just block,” he said when you raised the issue of the sudden closure of his school and his recourse to court. “There was no fence, no roof, no window, no door, no cement. I came and did everything and made it a house. The cost of finishing a house is one million times more than putting a block. I also did concrete on the whole floor and changed the structure into a school. Our lease agreement was for ten years, and I was just within five years when they came and threw my things away and suddenly they started another school there. Is it fair? Despite my right, I was even begging them that we should settle it because the money I invested was huge (about N800 million, he said) and while we were at industrial arbitration panel trying to settle amicably, the old man (landlord) went behind and got a judgement which they used in throwing my things out.”
He opined further: “The situation is that of an oppressive judgement that was gotten without the defendant’s notice. It was given when I was not there. They call it interlocutory injunction. I wasn’t given the opportunity to defend myself. I believe you need to give someone commensurate opportunity to defend himself. Earlier, the court has ruled that we should go to Industrial Arbitration Panel to re-negotiate. For goodness sake, this is an investment property. On the day of execution, he came at the late hour when no one could do anything. I told his son that all of you maybe lawyers in your family but I have only one lawyer: God! We went back to court and the court told them they don’t have the right to do it, even if it belongs to them. The court told them that they should have allowed me to be served properly before they came and start throwing my things outside. I have been granted the leave to appeal the judgement. With that I am happy.”
His alleged non-payment of teachers’ salaries
“I want to tell you that there’s no perfect situation in life. Even in The Sun, I want to believe that some people are being owed salaries, true or false? (My colleagues, Femi Adeoti and Beifoh Osewele, both Deputy Editors of the Daily Sun who were there while you were chatting with him came in to help by debunking the assumption). Well, let’s give it to you that The Sun is laying a good example by paying their staff salaries regularly. But I want to tell you that as a growing business, you cannot expect 100 percent perfection. I can tell you that in the Senate, senators are still being owed salaries, Sir. Our work at St. Nicholas College is a teamwork. If members of my staff are not paid for one month, sometimes I would make some money available, between N10, 000 and N20, 000 for that period. But I know many people who don’t do that. You said, I owed my staff for six months; that’s a lie. I have never owed my staff more than two months salary before now. I believe that all these are scandalous stories meant to paint the kettle black. I can’t see any institution in Nigeria that will say that it has not owed its staff, even the banks. If it is one month, two months, the workers know it is not all about money but about service. If the money comes in, they get paid.
“If for one month, I am not able to make salaries available because of some unforeseen circumstances, you should accept me. We usually appeal for their understanding. Everything is always handled properly, but you know, in every 12, there will always be a Judas. This is an institution and we are investing in it. Sometimes, parents would come and cry and say they couldn’t pay within that period. What would you do? Send their children away? No, we just tell the teachers, the parents have promised to pay when the month ends. Don’t worry, go ahead and do what you need to do to see that your students or pupils are taught properly, but meanwhile, take this for your transport. I think I have tried. I have never owed my staff beyond two months. That reference to six months is a scandal; let the person come up with a proof. There is nothing like that.”
Employment of non-professional teachers
“I have never heard this before, Sir. Between man and God, there’s nothing like that. That’s another scandal from hell. The Lagos State education authorities usually come around to check on the calibre of teachers we have. Officials from there come to do staff auditing. The last time they came, I could remember that they insisted on each teacher having two periods. I could remember that out of the teachers that we had, only two were teaching three periods a day and they advised that we should take one period away from them and employ another teacher to teach them. We were going to do that before we were shut down. If the school is being closely monitored by the state education ministry then they should know better. It seems to me that both the Press and social media are teaming up with my enemies to shut me up. There was a time a branch of a tree broke off and fell on one of the buildings in my school. But the way the social media reported it, it was as if they were calling on parents to come and take away their children from the school because it is no longer safe. I was the one that sent somebody upstairs to remove that branch. I think there are people who are just jealous of you, people who don’t like your business and they show that dislike by putting out all sorts of lies about you. Please, all those things you read are not true. Did they tell you that my school won Maryland MTN’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire competition? Those people putting out all those things on social media will not tell you that. They will not tell you that my students wrote their WASSCE exams in SS 2 and made A’s in their papers. They will not tell you that my Head Boy and Head Girl got admission into the university while in SS 2. Those things they wrote and, which you are asking me of, is a lazy man’s way of attacking a hardworking man.”
Challenges of an actor establishing and managing a school
“They are not much. Already, your students know you. They believe in you. But they are kids, so the way you comport yourself before them is very important. The story you tell them is what they want to believe. With them, you are a personal role model. I have an autistic child in the school. Her name is Kemi. I named my daughter after her. My daughter’s name is Kemi too. I took her like my daughter. I placed two teachers over her. At the end of the day, Kemi was one of those students that passed the WASSCE in SS 2, yet nobody reports that.”