From JUDEX OKORO, Calabar
The feud between the Vice-Chancellor and Bursar of University of Calabar, may have come to an end as the Industrial Court sitting in Calabar has upheld the sack of the bursar.
Before now, the duo of Vice-Chancellor, Prof Zana Akpagu, and the Bursar, Peter Agi, of the institution had been locked in an intractable supremacy battle. While the VC accused the Bursar of fraudulent practices, insubordination and disrespect for constituted authority, the Bursar in turn accused the VC of witch-hunting him for his strict compliance with due processes in financial transactions.
This ugly development was to lead to the suspension and later termination of Agi’s appointment during the 146th meeting of the University Council held on November 3, 2016.
To seek redress, Mr. Agi dragged the institution, the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar to the National Industrial Court, urging the court to quash the suspension.
Agi’s counsel, Prof. Ogene Emeri, had, among other issues, raised the question of the institution’s non-compliance with due process in the suspension and subsequent sack of the former bursar. He, however, said the issue of fraud raised against him is not true but a deliberate action to embarrass him. He, therefore, pleaded for his reinstatement.
In his defence, the University’s counsel, Chief Chukwuma Ekumaru (SAN), said the court has no jurisdiction to handle the case as the second (Prof. Akpagu) and third defendants, the Registrar (Moses Abang) were not sued in their individual capacities as well.
On the issue of fraud, Ekumaru alleged that the police arrested the Bursar on case of fraud and a letter signed by 209 staff of the university asked the council to remove him.
On due process, he argued that Agi didn’t follow “Section 16 of the University Act’ before he (Agi) rushed to court in less than four days of his suspension and he did not appear before the panel that investigated the matter” on the excuse that the matter was in court.
He maintained that the suit before the court was premature as claimant did not exhaust Section 16 of the university act and “failure to exhaust internal mechanisms is a matter of law.” He therefore urged the court to strike out the suit for want of jurisdiction.
Delivering judgment, the presiding judge, Justice M. M. Esowe, ruled that the claimant, Agi, was not competent to sue as he didn’t exhaust the internal mechanisms of the school for resolution of dispute before rushing to court and therefore has violated Section 80 of the University of Calabar Act, 1979 which stipulates that “after suspension, a period of 3 months is given within which the issue can be resolved while the affected staff is placed on half salary during the period.”
The court also ruled that the VC has the powers to suspend the bursar or any staff and report to council which will either uphold the decision or throw it away. Justice Esowe further ruled that the case was premature and that the claimant approached the court four days after his suspension instead of three months and subsequently struck it out for lack of competence.
Reacting, the counsel to Vice-Chancellor, Bar. Abiye Aturodibo of the SEEDS of Change Attorneys, Port Harcourt, said: “the court has done justice to this matter and completely vindicated our position that the action he has filed was premature and he didn’t follow due process.”
Reacting, one of Agi’s lawyers, C.N Nwajaobi, said the lead counsel had raised the issue bothering on the fact that there had been further development after the suspension which the team needed to bring to the attention of the trial judge. Nwajaobi said the issue was no more suspension, but that of sack but this was overruled.