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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Nigerian professor unfairly fired 20 years ago wins at Court of Appeal

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Ailing Nigerian professor Inih Ebong, who for more than two decades has been in a legal battle over the illegal termination of his appointment, has won at the Calabar Court of Appeal against the University of Uyo.

Ebong was diagnosed with heart failure in October 2020 and was dying when a Nigerian billionaire, Femi Otedola, stepped in to take charge of his medical treatment, according to a PREMIUM TIMES report.

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Being out of work for several years, the professor could barely feed himself and his family, let alone take care of their medical treatment.

Apparently to get other potential employers to prevent Ebong from compounding his problems, the University of Uyo published a disclaimer about him in some national newspapers shortly after his dismissal in 2002.

The Calabar Court of Appeal, on July 21, 2023, dismissed an appeal filed by the University of Uyo against the January 2020 judgment of the National Industrial Court ordering the university to reinstate Mr Ebong and pay him N10 million for damages, in addition to their accumulated salaries and allowances, according to a court document obtained exclusively by PREMIUM TIMES.

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The University of Uyo, which filed the appeal in 2022, has sought an extension to file an appeal against the labor court ruling.

Previously, in 2022, the Court of Appeal had dismissed the university’s appeal after it withdrew it after realizing that it had not obtained permission from the appeals court as required by law before filing it.

READ ALSO: Nigerian billionaire Femi Otedola offers to help sick teacher

“The applicants are affected by the provision of Order 11, Rule 6, which states that an appeal once withdrawn under this order, with or without an order of the court, shall be deemed to have been dismissed,” Justice Hamma Barka said. in a ruling on the university’s request to extend the deadline, which he delivered on behalf of a three-judge court.

“In my humble opinion, and based on the above, granting a new extension to the plaintiffs will not only be equivalent to expanding the boundaries of the lawyer’s inadvertence but, as the Supreme Court held, an erroneous conception of the law. I firmly believe that this application does not merit the sympathy of this court and, accordingly, I decline to exercise my discretion in its favor and, accordingly, refuse to grant the application. It is dismissed,” the judge ruled.

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Apart from Mr Barka, other members of the panel were judges Balkisu Aliyu and Folasade Ojo.

Fidelis Iteshi was the lawyer for the University of Uyo in the case, while Professor Ebong was represented by Nse Williams.

Ebong’s sin?

Mr Ebong was an associate professor at the Department of Theater Arts, University of Uyo, when his appointment was illegally terminated in 2002. Akpan Ekpo and Peter Effiong were the vice-chancellor and secretary of the institution, respectively, at the time.

Four successive university presidents have refused to reinstate him, despite an unbroken series of legal victories.

Mr Ebong, before his dismissal, had an ongoing battle with Messrs Ekpo and Effiong, who viewed him as a thorn in the flesh for regularly speaking out against alleged mismanagement and corruption at the school.

The 73-year-old professor, burdened by hardships, illnesses and emotional traumas, appeared tired of continuing the battle against the University of Uyo and has sought a peaceful solution to the matter with the faculty. He wrote two letters to university authorities, who rejected him.

“The University’s position is that the matter is sub judice and, as such, it is advisable for the parties to await the decision of the (appeal) court,” Aniediabasi Udofia, then the university’s registrar, said in a letter dated 6 April 2021. to Mr. Ebong.

Mr Williams, Mr Ebong’s lawyer, on September 13, 2023, a month after the Court of Appeal ruling, wrote a letter to the university chancellor, demanding the implementation of the National Labor Court ruling.

“The Court of Appeal has already decided and it is final. All we demand of you now is that within 14 days from today you comply with your aforesaid words and position (stated by the then Registrar, Udofia) by obeying and complying with all the provisions of the said judgment and order of the National Industrial Magistrate Court, Uyo, dated January 23, 2020,” the lawyer wrote in the letter.

PREMIUM TIMES learned that the University of Uyo, last year, had filed another appeal before the Calabar Court of Appeal, asking the court to issue a stay order on the judgment of the National Labor Court.

The matter could not be heard on the scheduled date (October 28, 2023) because the court did not meet. Since then the court has not yet given a new date for it.

‘My body is decomposing’

When PREMIUM TIMES spoke to Mr Ebong on the phone on Monday, he seemed weak and could barely speak. Instead, he wanted our reporter to talk to his wife.

“I was in the hospital today,” he murmured. “My body is decomposing. I’m weak.”

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