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Punished for whistleblowing: University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) scandal

The most shocking thing about the case of Chibuike Uche, the former Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration, may not the be the injustice of it all, but the absence of outrage from many quarters.

You would like to think that Nigeria would treasure citizens like Uche, a first-class brain, who is undoubtedly among the country’s brightest and the best. He was professor of Banking and Financial Institutions at the University of Nigeria and a member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He has a PhD in Accounting and Finance from the London School of Economics. His thesis, entitled ‘Banking Developments in Pre-Independence Nigeria: A Study in Regulation, Control and Politics’, was awarded the International Economic History Association Prize for the Best Doctoral Thesis completed between 1997 and 2000 for the Post World War I Period.

Chibuike Uche: doing the right thing in the wrong place
Chibuike Uche: doing the right thing in the wrong place

Around 2008, Uche, in his capacity as dean of his faculty, stumbled on information indicating that Uche Modum, a member of staff, may have made false claims on her CV. Modum was a former Commissioner with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission [ICPC). He, rightly, brought the information to the attention of the university authorities.

The allegations include making claims about published work that may not have been published, having about three dates of birth (which indicate that she may be over the retirement age of 65), and questionable claims about her work experience.

After “investigating” the allegations, the UNN governing council decided in 2011 to clear Modum of any wrongdoing and intimidate the whistle-blower! Uche was warned and told to apologise to Modum for “character assassination”. All Uche did was report what he knew and with evidence. After the governing council insisted that he apologise to Modum, he took his case to the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC), as he was not even given the right to a fair hearing before the governing council ruled against him.

The NHRC has since written five letters to the Chairman of the UNN Governing Council, between August 2013 and October 2015, asking the Council “to submit the proceedings of the Council Committee of 19th January and 2nd February 2011 as well as that of the Council Appeals Committee of 7th August 2013 to enable the Commission determine whether the procedure followed was in violation of the rights of Prof C. Uche as alleged.”

Bem Angwe, head of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission: Their letters have been ignored by UNN
Bem Angwe, head of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission: Their letters have been ignored by UNN

Those letters have been roundly ignored. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Act 1995 makes it an offence for any organisation to fail to comply with a written request for information from the NHRC.

There is a suggestion that the Chairman of the UNN’s governing council, Emmanuel Chukwuka Ukala, may be protecting Modum.

Emmanuel Ukala (right) at the commissioning of a building at UNN with then Education Minister Nyesom Wike (centre)
Emmanuel Ukala (right) at the commissioning of a building at UNN with then Education Minister Nyesom Wike (centre)

As this matter was rumbling on, Uche took a sabbatical, first as a Guest Professor at the Humboldt University Berlin (2008-2009), a Visiting Scholar in Accounting at the University of Sydney (October 2009), an Alexander von Humboldt Return Fellow (2010-2011) and a Guest Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute Uppsala Sweden (2011), and is currently teaching at Leiden University in Holland.

The UNN governing council sacked Uche in October last year. This has prompted letters of protest to Minister for Education Adamu Adamu from some prominent alumni of UNN. The House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions also received a petition on the matter in July 2014. It appears nothing came of this petition.

Adamu Adamu, Minister for Education
Adamu Adamu, Minister for Education

The Uche case is deeply disturbing on many levels for a renowned citadel of higher learning like UNN. The university risks fatally damaging its reputation by seemingly colluding in academic fraud. The victimisation of Uche for whistleblowing is a violation of his human rights and flies in the face of natural justice. This sort of behaviour may be appropriate in a banana republic, but grossly inappropriate in academia. The brazenness in ignoring the requests by the NHRC is shocking. In a climate in which President Muhamadu Buhari has made all the right noises about combating corruption, it sends the wrong signals for people that blow the whistle on wrongdoing to be penalised for doing the right thing.

Adamu, the Minister for Education, should intervene and review the case, examining all the relevant facts, which are readily available on request, to prevent this injustice from being swept under the carpet by the UNN authorities.

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