Recently, news went viral about the lingering legal battle between Dr Inih Ebong, a 73-year-old associate professor of theatre arts and his employer University of Uyo (UNIUYO) in Akwa-Ibom State, South-South Nigeria, over the unjust termination of his employment over twenty years ago.
According to PREMIUM TIMES in a follow-up report, Mr Ebong has anxiously been waiting for the Court of Appeal, Calabar Division to fix a date for the hearing of the third appeal lodged by the university (UNIUYO) against the victory the lecturer obtained at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in 2020.
As the waiting game continue, Mr Ebong is equally currently battling with a fast deteriorating health, having been diagnosed of cardiac failure in October 2020. “I have been waiting for a date (from the Court of Appeal), my health is going down on a daily basis”, he said painfully, even as he struggled to breathe.
On his part, lawyer to the ailing lecturer, Mr Nse Williams said he had applied to the court for a date, mentioning the urgency of the matter but that he was yet to get a date from the court.
The travail of the lecturer was said to have started in 2001 when the then registrar of UNIUYO falsely accused Mr Ebong of abandoning his duty while the lecturer was on annual leave duly authorized by the same registrar with the “Leave Certificate” issued to him.
The then Vice-Chancellor, on the strength of the accusation directed the bursar to stop Mr Ebong’s salary. A panel was set-up to investigate the spurious allegation, but the panel found him not guilty and absolved him of any wrong doing and recommended that whatever punishment should be reversed.
Curiously, on December 18th 2001, the university ignored the panel’s recommendation and suspended Mr Ebong indefinitely and placed him on half-pay after the lecturer had gone to court over the case. Matters came to a head, when on 27th March 2002, the university finally terminated the lecturer’s appointment, after twenty five years of service in the Nigerian University system.
The case has had long history, having gone through Federal High Courts Calabar and Uyo respectively where Dr Ebong gained victory, while the appeal at the Court of Appeal at Calabar transferred the matter to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria for trial de novo.
The National Industrial Court of Nigeria in 2020 voided the University’s action and ordered the institution to reinstate the lecturer and pay him ten million naira damages, in addition to his accumulated salaries and allowances.
The University since then has made spirited efforts in desperate attempt to upturn the judgement by approaching the Court of Appeal, Calabar with various applications, including the present one which is yet to receive a date.
It is worrisome to note that four successive vice-chancellors have refused to reinstate the Mr Ebong, despite an unbroken string of legal victories.
It also reported that the ailing lecturer has sought a peaceful settlement of the matter with the school, having written two letters to the university authorities who rebuffed him, “It is advisable for parties to await the decision of the court (of Appeal),” they responded.
Meanwhile those sympathetic to Dr Ebong’s plight has continued to voice their concern over the university’s crude tactics through the court to prolong his suffering.
Des Wilson, a retired professor in the school said “They know that they would never win, but just to delay him with the hope that he would die in the process.”
Former lawyer to Dr Ebong, Nsikak Effiong made similar allegation against the university. “For sure, the intention of the university is to make sure that he dies. That, I can confirm. That is why they have gone on appeal.”
This case has once more brought to fore the deplorable, poor state of justice delivery system in Nigeria. The country is on a fast descent to where might is right, as being demonstrated by UNIUYO’s authorities.
In the legal lexicon, it is said that “justice delayed is justice denied”. It remains to seen whether the lecturer, already weighed down by hardship, ill-health and emotional trauma will finally obtain justice in his life-time or will that be in his grave as it is generally being feared.
The world is watching.