Over 200 demoted students of engineering faculty of the University of Calabar (UNICAL) have dragged the university, and five others to court, claiming over N500 million as general damages and special expenses for breach of trust and others.
The case which was instituted by Idiong Ekpedeme, Victor Agbontaem and Peter Abasiekong Stephens for themselves and others against the university and others.
The students who were demoted from 300 and 400 level to 200 level in 2021 by the university authority in the suit through their lawyer, Mr. Ozinko Ozinko said, “we believe that the conduct of the school management is unlawful, negligent, deceitful, tortuous, criminal, highly reprehensible, breach of trust, unconstitutional, scandalous and amounts to a violent assault on our clients’ future and academic rights which are inalienable, inviolable and inherent.”
The NUC had in 2021 come for resource verification in UNICAL, only to order that the affected students, some of whom are in 400 level, should step down to 200 level because the university management did not notify NUC and was not authorized before commencing the programme; and to mislead members of the public, including our client, the university called on Godswill Akpabio and used him to commission the engineering building on 11 May, 2018, thus sending a false signal that the department of engineering was duly accredited and sanctioned to operate by NUC and other relevant authorities.
“That the University admitted students up to 400 level without NUC approval leading to the demotion of students to 200 level while two Departments (Electrical and Electronics and Computer Engineering) were totally scrapped out by NUC. According to them, the faculty does not have qualified lecturers, no workshops etc. All the above took place before the Covid-19, yet the authorities hid the above information from the students”.
This development has caused the students great psychological trauma as they had hoped to graduate in no time, and some of them are self sponsored and considering the hardship and biting economy were ordered to step down to 200 level, pay school fees again for the demoted level and write test, term papers, assignments, industrial attachments, examinations which they have already written and passed with its attendant expenses (depression, psychological trauma) to be borne by them.
Ozinko said, “at this point, the affected students, including our client, agitated on why the school refused, neglected and or failed to do the proper thing before admitting the students considering the time spent already in school with stress, embarrassment, funds etc. Several letters of appeal by the students were sent to the authorities asking for the way forward and the students’ fate, yet the management still insisted that the students stepped down to 200 level and pay for everything as usual for a fault occasioned by the University”.
In view of this, the affected students are seeking a general damages of N500 million only for the tort of deceit and injury suffered, an order of the court ordering the defendants at no cost to absorb some of the claimants in the same department or an alternative course of study in another department, for students who may wish to proceed in the 6th defendant’s institution and or burn the financial cost of transfer and fees, should they wish to study in another accredited institution.
A declaration that “the operation of engineering faculty by the 6th defendant (UNICAL) and their agents without relevant accreditation from NUC and Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), non employment of qualified lecturers as a requirement for accreditation, the claimants consequent frustrations and psychological trauma, further demands of school fees and finances from the claimant by the defendants with no accreditation in sight, amounts to extortion and gross violation/violent assault on the claimants educational rights and future aspirations.
“That the defendants running of the engineering faculty and courses up to 400 level without notifying and inviting the relevant statutory agencies like the NUC and COREN and without informing the claimants of this deficiency on time consequently leading to the claimants suffering injury and psychological trauma amounts to negligence and further concealment of its deceit”.
When the students demonstrated against the action of the university, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Florence Obi while addressing the affected students insisted that the students must step down to 200 level as they are not qualified to be Engineering students and in addition, “She is not the one that admitted them but Prof. Zana Itiunbe Akpagu (the former Vice Chancellor). Meanwhile as at then the current Vice Chancellor was the Deputy Vice Chancellor Academics and part of the management team and cannot claim ignorance of our admission into the Institution and now that she is Vice Chancellor she is still admitting students and receiving fees till date and demanding that our clients should still pay, including the school fees as recently increased. What is more when a government is a continuous process”.
She stated that “our clients cannot sue them since their admission letter carries Electronic Computer Technology and Physics and stated that there is no department like ECT (Electronic Computer Technology). Meanwhile the school has graduated series of batches of students from the department for over five years now and same is contained in JAMB brochure and websites for Unical wherein our client was offered admission. Witnesses are bound to testify, including grand aunts who feel bad that she is by her speech denying them the status of alumni.
“That the school management cannot assure the students accreditation even if they step down to 200 level and there are other things if she wants to reveal them, will affect the management. The students must write exams because they cannot bank their results and when asked by students if they step down to 200 level, what is their assurance of accreditation and graduation as at when due?
“She answered that she can’t assure the students of accreditation because of lack of qualified lecturers in the faculty and that the faculty has only one Professor. She stressed further payment of fees by students to enable the school bring in adjunct lecturers and students must write exams again because they were not taught by qualified lecturers, a fault which was not of Our Clients but the University and its management creating a totally hopeless situation for Our Client who are faced with either writing JAMB again to further pursue a new admission or follow the University sheepishly to a voyage of no hope built on falsehood and deceit.”
When the matter came up for hearing last week, the Head, Legal Unit of UNICAL, Mr, Jonas Abuo told the court that the university could not file their defence because of the ASUU and SANU strike and pleaded that they should be allowed to go for an out of court settlement as discussed and agreed with Ozinko, counsel to the students.
Accordingly the presiding judge, Justice Rosemary Dugbo Oghoghorie adjourned the matter to October 27 for the parties to come brief the court on the outcome of the out of court settlement.