- Varsity VC accused of cover-up
- This matter predates me —VC
A serious case of academic fraud may have been uncovered in the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State.
At the centre of the storm is a senior lecturer in the Department of Pure and Industrial Chemistry, Faculty of Physical Sciences, Dr Peter Ekemezie, who was alleged to have forged a B.Sc certificate from the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Ekemezie was also alleged to have been involved in multiple cases of plagiarism, which allegedly resulted in his meteoric rise in the academia.
Our correspondent gathered that despite all the allegations against the lecturer, including arraignment in a magistrates’ court for giving the police false information, the varsity management has continued to shield him.
The varsity’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof Joseph Ahaneku, in particular, was alleged to have instructed the dean of the faculty to assess him for possible promotion to become a Reader (associate professor).
Reports of several committees set up at the departmental, faculty and university levels, which allegedly indicted the 46-year-old, were allegedly covered up.
B.Sc from the blue
A top university official, who alleged that Ekemezie was being protected by the vice-chancellor, said the secrets blew open when the lecturer allegedly tried helping a former colleague at The Polytechnic Ida to also secure a fraudulent B.Sc certificate.
He said, “Dr Ekemezie was a technologist at the Anambra State University, Uli (now Chukwuemeka Odumegwu University). When he was employed in UNIZIK in 2010, he was made Lecturer I and placed on Level 11, instead of Lecturer 2, Level 9.
“Sometime in 2013, one Mrs Pricilla Egolum, who was a non-teaching staff member in the school, saw Dr Ekemezie and wondered how he became a lecturer since they both finished from the same polytechnic and she knew that the university was not employing HND holders as teaching staff. He told the woman that he had got his BSc certificate. He told the woman that he did a special programme at the University of Port Harcourt and after two years, he was given the certificate.
“The woman showed interest. He collected money from her to process a special admission for her at UNIPORT. The lady, whose husband is a professor in UNIZIK, went to UNIPORT and discovered that such a programme did not exist. She came back to demand a refund from Dr Ekemezie. He, however, refused to refund the money and the woman wrote a petition to the university, alleging that he extorted money from her.”
The university was reported to have set up a committee to investigate the allegation of obtaining money under false pretences.
The committee was led by Prof. Greg Nwakoby, a former deputy vice-chancellor of the university.
Egolum was said to have made more revelations during her meeting with the Nwakoby-led committee, including showing receipts issued to her in the name of the University of Port Harcourt.
The information from the woman raised suspicions on Ekemezie’s own certificate.
After the committee chairman was appointed a vice-chancellor of another university, a new Chairman, Prof. Oliver Onyali, replaced him.
The nine-member committee checked the lecturer’s file with the university and found a copy of a BSc certificate from UNIPORT.
Our correspondent obtained a copy of the committee report signed by members of the panel, including five professors.
During several sittings of the committee, the registrar was said to have written a letter to the UNIPORT to authenticate Ekemezie’s degree.
A response from UNIPORT’s Registrar, G.C. Okezie, dated April 3, 2014, stated that the certificate was forged.
“The success letter of Ekemezie, Peter Ngoesina, you forwarded to us on the above subject matter was carefully examined and appropriate verification thereon carried out by our officials.
“The success letter, after due verifications as aforesaid, is found not to have emanated from the University of Port Harcourt or issued by it,” the letter read.
When the committee confronted Ekemezie with the response of UNIPORT, he was reported to have blamed it on one Prof. A.N. Eboatu, who he claimed procured the certificate for him.
A letter he allegedly wrote to the vice-chancellor on the matter, dated August 2014, and titled, ‘The unveiling of an ensnaring fraudster,’ stated that he took exams in a chemistry laboratory and in the professor’s office for two years before he got the certificate.
“He (Eboatu) equally volunteered to arrange with his friends at the University of Port Harcourt for a two-year bachelor’s degree. He collected some amount of money from me to process the admission and issued an admission letter thereafter.
“After the programme, it was the same Prof. A.N. Eboatu that processed my results and handed over to me the success letter,” he stated in his response.
The committee in its report said Ekemezie could not, however, provide any evidence against Eboatu, and recommended that the university take a “disposal action” against the fake degree.
It said the fraud case was out of the purview of the committee and advised Egolum to take legal action against the senior lecturer.
Egolum, however, told our correspondent that after appearing before the committee, nobody gave her feedback on its recommendation.
The committee chairman, Onyali, told The PUNCH that the “disposal action” recommendation of the committee meant that the university’s working regulation should be adopted in the matter.
He said, “Investigation showed that the certificate was fake. But what we were investigating was the matter of obtaining by trickery. Since the certificate issue was not within our terms of reference, we called the university management’s attention to it. When you come with a fake document, the university has its way of dealing with that.”
The Deputy Registrar, Information Unit, UNIPORT, Dr William Wodi, confirmed that his varsity received a copy of the purported fake certificate and responded.
“This university (UNIPORT) did not have a Faculty of Natural Sciences when this weird forgery was perfected by whoever is making the bogus claim. The closest to such a name was when the Senate established a new Faculty of Natural and Applied Science.
“A certified line officer, Mr G.C. Okezie, was authorised to respond to the validity of what was apparently a manufactured ‘Success Letter’,” he said in a text message to our correspondent.
Plagiarism petition, perambulation
During the 2016/2017 departmental appraisal, Ekemezie was said to have been assessed for promotion to the position of a reader (associate professor).
Based on the documents he allegedly submitted to the then Head of Department, Prof. John Nduka, he was positively recommended for the promotion.
However, another lecturer in the school, Dr Chigozie Anarado, wrote a petition to the vice-chancellor accusing Ekemezie of plagiarism.
Anarado, in the petition dated October 13, 2017, said the don submitted three plagiarised works for the promotion.
“In addition to outright stealing of publications, Dr Ekemezie also distorted his employment history to justify his criminally manipulated placement in Nnamdi Azikiwe University and ensure further promotions,” he added.
While referring the petition to the department, the VC asked Ekemezie’s HOD, Nduka, to minute on it.
Nduka stated in his response that the allegations were serious and the extant laws of the university should be applied.
However, Ekemezie, who was reportedly embarrassed by the development, decided to withdraw the appraisal forms.
In a letter to the HOD in October 2017, he said he noticed errors in his forms “inconsistent with accepted norms orchestrated by my PG students I co-authored the said articles with.”
Despite the withdrawal, some members of the university community reportedly demanded further investigation into the case.
The VC, after about seven months, directed the Dean of the Faculty of Science, Prof. A.J. Ekpunobi, to set up a committee to investigate the plagiarism petition.
According to documents obtained by our correspondent, Ekemezie did not honour the invitation of the committee which comprised six professors.
He, however, sent his response to the allegations.
The letter, dated April 26, 2018 was titled, ‘Re: Plagiarism and Academic Criminality, a case of wicked connivance.’
The lecturer accused his HOD of conniving with the petitioner, Anarado, whom he tagged ‘evil genius,’ of hacking into his e-mail to include fake journal articles in his Google scholar citations.
Ekemezie said he was being persecuted for fighting a union leader over alleged embezzlement, adding that it was a case of corruption fighting back.
A report of the committee, dated May 7, 2018, however, found Ekemezie guilty of the allegations.
“After thorough deliberation, the committee observed that the four examined curriculum vitae submitted by Dr P.N. Ekemezie and used at different times in Nnmadi Azikiwe University, are all the same and have examples 1, 2 and 3 as journal articles as marked in the petition of Dr C.J.O. Anarado.
“The three articles also appeared in his 2017 curriculum vitae, which were used by the School of Post-graduate Board for his PhD supervision approval and 2016/2017 departmental appraisal.
“It was also observed that there are many discrepancies on his CV examined, which Dr P.N. Ekemezie submitted at different academic sessions (2012/2013, 2013/2014, 2016/2017),” the report stated in part.
The report said there was a clear case of plagiarism against Ekemezie, adding that he also lied to the university about his former employment at the Anambra State University.
“He was never a lecturer II worker in the Anambra State University, Uli, which he claimed that he was from May 2006 to September 2009. The committee is of the opinion that the matter be sent to the Senior Staff Disciplinary Committee for further action,” the report said.
The VC, Ahaneku, allegedly failed to implement the report.
Ahaneku, however, set up another committee of senior staff to look into a petition written by Ekemezie against his HOD.
Our correspondent gathered that the petition contained his response to the faculty committee, where he accused Nduka of editing his appraisal forms.
The senior staff committee, led by Prof. Ikenna Onyido, of the Department of Chemistry, while absolving the HOD of wrongdoing, faulted Ekemezie’s offensive language in the petition.
It recommended that the plagiarism case be followed through.
The vice-chancellor, who got a copy of the recommendation, was said to have again kept mute despite several reminders to him.
The petitioner, Anarado, who spoke to our correspondent on the telephone, confirmed initiating the process.
He said, “The whole body language and demeanour of the outgoing VC, because by June 1 we will have a new VC, shows that he is bent on promoting him (Ekemezie) before he leaves. Here is a man with a forged B.Sc and false claim to winning a national award. We have complained about everything but the VC has kept quiet. The VC is claiming that he does not know how to deal with the plagiarism case.”
As matters got tense in the university, Ekemezie was said to have petitioned the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, accusing Nduka of distorting his academic works.
The petition, dated October 2018, a copy of which was obtained by our correspondent, was titled, ‘Serial forgery and wilful destruction of official documents by Prof. John Nduka.’
In the petition, Ekemezie said he had HND, PGD, MSc, PhD; he omitted the contentious B.Sc from the University of Port Harcourt, which he claimed was planted by his HOD.
He copied the university vice-chancellor in the petition.
The police were reported to have arrested Nduka, as the latter made statements presenting his side of the story.
Among those who gave statements to the police were Christian Okeke, Prof. Anthony Okoye, Prof. Ikenna Onyido, Prof. A.J. Onyido, Prof. A.J. Ekpunobi, Prof. Vincent Ajiwe, Prof. John Nduka, Dr Chigozie Anarado, Dr Uche Egolum, Prof Augustine Eboatu and his wife, Dr Veronica Eboatu.
A police document dated January 2019 and signed by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Awka, DCP Maiyaki Baba, revealed that at the end of police investigation, Ekemezie was discovered to have lied to the police.
The police said the witnesses corroborated Nduka’s claims that Ekemezie was culpable of forgery and plagiarism.
“The complainant was invited several times for an interview with the suspects and witnesses, but he refused. The university authority was contacted to advise him to report, he was informed yet he refused.
“Documentary evidence from the university proved that the BSc degree certificate allegedly issued by the University of Port Harcourt did not emanate from the said institution,” the police said.
The police concluded that Ekemezie gave false information and he was accordingly prosecuted in charge no: MAN/598c/2019.
The PUNCH learnt that despite the police case against Ekemezie, the VC asked the Dean of the faculty, Prof. S.O. Anigbogu, to assess him for promotion.
Nduka confirmed the development to our correspondent on the telephone.
He said, “During the faculty board appraisal, I was there as a professor and I raised concerns on what the school was doing. I said, ‘Dean, this man has a criminal matter and you are assessing him for promotion?’ He brought out a letter written by the VC to him (dean) to assess him.”
The faculty dean, Anigbogu, told The PUNCH that he only acted on instructions.
When prodded further, he declined comment and referred our correspondent to the varsity spokesperson, saying he had no right to speak on the matter.
Our correspondent learnt that Nduka had petitioned the President of the Nigeria Academy of Science, demanding that the VC be stripped of his award of fellow of the academy.
Another petition, sighted by our correspondent, was said to have also been delivered to President Muhammadu Buhari, seeking a probe of the incident and the university’s accounts.
A senior officer of the varsity said Ahaneku had no power to sanction Ekemezie.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the matter was before the council, assuring our correspondent that the right thing would be done.
He said, “That case has been lingering. The reason is that the university follows due process. Allegations of this nature may be true or false. We have done some investigations and written to UNIPORT and they have replied to us. The vice-chancellor has no power to sack a senior lecturer. It will be a council decision. The matter is now before the council and no verdict has been given yet.
“This university will not condone anybody that is fraudulent. In the past, we have handled cases like this and the right thing was done. We take these issues seriously, but they must go through due process.”
Ekemezie, VC react
When contacted, Ekemezie confirmed writing the petition to the CP, but declined comments on all the allegations against him.
“I was the person who wrote the petition to the Commissioner of Police. We are on it now, so no problem. Anyway, I am in a meeting now,” he added.
When the lecturer eventually called back, he asked for our correspondent’s details.
When our correspondent demanded the reason for the questioning, he said, “Let me know whether I can join you in the case, since you are interested in the matter.”
The VC, Ahaneku, denied covering up the case, adding that Ekemezie had been stagnated over the reports against him.
Ahaneku noted that the issues predated his appointment as the VC of UNIZIK.
He said, “This matter is actually between a staff member and some other workers and they have been going to the police on it. The Anambra State Commissioner of Police has given his own report. Because of this case, the man in question has not been promoted and cannot be promoted until this matter is resolved. It did not start with my administration; I inherited it.
“The plagiarism issue is a senate matter and the senate has a committee that uses software for such. If you say someone plagiarises your work, it is you who owned the work that will make a case. But in this instance, a report came from a staff member in the faculty that the person (Ekemezie) plagiarised. The matter was discussed and it was resolved that plagiarism can be resolved with software. The senate committee recommended the software, which could be used for all students and staff, including those who are doing their postgraduate programme.”
On the alleged forged certificate and the reported response of UNIPORT, he said, “I was not the one that employed him. He has been working here several years even before I became the VC. On the enquiry about his entry, there is a council committee on verification of certificates. Initially, they had gone (to UNIPORT). That committee must do verification for all. In the process, he (Ekemezie) linked up several other persons that got same certificates in the year he got his own. So, you cannot do it in isolation. It is because of one professor, who has retired. And the other woman is still a part of the university. So, you cannot treat one and leave the other. Because of that, there is a committee set up by the council right now and they are doing certificate verification in order to comprehensively look into all academic and non-teaching (certificates) for a particular period, including that person (Ekemezie).
The VC said Ekemezie had made several allegations against Nduka, claiming that his appraisals and promotions were being held purposely.
“A committee was set up and instead of him (Nduka) to listen to the recommendations of the committee, which was made up of old professors in his own department, he started quarrelling with the committee and abusing them,” he added.
However, Nduka insisted that the embattled lecturer had been assessed and passed at the department, faculty and central levels, adding that the only thing before the council was the announcement of his promotion.
The Director of Information and Public Relations/Chief Protocol Officer, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Dr Emmanuel Ojukwu, said the matter was before the council and it would get “serious attention”.
The President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Kalu Onuoha, said the body had received the petition against the VC, adding that it would investigate the allegations.
He said, “We have seen the letter and we are handling it.”