Sexual Harassment: While Ndifon faces trial, another accused professor walks freely

While Cyril Ndifon, a professor of law and suspended dean of the law faculty at the University of Calabar, is standing trial over alleged sexual harassment of female students, another professor of law accused of a similar offence walks about freely.

Mr Ndifon is being prosecuted by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission at a Federal High Court, in Abuja.

Enefiok Essien’s story

The accused professor, yet to be held to be properly investigated or prosecuted, is Enefiok Essien, a former vice-chancellor of the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria’s south-south.

Mr Essien was named in a ruling on 14 July 2005 by the Court of Appeal, Calabar, which affirmed the judgement of the Federal High Court, Calabar, nullifying the university’s expulsion of a female student, Linda Essell, over her alleged involvement in examination malpractice.

Ms Essell, at the time she was accused of examination malpractice in March 1995, was in her second year as a law student at the University of Uyo, while Mr Essien was a senior lecturer then in the university’s law faculty.

Besides denying the allegation of examination malpractice, Ms Essell was able to convince both the trial and the appellate court that Mr Essien manipulated the university system against her because she had refused to accede to his love overtures.

Interestingly, it was Mr Essien, who invigilated Ms Essell in the examination that she was accused of malpractice. It was he who accused her of malpractice. It was also he who chaired the Examination Malpractice Panel that tried Ms Essell, which the courts ruled as being against the principles of fair hearing and natural justice.

Ms Essell also told the court in her affidavit that Mr Essien, as chairperson of the Examination Malpractice Panel, forged and signed the signature of another member of the panel, Mr Akpan, as well as doctored the proceedings of the panel.

The Court of Appeal in its judgement delivered by Justice Dalhatu Adamu declared that Ms Essell’s statements as contained in her affidavit were a “serious indictment on Essien”.

Since there was no counter-affidavit by Mr Essien, the court in its unanimous decision, held that Ms Essell’s allegations “not having been challenged, contradicted and controverted, must be deemed to be true and correct.”

University of Uyo and Mr Essien did not appeal the judgement and Ms Essell went on to complete her first law degree and graduated from the university.

About 10 years later, the University of Uyo ignored Mr Essien’s indictment for sexual harassment and forgery and went ahead to appoint him as the vice-chancellor of the federal government-owned institution, despite PREMIUM TIMES extensive reporting on the matter.

In fact, Comfort Ekpo, a professor and the then vice-chancellor of the University of Uyo, whom Mr Essien took over from, had requested the then Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to suspend Mr Essien’s inauguration as the vice-chancellor because of his indictment for sexual assault and forgery.

Mr Essien, in September 2017, was bestowed with the title of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the highest honour in the law profession in Nigeria despite the opposition to it by some civil society organisations.

‘If NBA is serious…’

The prosecution of Mr Ndifon for alleged sexual harassment, while Mr Essien walks freely and even gets elevated and celebrated highlights the disparity in the application of the rule of law in Nigeria.

“If the NBA is serious at all, they should start with Prof. Enefiok Essien, SAN. Otherwise, they shouldn’t bother with Prof. Ndifon. Indeed, going after Ndifon while Enefiok was given a free pass, would look like nothing if not a proper witch-hunt,” a lawyer, Fidel Albert, said in a Facebook post on 19 August 2023, shortly after the University of Calabar suspended Mr Ndifon.

The national leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has shown interest in the ongoing prosecution of Mr Ndifon.

The NBA speaks

Akorede Lawal, the national spokesperson of the NBA, told PREMIUM TIMES, on 27 September last year, that the NBA was not only involved in Mr Ndifon’s case but that the association would initiate disciplinary action against the law professor whenever a prima facie case of sexual assault is established against him.

PREMIUM TIMES asked Mr Lawal why the NBA did not take action against the former vice-chancellor of the University of Uyo, Mr Essien.

“I will have to confirm this thing you are telling me because it’s not something that is within my grasp… But what I can assure you is that we will never shield any of our members who bring this profession to disrepute by their personal misconduct,” he responded.

Going by what Mr Lawal said, Mr Essien could still be sanctioned by the NBA if the association establishes a case of professional misconduct against him.

“There is no statute of limitation against any perceived crime of professional misconduct. So if there is substantial evidence or we get somebody to write to us, no matter who the person is, the NBA under the leadership of Yakubu Maikyau will take it up,” he said.

On the professor becoming a SAN despite his indictment for sexual harassment, the NBA spokesperson said the association does not support anyone to become a SAN.

“It’s an individual pursuit,” he said.

PREMIUM TIMES could not get Mr Essien’s comment for the story as he did not respond to calls and a text message from our reporter.

Udoro Udo, the spokesperson for the University of Uyo, did not also respond to calls and a text message from our reporter.

In 2015, when PREMIUM TIMES first contacted Mr Essien for his comment, he said he had nothing to say on the matter.

“Tell me, why should Prof. Ndifon be investigated at all, when Prof. Essien, a confirmed sexual predator of equal standing, with a Court of Appeal judgement to validate his sexual predatory credibility, or discredit, was conferred with SANship for his efforts?” Mr Albert, a lawyer, said in his Facebook post.

[Premium Times]

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