For over a year, the conflict between over 200 demoted students of Faculty of Engineering of the University of Calabar (UNICAL) and the university is yet to be resolved, despite an agreement for an out-of-court settlement.
The National University Commission (NUC) had visited UNICAL for resource verification in 2021 and ordered that the affected students, some of whom were in 400 level, should step down to 200 level because the university management did not notify NUC and was not authorised before commencing the programmes.
Two departments (Electrical and Electronics and Computer Engineering) were totally scrapped by NUC because, according to them, the faculty does not have qualified lecturers, no workshops, among others.
But in reaction, the affected students dragged the university, the vice chancellor and four others to court, claiming over N505 million as general damages and special expenses for breach of trust and others.
The case was instituted by Ekpedeme Godwin Idiong, Victor Agbontaem and Peter Abasiekong Stephens for themselves and others against the university and others through their lawyer, Mr. Ozinko Ozinko.
They said: “We believe 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 university management declined comments on the matter since it is in court but when the students demonstrated against the action of the university last year, 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. Obi said she was not the one that admitted them but Prof. Zana Itiunbe Akpagu (the former vice chancellor)
But Ozinko, counsel for the students argued: “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.”
When the matter came up for hearing last March, the Head, Legal Unit of UNICAL, Mr. Jonas Abuo, told the court the university could not file their defence because of the ASUU and SAANU strike and pleaded that they allowed to go for an out of court settlement as discussed and agreed with counsel for the students.
Accordingly, the presiding judge, Justice Rosemary Dugbo Oghoghorie, adjourned the matter to October 27 for the parties to return to brief the court on the outcome of the out of court settlement.
But when the court sat on October 27, counsel for the university told the court the school could not meet the affected students of engineering for the out of court settlement which they prayed for in the month of March
He asked the court for extension of time for the out of court settlement and for the filing of defence.
But the students’ counsel told the court: “Since the matter was filed in December 2021 and notices sent to the school with proof of services, they refused to file their defends. Rather, they promised an out of court settlement with the students since March till October, yet they refused to keep to their promise only to use strike as an excuse without minding the frustration they caused the students as time does not wait for anybody.”
At this point, the judge said since the out of court settlement had failed, the next sitting is for hearing and adjourned the matter to February 2, 2023.
Worried with the foot dragging of the university, the affected students, yesterday, called on relevant authorities to intervene in the matter and end their frustration.
Idiong, one of the affected students, lamented his ordeal to The Guardian, saying: “It saddens my heart as a meaningful Nigerian student, a patriot and a good citizen of Nigeria that the university of Calabar and its authorities is frustrating Nigerian students in their father land where they have equal rights.”
Another student, Agbontaem, told The Guardian: “When I heard about the demotion, instantly depression set in and I started having signs as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. I can’t sleep anymore, I had to cut ties with people because socialising was like nothing to me, my father blamed me for the demotion out of his frustration and said I was lying about going to school, that I was just making them spend money unnecessarily.”