The Civil Society Network Against Corruption, which is a coalition of over 150 anti-corruption organization, has urged the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee to step down the consideration of Prof. Enefiok Essien as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
In a petition forwarded to the legal body and signed by the coalition’s National Chairman, Olanrewaju Suraju, the CSNAC said it is by the petition bringing to the committee’s attention outstanding issues with respect to Essien, which, according to it, reasonably discredits his shortlist for consideration as Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
The statement read: “Sometime in 2015, the Premium Times, an online newspaper in its publication dated the 8th day of November, 2015 reported that Professor Enefiok Essien, the then Vice Chancellor designate of the University of Uyo (UNIUYO) was indicted in 2005 for forgery and sexual assault by the Court of Appeal.
“The Court of Appeal, Calabar, Cross River State, handed down the indictment on Mr. Essien on July 14, 2005 while affirming the judgment of the Federal High Court, Calabar, which nullified Uniuyo’s expulsion of a female student, Linda Onyebuchi Essell, from the university over her alleged involvement in examination malpractice. Uniuyo did not appeal the judgment and Ms. Essell went on to complete her first degree in law and graduated from the university.”
According to the report, Essell, as at the time she was accused of examination malpractice in March, 1995, was in her second year, while Essien was a senior lecturer then.
It said: “The facts of the case, according to the court processes, is that Ms. Essell submitted unstamped and unsigned answer booklet during her examination in Constitutional Law (PUL 211), and for this reason the university accused her of having pre-knowledge of the examination questions and of bringing pre-written examination answers into the examination hall. She was eventually expelled from the university, although she pleaded that she was innocent of the allegations.
“Ms. Essell won both matters at the Federal High Court Calabar and Court of Appeal because her case was founded on the breach of her fundamental right to fair hearing by the two panels Examination Malpractice Panel and the Senate Appeal Panel set up by the school to investigate the matter.
“In her affidavit in support, she stated how Mr. Essien, the man who several years later would be selected for appointment as Uniuyo’s vice chancellor, manipulated the university system against her because she had refused to accede to his love overtures. It was Mr. Essien, who invigilated Ms. Essell in the PUL 211examination. It was him who accused her of examination malpractice. It was also him who chaired the Examination Malpractice Panel that tried Ms. Essell.
“The court held that there was a grave miscarriage of justice and breach of the principles of natural justice as the panel was not properly constituted after one of its members had stepped down and was not replaced. The Court of Appeal faulted Essien’s chairmanship of the panel and the failure of the vice chancellor to hear from Ms. Essell before acting on the recommendations of Mr. Essien’s panel which proceedings the court said wasn’t credible.
“Ms Essell also stated in her affidavit that Mr. Essien as chairman 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 judgment delivered by Justice Dalhatu Adamu declared that Ms. Essell’s statements as contained in her affidavit were ‘serious indictment on Essien’.”
According to the report, the court stated that since there was no counter-affidavit by Essien, the court in its unanimous decision held that Essell’s allegations “not having been challenged, contradicted and controverted, must be deemed to be true and correct”.
The court said: “It is surprising and strange that the said Mr. Essien who was the subject of a vicious allegation refused to swear to a counter-affidavit to challenge or contradict or controvert the allegations leveled against him by the respondent.”
CSNAC noted further that the then Pro-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Kimse Okoko, confirmed to Premium Times that the institution’s governing council received a petition against Essien after the selection process had ended.
Okoko said the allegations against Essien, as contained in the court judgment, were brought to the notice of the university’s Governing Council, in which he (Okoko) is chairman, after the council had concluded its work on the appointment of a new vice chancellor for the university.
Okoko, whose Governing Council appointed and announced Essien as vice chancellor-designate, said it was too late for the council to open an investigation into the allegations against Mr. Essien. The aforementioned decision of the Court Of Appeal is reported as University of Uyo & Others v. Essel (2006) ALL FWLR (Pt. 315) 80.
The coalition said in the light of the issues it has raised, “over which a petition is still pending at the Ministry of Education, we are of the view that the said Professor Enefiok Essien should not be allowed to further benefit from his own wrong by being appointed to the prestigious rank of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria”.
CSNAC said: “We thereby request that the LPPC disqualify the shortlist of Professor Enefiok Essien for consideration as SAN in view of the fact that the honoured and revered title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria should not be vested on persons with tainted and questionable image in the academia as the title is deemed to be the exclusive reserve of persons with unimpeachable character and integrity.
“His appointment by the LPPC as SAN will be a huge slap on the face of the academic world which he may represent and also ridicule the current administration’s commitment to ensure sanity in our educational system.”