A senior university professor accused of sexual assault has been formally suspended by authorities at the University of Calabar (UNICAL), HumAngle has learned.
The move to suspend the Dean of the Law Faculty comes just days after students staged a protest against him, accusing him of sexual assault.
In a statement signed by the University Public Relations Unit, the school announced it had decided to suspend Professor Cyril Ndifon “over violation of extant laws” on August 17.
The administration had queried Ndifon, the statement said. Vice Chancellor of the University Florence Banku Obi was dissatisfied with Ndifon’s response, and suspended him. The University is to set up a panel to investigate the accusations.
“The Vice Chancellor has gone through your written representation and is not satisfied with your explanations. She has therefore directed that you should be relieved of your position as Dean, Faculty of Law and placed on suspension while the matter is referred to a panel that will be set up to investigate these allegations,” a part of the statement which referenced the Vice Chancellor’s letter to Ndifon, read.
“You are to stay away from the University premises except while responding to invitation from the panel investigating these allegations,” the statement revealed the professor has been told.
It is the second time Ndifon has been suspended after accusations of sexual assault.
Before news of the suspension broke, a number of students who protested the culture of sexual harassment at a university said they had been pushed into hiding by reaction to the protest.
The students say they have been threatened with punishment by other students and staff at UNICAL, in Nigeria’s South South.
On Monday Aug 14, students of the law faculty protested outside the law school, holding placards that said “The Law School is not a brothel”, and other franker messages.
The students have been commended by activist groups for their courageous act after pictures of the protest went viral on social media.
But activists say the students are now being forced off campus and into hiding.
Obianuju Iloanya, a gender rights activist who has been corresponding with some of the students, tells HumAngle they are currently laying low as they are afraid of being singled out and unduly punished.
HumAngle understands some students loyal to Ndifon had begun unmasking and disclosing the matriculation numbers of those who have spoken up against the professor, making them vulnerable to academic victimisation, they say.
Following the protest by the students, Ndifon has denied all the allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him.
“These allegations are baselessly masterminded by my detractor who has vowed to ensure that my image is dragged to the mud just because I won the faculty elections twice,” Ndifon said in a telephone interview with a local news platform, Cross River Watch.
“For Christ’s sake, I don’t teach Year 2 B or Year one students so I don’t know why they have chosen to drag my name to the mud. This is why I said earlier that the allegations were lies from the pit of hell, just to destroy the reputation that I have spent decades building,” he continued.
But Obianuju Iloanya says the students say he had contact with more students than just the ones he taught. She shared a message from a student with HumAngle.
The students are reluctant to speak directly with the press due to fear of being exposed.
This is not the first time Professor Ndifon has been accused of sexual abuse at the university.
Ndifon was officially indicted over serious accusations eight years ago.
In August 2015, a UNICAL law student made an official complaint that the Professor raped her in his office inside the school premises.
“The matter was reported to the police and the lecturer briefly detained,” Newsbreak reported.
In September of the same year, Ndifon was suspended after a preliminary investigation by the university authority indicted him for the crime.
In response, the professor filed a case against the school with the Industrial Court for Arbitration in 2016, but the court upheld the decision of the school to suspend him.
The professor also went to a Federal High Court in Calabar, seeking to stop the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) from investigating and prosecuting him but this was also dismissed.
Reinstated in the face of allegations
In 2022, five years after he was suspended, Ndifon was reinstated as dean of UNICAL’s faculty of law by school authorities.
The Vice Chancellor of the university said they had no choice but to reinstate the professor as he had been cleared by a court. It was not immediately clear which court had cleared the professor.
In December 2022 Sacredhearts Gender Protection Initiative, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO), wrote a petition demanding to know why Ndifon was reinstated and promoted.
“Is it that the Management of the University of Calabar has no moral standard for measuring or distinguishing right from wrong?” the petition read in part.
“[considering that the court of appeal is yet to rule on Ndifon’s case], we therefore find it hard to understand the basis for which Ndifon who is under investigation for sexual assault against a female law student was reinstated as a staff of the university and made Dean of the Law Faculty,” the petition continued.
In an interview granted in the wake of the recent protests by UNICAL law students, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Florence Obi told City Lawyer, an online news platform, that Ndifon was reinstated because a court judgement had exonerated him of the allegations and that the University was at risk of being tried for contempt of court if it did not reinstate him.
Students who spoke with Obianuju Iloanya allege that the Professor continues to abuse many students for years because of what they describe as his ‘untouchable status’.
“Professor Ndifon has allies in the Faculty so he is quite powerful,” one of Ndifon’s students said.
“Before you become a student in law, it is common knowledge that you are warned about Professor Ndifon and how to avoid him,” another one said.
School authority reacts
In response to the allegations against Ndifon, the administration of the University of Calabar has once again begun an investigation into the matter.
The University Spokesperson, Eyo Bassey who disclosed this to Punch Newspapers also stated that the Vice Chancellor has met with the students.
“They spoke and raised a lot of issues. It is not even just about sexual allegations. There are all kinds of other issues they raised and management commended them for bringing the issues to their attention,” Eyo said.
In an interview with AIT Television, the Vice Chancellor echoed Eyo’s statement.
“Let me say here that it is not about sexual harassment alone. There are so many complaints they raised against the Dean and we are taking a holistic look at all of them,” she said, assuring the students and the entire public that the management of the institution will take necessary actions to address the issues raised.
Allegations of sexual harassment are common in Nigerian universities. While many are unable to speak up, few students who manage to do so are often victimised.
In 2019, Kiki Mordi, a Nigerian journalist who was forced to discontinue her education due to a similar experience carried out a daring investigation that exposed cases of sexual harassment in a Nigerian university.
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