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Demoted UNICAL students lament ordeal

By Anietie Akpan, Deputy Bureau Chief, South South 
07 July 2022   |   4:15 am
It was a case of frustration, distress and despondency for over 200 students of engineering faculty of the University of Calabar (UNICAL) since their demotion three years ago.

University of Calabar

It was a case of frustration, distress and despondency for over 200 students of engineering faculty of the University of Calabar (UNICAL) since their demotion three years ago.

Most of these students have dropped out of school after three and four years of study, living in self-deceit, with some doing menial jobs to survive, while others have gone back to write Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) as hope of accrediting Engineering Faculty of the institution dims.

The faculty, so far, has no workshops and other relevant facilities that could qualify it for accreditation.

Now, the affected students have dragged the university, vice chancellor and four others to court, claiming over N505m 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.

The students, who were demoted from 300 and 400 level to 200 level in 2021 by the university, in the suit by their lawyer, Ozinko Ozinko said: “We believe that the conduct of the school management is unlawful, deceitful, tortuous, criminal, highly reprehensible, scandalous and amounted to an assault on our future and academic rights.

The National universities Commission (NUC), had in 2021, gone to UNICAL for resource verification and subsequently directed affected students, some of who were in 400 level, to step down to 200 level because the university did not get authorisation from the commission before commencing the programme.

The university admitted students up to 400 level without NUC’s approval, leading to demotion of affected students, while two departments (Electrical and Electronics and Computer Engineering) were scrapped on the premise that the faculty did not have qualified lecturers and workshops.

Idiong, one of the affected students, lamented that the institution has frustrated his efforts.

He said: “I’m a self-sponsored student just like most of my fellow demoted colleagues. As a self-sponsored student and non-indigene of Cross River State, I cater for my accommodation, feeding and pay other bills. I have spent all the monies I saved for years after my secondary education; time and other resources are gone and unfortunately, age is no longer on my side.

Idiong said he was short of words when the vice chancellor, Prof. Florence Obi, said they were no longer students and lecturers in the faculty of engineering are not qualified to teach them.

Lamenting his frustration further, Idiong, who has since dropped out of school, said: “ When we met with the management, the VC said it is a must that we step down to 200 level, pay school fees and bear the cost of every other expenses.

Another affected student, Agbontaem said: “Even after demotion, the school didn’t treat us well. I stood against double payment of registration of what we had paid before and got ‘F’ in those courses after they had promised us that no affected student would fail.

“The decision of the university is turning some of us into monsters slowly. It is only a matter of time the ticking time bomb would blow, except justice is served. Wasted time can’t be recovered, no matter the amount, but justice, at least, would stitch the injures, even if it leaves scars, it’s better than open wounds”

The affected students are seeking general damages of N500m for injuries suffered, an order of the court ordering UNICAL at no cost, to absorb some of them in the same department or an alternative course of study in another department, for those who may wish to proceed, or bore the financial cost of transfer and fees, should they wish to study in another accredited institution.

They are also seeking a declaration that the operation of engineering faculty by UNICAL without relevant accreditation from NUC and Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), non-employment of qualified lecturers as a requirement for accreditation, further demands of school fees and finances by the university with no accreditation in sight, amounted to extortion and gross violation/violent assault on their educational rights and future aspirations.

“That the institution’s running of engineering faculty and courses up to 400 level without notifying and inviting relevant statutory agencies like the NUC and COREN, and without informing concerned students of this deficiency on time consequently leading to the claimants suffering injury and psychological trauma amounted to negligence and further concealment of its deceit.”

When the students demonstrated against the action of the university last year, the vice chancellor allegedly insisted that the students must step down to 200 level as they were not qualified to be engineering students.

Although Obi said her predecessor admitted the affected students, Ozinko pointed out that the incumbent VC was actually part of the team at the time, as she was Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics) and part of the management team.

The Vice Chancellor had allegedly told the affected students that the university couldn’t be sued since their admission letter signified Electronic Computer Technology/Physics, and there is no department like that again.

Obi said she couldn’t assure affected students accreditation even if they step down to 200 level due to lack of qualified lecturers in the faculty.

When asked why the management cannot employ lecturers to meet accreditation, the vice chancellor said only the Federal Government could do such.

The students, however, insisted that the management could transfer them to nearest institutions accredited by NUC to enable them complete their studies.

When the matter came up for hearing last week, Head, Legal Unit of UNICAL, Jonas Abuo, told the court that the university could not file its defence because of the ongoing strike by university unions and pleaded that they be allowed to go for an out of court settlement.

Justice Rosemary Dugbo Oghoghorie subsequently adjourned the matter to October 27 for parties to brief the court on the outcome of out of court settlement.