Two female students of Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwanna, Afikpo in Ebonyi State, have cried out for help over alleged sexual harassment and intimidation against them by one of their lecturers.
This is coming barely two weeks after the dismissed Professor of Management and Accounting at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Richard Akindele, was arraigned and remanded in prison following sexual harassment of one of his students, Monica Osagie.
The two Higher National Diploma (HND II) students of the Ebonyi polytechnic, Oko Osinachi and Egwu Gladys, said the institution’s Head of Department of Marketing (HOD), School of Business Studies, Ezumah Obi, had invited them to hotels at different times, with the intent to sleep with them before he would pass them in his courses and their final year projects, which he was the supervisor.
But, the lecturer has denied the allegation, saying the students chose to meet him at the hotels and that nothing close to their allegations ever happened.
This was as the Rector of the polytechnic, Ibe-Enwo Ogbonnia, confirmed the accusation, but claimed he was yet to receive formal complaints from the students.
Narrating her ordeal, 22-year-old Janet explained that her trouble started when she secured admission into the HND programme in the polytechnic in 2017 through Direct Entry, and she needed to register at the department.
She said: “I had my ND at the Federal College of Agriculture, Ishiagu in Abakalaiki. When I resumed at the Unwana Polytechnic and I went to the department for registration, I was directed to see the HOD in the office, and after necessary courtesies, he asked for my number which I gave.
“Ever since then, he kept calling me but I was always avoiding him. I was shocked when I checked my result in the course he took us in Second Semester in HND I, which was Distribution and Management Logistics, and I failed the course. But, I didn’t go to him to complain, so I repeated the course this year.”
When it was time for Project Writing Course in First Semester of HND II, Janet said the HOD grouped her among those he would supervise, apparently to make room for close contact again.
“Like my other colleagues, I suggested my project topic, but the HOD cancelled it. I went with another one the second time, he still cancelled it. He then advised me to write on my file that I was requesting him to help me with a project topic. And, I did just that. When I took my file with the request to him, the HOD then told me that he would speak with me on phone. So, later that evening, on March 21, 2018, he called me on phone and said I should see him at P-Noble Hotel in Afikpo, some kilometres away from Unwana. Even though I was shocked, I summoned courage and went.
“When I got there, he asked me where I was coming from. I lied to him that I was coming from home and that I live with my parents. I said I was cooking for my mother that day. I lied so that he would know that my mother would be waiting for me to finish the cooking. Then, while still there he sent the topic to me on my phone, which is; “Impact and Challenges of Self-Promotional-Based Strategies on Brands and Stores Patronages in Urban Areas”.
“He then told me that I failed his course in First Semester and I said yes. He said I caused it and that if I had complied I would not have failed. I said I was sorry. He said as the HOD he has the power to make the decision either to let me graduate or not. He said he was giving me the last chance and that if I failed to give him chance this time, he would treat me like a stubborn fly.
“That was the exact statement he made. I said okay sir. Then he told me that there was a burial ceremony he wanted me to accompany him to at Ohofia in Abia State the following day. I told him it would be difficult because I didn’t know what my mother would say. Then I lied to him that my mother was calling me and so I had to go. The following day, I sent him a message that I could not make it because my mother did not agree that I should go. He did not reply the message.”
According to Janet, on another day, the lecturer called her around 10 a.m to see him at another place called Maria Island Resort, which is said to belong to popular American returnee in the community, Maria Nwachi nee Egwu, who is also known as “Afikpo Chic.”
On getting to the resort, she said she was directed upstairs to the compound and that as soon as she entered the room, she saw the HOD sitting on a chair.
She added: “Before setting out to meet him, I told my elder sister who kept monitoring me. She initially said I should not go because we already got to know that the HOD was living at the resort. At that stage I didn’t want to involve my parents because I thought it was something I could handle by playing him and that he would forget it. So, he asked me to sit and I sat on the bed but near the door.
“He started to discuss with me, lit his cigarette and started smoking. On my failure to attend the burial ceremony with him, he said I was a bush girl and that why should I have told my mother that I would be accompanying a male lecturer to a party? He said why didn’t I lie to my parents. And, at point I replied I didn’t remember to lie. He said even if he was my mother would he have allowed me?
“Thereafter, he demanded for what I had written and I gave the file to him. He looked through and dropped on the bed. Then, he stood up and was moving close to me, so I stood up and started begging him to forgive him. Then he requested for my phone and that he wanted to delete his number from my phone. I think he thought I was recording him but when I gave him the phone he did not see anything recorded and dropped my phone on the bed.
“He held my hand and I began to cry and knelt down. He asked me to stand and started telling me how much he loved me and how he would make sure I become the envy of everyone in the school. I then told him I was engaged to my fiancé and told him his name – Ekenna Okeke, a non-academic staffer, who works in Administrative Section.
“He was angry and said the guy is a boy to him and that how could I ever thought of ending up with such a man that has nothing to offer me. I told him the guy had been trying for me since and that I don’t want to disappoint him. He then said even if anything should happen, the guy would not know anything. I said no, and that I could not lie to the guy.
Then because I told my elder sister before coming, she started calling me and I said my mother was calling me. He then said I should touch him and I said no. Then he held me very tight and said I should not open my mouth. As soon as I wanted to cry out, he said everything was over and deleted his contact on my phone. He said I should never disturb him again and that henceforth, he would start treating me like an enemy.”
Janet said since, Mr Obi had refused to review her project and that whenever she goes to him for correction he would shout on her and chase her out of his office. However, through the help of other lecturers, she was able to complete the work without the approval of the supervisor.
Meanwhile, on November 6 and 7 when the external supervisors visited the department to assess the graduating students’ projects, Mr Obi refused to present Janet for the exercise.
Earlier, Gladys, who had noticed that Janet was also not making any meaningful progress in her project work, approached her to find out why.
But, while sharing their experiences, they duo discovered that they had similar problem – allegedly suffering the consequences of rejecting Mr Obi ‘s advances.
According to Gladys, her own trouble had started during her National Diploma days in 2013, when the lecturer approached her to date him.
“He collected my GSM number and was always calling on phone. One weekend he called me and said I should come and spend the weekend with him. He said did I know who was speaking and he introduced himself, and said I should be prepared to come to wherever he was to spend the weekend with him but I refused. So, since then he didn’t disturb me again.”
She said they never had anything together until she returned for her HND programme in 2017.
She explained: “When I returned for my HND and he was already the HOD, he told me if I remembered that we had an unfinished business and that he believes that I am already mature enough now. Then he collected my number and each time he called he would ask me to meet him in his apartment and I would say okay, but I would not go.
“So, when we were grouped for project supervision, I found myself in his group and then came another round of troubles. While attending to others he would always chase me out of his office.
“When I discussed with one of my lecturers, I was advised to honour his invitation so that we could even know what he wanted. So, sometimes in September this year, I went to him at the Maria Island Resort. As soon as I sat down, he wanted to grab me, I stood up and said I was not well.”
Meanwhile, when the HOD refused to present the duo for project defence between November 6 and 7, they came together and began to cry profusely. Some of the lecturers then advised them to take the matter up.
Janet recalled: “Those lecturers, who I wouldn’t want to mention their names, advised me that if I have anybody to run to I should do so on time, and that without that, the man would deal with me as he had vowed. So, I had to call my elder sister, Mrs Ada Chioma, a business woman, who graduated from the school. She came around and in the process, the Deputy Rector (Academics), Elder Ibiam, got to know and told me to make it official. I even sent a text message to the Rector immediately but he is yet to reply.”
Gladys also explained that her elder brother, Ogbonna Egwu soon learnt of the development and called Mr Obi. She said “the lecturer became incoherent on phone”.
“He told my brother that I paid my school fees late and that was why he didn’t allow me to defend my project. But my brother said I was one of the first to pay fees because he was the one that paid for me,” 26-year-old Gladys said.
A yet-to-be-identified caller had also taken the matter up during a phone-in programme on an Enugu-based Dream FM Radio Station, and the development compelled the institution’s management to commission three lecturers to quickly assess the two students’ projects and graded them without the external supervisors.
Following the deputy rector’s advice, both Janet and Gladys also submitted written petitions dated November 7, to the management of the institution through the Offices of the Dean, School of Business Studies and the Dean of the Students’ Affairs.
I Am Innocent- Lecturer
Meanwhile, when this reporter phoned Mr Obi for comments on Friday evening, November 30, he said he was not comfortable discussing the matter at the time because he was at a conference. He denied the allegation.
He said: “My reaction is that I don’t think they are correct. They said they didn’t defend their project or what? Well, like I said before, I don’t think such thing was the problem. Such thing never happened.
“Did I invite her to a hotel or she sought to see me on her own? I think I am not really comfortable to discuss that right now because I am at a conference. I said I am not comfortable to talk now, I am at a conference. So you can call me on Tuesday.”
He did not reply further enquiries on the matter.
Meanwhile, more than three weeks after the petition was submitted by the students, the rector on December 1 told New Telegraph he was yet to receive any complaint on the matter, saying people only called him on phone to draw his attention to the issue and that he could not just react on ‘mere rumour’.
The rector said: “About three weeks ago, and precisely on November 9 when I was leaving Afikpo to lead the Polytechnic Bursar to World Accountants Conference in Sydney, Australia, I received a call that something like that was happening and I said I would be coming back the next day and that when I come back I would know what to do.
“But, as I was coming back and I was at Owerri, heading back to Afikpo, I received another call that there was a radio programme discussing the same matter. However, I must say that we have laid down procedures in the polytechnic.
“If a female student claims she has been sexually harassed or otherwise, she should first of all complain to the HOD, but if the HOD is involved, she should complain to the Dean of School, and Director of Academics and then the Deputy Rector (Academics). If there is a formal complaint, it would form the basis for us to take action.
“If she doesn’t want that channel, she can go to the Dean of Students’ Affairs and put her petition down in writing and from that channel it would get to me for further necessary action. As we speak, it is over three weeks now and I have not got any formal complaints about it.
“I could not have just reacted to what is on social media and begin to investigate. So, I won’t say I have not heard about it, but not formally. I did not listen to the phone-in programme on the radio but people who listened to it told me.”
Meanwhile, when confronted with the fact that Janet had on the same day sent a text message to the rector to complain and followed it up with an official petition, he was silent.
He promised to attend to the issue as soon as he receives a copy of the petition.
Thus the reporter was propelled to forward a copy of the three-page petition to the Rector via his WhatsApp platform, which he had already confirmed receipt.
He has, however, not given the reporter any feedback.
There are allegations the rector has refused to act because Mr Obi is related to his wife. This reporter has not been able to independently verify this.
Some of the lecturers, who asked not to be named, also confirmed the promiscuity of Mr Obi.
“His family members are settled abroad and he lives very ‘recklessly’ here in Nigeria. Many students have suffered in silence under him, and he has given bad name to polytechnic. But, who dares talk? He is untouchable,” one of the lecturers said.