Students want professor sacked over alleged sexual harassment

The University of Calabar, Cross River State, has been urged to set up an external inquiry after a group of students, mostly females, have accused a member of the institution's management of sexual harassment and have called for his dismissal.

In a video posted on X (formerly known as Twitter), the students are shown holding placards with messages about the alleged harassment. “Professor [X], let the girls with big breasts breathe, stop suffocating us” and “Professor [X] must go for our sanity”, “Stop grabbing us”.

However, in a statement by the professor, he described the allegations as false and an attempt by “some elements in the faculty” to pull him down. He said these elements decided to “sponsor a protest” against him.

“It won’t work. If they are accusing me of sexual harassment without victims, I’m shocked that someone would go to this extent to satisfy his inordinate ambition,” he said.

Professor Florence Obi, the vice-chancellor, has assured the aggrieved students the management would look into their complaints, but requested evidence from them to support their grievances, Premium Times reported.

“When you are talking about sexual harassment, you need more than accusations. A committee has already been set up to handle some other issues raised by the students,” she added.

The “other issues” mentioned by the vice-chancellor include an earlier rape allegation against the same professor and the university’s handling of the case.

Previous sexual harassment saga

The professor was suspended in 2015 by the university authorities after he was accused of raping a fourth-year law student in his office.

While the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) started an investigation into the case, the professor challenged his suspension at a national industrial court, but the lawsuit was quashed by the presiding judge, Justice Eunice Agbakoba, according to reports at the time.

Further updates on the case were shrouded in secrecy until December 2022 when a civil society organisation, Sacredhearts Gender Protective Initiative, petitioned Vice-Chancellor Obi, querying the professor’s reinstatement.

“On behalf of the above-named civil society organisation, I write to bring to your attention a hidden injustice, [on] which your academic institution has refused to take action,” the organisation stated in the petition signed by the executive director of the organisation, Dr Rosemary Nwafor, a local news platform reported.

“... We, therefore, find it hard to understand the basis for which [the professor], who is under investigation for sexual assault against a female law student was reinstated as a staff [member] of the university …” it added.

University’s response

University World News sent a message to Obi, asking if the professor has been exonerated from the 2015 rape allegation, but she did not respond to the inquiry.

An official who picked up a phone call to the university’s front desk told University World News that a court had “discharged and acquitted” the professor of the rape allegation and “the university management has no option but to reinstate him”. The official did not respond to further queries, refusing to give his name. There is no evidence, as far as University World News could establish, that the professor was cleared in a court of law.

Some of the students, who spoke to University World News but asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, said they were surprised the professor was reinstated without the outcome of the investigation on the rape allegation being made public.

A rights activist lawyer, Liborous Oshoma, urged the university to set up an external panel of inquiry to investigate their complaints.

“This is not a matter that the university can handle. If victims are assured their identities would be protected by the panel, they would come to testify before the panel.

“One would have expected that a university would be transparent in handling matters. Everything is shrouded in secrecy. Whatever the outcome of the investigation of the 2015 [rape] case was, it should have been made open and there should be room for appeal if the professor was vindicated,” he said.