The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and its former accountant, Mrs. Roseline K. Ubochi, accused of cheating during staff promotion examinations, will face a hearing before an Abuja division of the National Industrial Court on June 20 and 21.
Ubochi, a former NOUN Chief Accountant, had filed a complaint titled NICN/ABJ/73/2023 through her lawyer, Landan Babakodong, saying that her appointment had been terminated unfairly.
She is therefore asking the court for the following reliefs: “a declaration that the termination of her appointment from the service of the first defendant as contained in letter No. NOUN/PER/0597/Vol.1 dated December 7, 2022, is wrongful, unlawful, and unconstitutional as it is contrary to the provisions of Section 14 of the National Open University, Act Cap N63, 2004 and the Rules regulating her employment with the first defendant.
“A declaration that her employment with the first defendant is still subsisting notwithstanding the purported termination. And an order setting aside the purported termination of her appointment from the service of the first defendant as contained in letter No. NOUN/PER/0S97/Vol.1 dated December 7, 2022.
“A mandatory order commanding all the defendants to reinstate her to the service of the first defendant forthwith. And an order commanding the defendants to pay her full salaries, entitlements, allowances, and/or benefits from the date of her suspension and purported subsequent termination up to the date of reinstatement in the service of the first defendant without prejudice to any rights of promotion, entitlements, or privileges due and accruing to the claimant.
“The cost of this action is estimated at N500, 000,00 and an award of 10 percent post-judgement interest on the judgement sum from the date of judgement until the judgement is fully paid.
The former accountant stated in her statement of facts that in 2005, the first defendant (NOUN) offered her a provisional appointment by letter reference No. NOUN/APP/146/S.2/1 dated February 1, 2005. And that the letter of appointment provided, among other things, that her appointment would be governed by the rules and regulations of the first defendant. And that the extant governing rules are contained in the Handbook Titled: Rules and Regulations Governing the Condition of Service of Senior Staff, National Open University of Nigeria, August, 2016.
She stated that after a satisfactory probationary period of service, the first defendant, by letter ref. No. NOUN/PER/0597 dated July 8, 2008, confirmed her appointment. And that, following the appointment and further satisfactory performance, the first defendant in 2010 promoted her to the rank of senior accountant. The letter of promotion (Ref No.: NOUN/PER/0597/Vol.1/80) dated January 7, 2010 And that she was further promoted to the rank of Principal Accountant of the first defendant by letter reference No. NOUN/PER/0597/Vol.1/92 dated February 14, 2011. And later promoted to Chief Accountant by the letter of promotion Ref No.: NOUN/PER/0S97/VOL1/137 dated August 16, 2017.
She also stated that sometime in October 2021, she was one of the officers of the first defendant who sat for the promotion examination to grade level 14. And that on the examination day, she mistakenly entered the hall with a sheet of paper on which she had jotted some points and ideas during the revision for the examination. Adding that a few minutes before the start of the examination, the Registrar of the first defendant, Mr. Felix Edoka, while distributing the examination questions, saw the sheet of paper and two plain sheets that she intended to use for calculations on her table and immediately collected the sheet of paper, leaving her with the plain papers for calculations.
She averred further that about five months after she wrote the examination, she received an internal memo from the Registrar’s Office (Ref No.: NOUN/REG/HR/COMM/62) dated February 10, 2022, under the hand of Fadimatu M. Fufore-ahiwa (Mrs.), Deputy Registrar, inviting her to appear before the committee set up to investigate staff examination misconduct. The invitation letter is pleaded and shall be relied on at the trial, and she duly honoured the invitation and appeared before the committee and answered questions of the investigation committee.
She states that during the proceedings of the investigation committee, the members asked her to mention the name of the person who gave her the information seen on the sheet of paper collected from her and that if she did not say it, she stood the risk of being sacked by the second defendant. And after six months of her appearing before the Investigation Committee, she received a letter from the Registrar of the first defendant suspending her from the service of the first defendant.
She also averred that, following her suspension, she was again invited to appear before the Joint Council/Senate Investigation Committee. And at the Joint Committee, members also asked her to mention the name of the person who gave her the information seen on the sheet of paper collected from her at the examination hall, and even when she persistently told them that it was her review notes, the Committee members refused to agree with her.
She stated that following her appearance before the Joint Council/Senate Committee on December 15, 2022, she received a letter terminating her appointment with the first defendant. And that the letter of termination was numbered: NOUN/PER/0597Vol.1, dated December 7, 2022. And as a sequel to her termination of appointment, she appealed to the third defendant to reconsider the matter and reinstate her.
The claimant further stated that after a long wait without any response from the defendants, she instructed her counsel to apply to the third defendant for Certified True Copies (CTC) of the reports of the two investigation committees, the minutes of the second defendant’s meeting at which her appointment was terminated, and other documents material to her case, but the third defendant has refused and neglected to give the requested documents.
However, the defendants, the Governing Council and the Vice-Chancellor of NOUN, in their Statement of Defence and witness statement on oath deposed to by one Dr. Muyiwa Stephens Akintola and filed by their lawyer, Emmanuel Umoren, urged the court to dismiss the claimant’s suit with substantial costs for being frivolous, vexatious, gold digging, and a gross abuse of the court’s process.
The deponent, who doubled as the first defendant’s Human Resources Director and the Secretary of the Joint Council/Senate Investigation Committee, stated that the first defendant duly terminated the claimant’s appointment in accordance with its governing laws.
Dr. Akintola also stated that the scandalous misconduct carried out by the claimant in the promotion examination hall on October 28, 2021, puts a lie to the averments of propriety stated in the aforesaid paragraphs.
The deponent stated that the claimant was caught by Mr. Felix I. Edoka, the Registrar and Supervisor of the Examination, with a sheet of paper containing already prepared answers to the examination questions for accountants on CONTIS 13 and above in the Bursary Department of the first defendant that she was copying from.
The deponent listed the claimant’s
Particulars of an act of scandalous misconduct include entering the examination hall with an already-written sheet of paper, contrary to the instructions of the invigilators. And that the sheet of paper found on the claimant contained explicit and detailed answers that were verbatim answers to Question 2, which included figures and numbers in “Computation of Net Emolument from Gross Emolument”.
He stated that the claimant could only have been able to have such precise information if she had seen the examination question prior to her sitting for the examination on October 28, 2023, and that the claimant refused to inform the defendants how she got the aforesaid information that would have assisted in the breaking of the examination malpractice ring among staff of the first defendant.
The deponent stated that the defendants shall at trial rely on the claimant’s sheet of paper containing detailed handwritten answers to Question 2; the immediate report made by the invigilator who caught her and the claimant’s handwritten remarks; and the claimant’s answer scripts and the question paper.
The deponent stated that when the claimant was caught with the paper she was copying from, she was given an opportunity for a fair hearing by having her state her side of the story in writing, after which she was allowed to continue writing the examination. And that the claimant, who was a senior staff member of the first defendant at the material time of the investigation into the issue of her examination malpractice, was formally invited and given the opportunity to appear before the Joint Council/Senate Investigation Committee with her counsel three times. These meetings were held on October 4, 2022, October 27, 2022, and November 1, 2022, respectively.
Dr. Akintola stated further that the Council/Senate Investigation Committee, after their investigation, prepared a report that was submitted to the Governing Council of the first defendant in respect of the claimant’s case. And that, in accordance with the NOUN Act and other relevant Acts of the National Assembly, the second defendant accepted the aforesaid recommendations of the Joint Council/Senate Investigation Committee and terminated the appointment of the claimant.
Dr. Akintola stated further that the claimant was informed of the decision of both the Joint Council/Senate Investigation Committee Report and the decision of the second defendant, wherein she wrote a letter titled ‘Appeal Against Termination of My Appointment’ dated January 10, 2023, to the third defendant, to which the third defendant replied by letter of January 20, 2023.
He stated that throughout the period leading to the termination of the claimant’s appointment, the claimant admitted her guilt, stated she was sorry for what she did, pleaded for mercy, and never stated that she was being wrongly accused or that she had any issues with the registrar, who caught her in the act, the third defendant, who carried out his statutory duties to protect the integrity of the first defendant, or any member of the Joint Council/Senate Investigation Committee to warrant vindictiveness as claimed by the claimant.
The deponent stated that the defendants cannot in any guise shirk away from the given responsibility, especially when the claimant, despite all pleas, refused to reveal the source of the information she got, which was a verbatim of Question 2, with which she produced the script she took to the examination hall. The termination of her employment is to save the reputation of the first defendant from scandal and thereby devalue the certificates it issues. Adding that the second defendant would have taken the option of dismissing the claimant but was lenient to have terminated her appointment so she could have other options to seek employment elsewhere
The deponent therefore urged the court to dismiss the claimant’s suit with substantial costs in their favour for being frivolous, vexatious, gold-digging, and a gross abuse of court process.
Meanwhile, Justice R. B. Haastrup has fixed June 20 and 21 for the hearing of the suit.