The judge asked the University of Ibadan to check the trend of plagiarism among its lecturers, to save its image.
The National Industrial Court in Ibadan, Oyo State, has ordered the reinstatement of a lecturer sacked by the University of Ibadan (U.I) in 2016 for criticising the institution for its alleged worsening infrastructural decay and tolerance for plagiarism among its lecturers.
The sacking of Oladoyin Odebowale of the Department of Classics of the university, according to the court, did not follow the laid down statutory provisions of the 'Staff Information Handbook: Rules and Regulations Governing the Conditions of Service of Senior Staff (2003)'.
"I set aside all steps taken by the defendants leading to the dismissal of the claimant," the judgement delivered by the judge, John Peters, on November 18, 2021, read in part.
In the judgement, the certified true copy of which PREMIUM TIMES obtained on Tuesday, the judge also declared as null and void, the letter dated December 6, 2016, sent from the university's Registrar communicating the decision of the university's council to dismiss the claimant.
Mr Peters also made "an order reinstating the claimant to his position as lecturer without any loss of earnings, salaries, allowances, perquisites of office, seniority, privileges, pensionable rights and right to promotion, without any break in service and as if the claimant was never dismissed."
He ordered U.I and its council to pay the claimant "all his outstanding salaries and allowances from the date of filing of this suit till date" and N200,000 as the cost of prosecuting the case.
Mr Odebowale was issued a query dated March 1, 2016, requesting him to respond, within 48 hours, to various allegations, including one that he "labelled the university as a place where plagiarism is condoned, thereby bringing the name of the university into disrepute."
The Senior Staff Disciplinary Committee (SSDC) was set up by the university to investigate the allegations against him.
In line with the SSDC's recommendations, the university's council dismissed the claimant.
Through his lawyer, Femi Aborisade, he sued the university and its council, on December 6, 2016, claiming that the query issued to him was wrongful for contravening various provisions of the Staff Handbook and the University of Ibadan Act.
He added that his invitation at 6.30 p.m. after official working hours on Friday, May 20, 2016, by a text message to attend the SSDC sitting on May 23, 2016, without giving him sufficient time to call his witnesses, also violated his constitutional right.
Mr Odebowale argued that his comments about thriving plagiarism in the university were factual statements as some named lecturers at the university had been implicated in the scam.
He urged the court to hold that his "factual statements which are true, and which substantially represent fair and accurate accounts" of plagiarism by lecturers in the university and the poor living conditions of students and staff of the university "cannot be said to defame or dent the image and reputation of the 1st defendant (the university) as a public institution which is subject to public concerns and protection".
Mr Odebowale also prayed for the court's orders reinstating him to his position as Lecturer 1 with all his entitlements, including earnings and promotions given to him.
On the other hand, the university argued that the applicable rules and regulations were complied with, starting with issuing a query to the claimant to inform him of his allegation of gross misconduct to malign the university.
They said the claimant admitted receiving the notice of the allegations against him but also replied to it.
They also said he was invited to appear before the SSDC, adding that section 10(2)(c)(ii) of the University of Ibadan Act was complied with as he was informed of his sacking in writing.
Why dismissal was illegal
Mr Odebowale initially filed his suit to challenge activities of the SSDC. But while the suit was pending, the defendants concluded its processes and terminated his employment.
The claimant subsequently sought and was granted leave to amend his claims to add more prayers against the defendants.
The claimant's main contention in the suit was that the process leading to his dismissal did not follow the disciplinary procedure as contained in both the University of Ibadan Act and the 'Staff Information Handbook: Rules and Regulations Governing the Conditions of Service of Senior Staff (2003)'.
Faulting the dismissal in his judgement, the judge noted that by virtue of the Staff Information Handbook, the registrar and secretary to the university council after receiving report and comments from the claimant was expected to submit same to the Vice-Chancellor of the university who shall then refer same to the Senior Staff Disciplinary Committee.
"This was not done in the instant case," the judge said.
He added that Clause 8.1.5(e) of the document mandated the Disciplinary Committee to obtain verbatim and written reports from persons accused, witnesses as well as complainants.
But he said the complaints against Mr Odebowale was tendered before the court just as who the complainants were also not revealed.
"This is not only a violent infraction of the disciplinary rules put in place by the defendants, it is also a breach of constitutional rights of every individual accused of some infractions to know both the accusers as well as the allegations against him," the judge ruled.
He described the infraction as a fundamental breach of the written disciplinary procedure which the defendants were under a compulsion to follow to the letter.
"Aside from being an infraction of the disciplinary procedure laid down, it is also a breach of the constitutional provision relating to fair hearing. It is my finding, on the whole, that the defendants did not comply with the provisions of Clause 8.1.5 of Exh. C3 before terminating the employment of the claimant," Mr Peters ruled.
Condemnation of U.I's affront to court
The court also condemned the conduct of the university sacking the claimant while his suit challenging his probe was pending in court.
The judge said the defendants were aware of this suit all along, yet the SSDC concluded its sittings and investigations against the claimant while the court proceedings were pending.
He noted that the claimant filed his suit on December 6, 2016, with evidence showing that the defendants were duly served with the court processes the same day.
"Yet it was on the same day the defendants alleged to have reached a decision to dismiss the claimant from his employment. Again, with the knowledge of a suit pending against them the defendants still went ahead and dismissed the claimant from his duty post."
He described the university's conduct as "most unfortunate and a negative indelible mark" on its image being an institution created by law and "a foremost academic institution not only in Nigeria but also across the globe."
"Termination of an employment in whatever form or guise be it suspension, declaration of redundancy or dismissal during the pendency of an action is not only wrongful but contemptuous of the judiciary.
"It is an affront to the work of the courts and an open insult to the sanctity of the Judiciary as an important arm of governance," the judge said.
'Investigate plagiarism cases in U.I.'
The judge, who noted the growing cases of plagiarism in the university, called on the Visitor to the university and members of its council to pay attention to the menace as he did in a previous case.
"One of the allegations against the claimant as contained in Exhibit C7 is that he 'labelled the university as a place where plagiarism is condoned thereby bringing the name of the university into disrepute'.
"The issue of plagiarism occurred again in Exhibit C10, Exhibit C17, Exhibit C23 with some specific references.
"Again, I call on the Visitor to the 1st defendant and the members of the 2nd defendant, as I did in Dr. Adenike O. A. Ogunshe v. University of Ibadan & Anor. Suit No: NICN IB 85/2016 (a case which is on all fore as the instant case) ... to pay attention to the issue of plagiarism as it is becoming rampant in the 1st defendant."
He described plagiarism as "the worst crime that could be committed against an academic", calling on the university to check the negative trend to save its image.
"It is the theft of another's intellect, the theft of the contribution of another to academic and scholarship.
"That negative trend must be checked quickly and decisively; otherwise, the image of the 1st defendant may be permanently dented forever.
"A stitch in time saves nine as the saying goes."