A Nigerian court has backed university lecturers fired by the University of Nsukka for their refusal to comply with an ultimatum to return to work after a national strike.
But the university immediately refused to accept the court's decision and warned that the five were no longer members of its staff. The federal high court in Enugu upheld the claim by Assisi Asobie, Ogban Lyam, George Amadi, Obi Ibeano and Chuks Umegwuike, all leaders of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that they were illegally and unconstitutionally sacked by Umari Gomwalk, the sole administrator of the university. Hundreds waited outside the court for the verdict of Judge Rachid Kassim.
Wives and relatives of the five demonstrated their solidarity with the lecturers, who had not been paid their salaries for nine months.
There was dead silence when the judge found that the sole administrator, who had earlier, through his lawyer, relied on a military decree to challenge the court's jurisdiction, did not hear the matter fairly. The lecturers were not summoned before a disciplinary committee and they were, therefore, not given any opportunity to respond to their alleged offence. "I hereby declare the termination of the appointment of these lecturers as illegal, null and void," the judge said.
But Professor Gomwalk, whose absolute powers were invested upon him by military decrees, signed by Nigeria's military head of state, General Sani Abacha, immediately indicated he would defy the ruling and bluntly refused to reemploy the lecturers.
His defiance of the court order formed a part of the list of human rights violations by officials of the Nigerian government, submitted by a three-man UN appointed committee on the human rights situation in Nigeria, to the just-concluded United Nations Human Rights' Commission which sat in Geneva, Switzerland.
Asked about the university's defiance of the court's decision, Dr Asobie said: "By law, I am still an academic staff of this university, in the department of political science. Unfortunately, the head of the institution, Professor Gomwalk, has refused to obey the law."
There is still an atmosphere of uncertainty among the staff of the university. According to reliable sources, Professor Gomwalk strongly believes that he could punish any lecturer by referring his case before a military tribunal which is trying 18 of the university's lecturers for allegedly masterminding the violent student demonstration which occurred last January.