Trade unionists branded as campus security risk

February 28, 1997

LECTURERS who led the banned Academic Staff of Universities have been labelled "security risks" on the two campuses of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka.

The authorities have used the term to describe lecturers allegedly behind violent student disturbances over fee rises. The demonstrations led to the university's closure. The union was proscribed during a pay dispute that ended last year. Union national president Assisi Asobie, a senior lecturer in forestry, and George Amadi, local branch chair, have been named as a security risk.

Umaru Gomwalk, the university's administrator, ordered Dr Assobie out of his university quarters. He wrote: "I hereby direct that you pack out of the official residential quarters you are occupying immediately. This has become necessary and urgent because from security reports reaching me, your continued stay in the university is constituting a grave security risk. Therefore, for the interest of security on campus, you are to comply with the above directive."

The threat caused a stir among academics at the country's 38 universities. Mr Amadi, a former Nsukka student, wondered when and how he had become a security risk. "This recent ejection threat simply amounts to insanity. How can Professor Gomwalk claim to love UNN more than I do? I love UNN. I went through it, worked in it ever since, therefore I cannot be a security risk," he said.

In order to prevent Professor Gomwalk from enforcing the eviction the lecturers resorted to Enugu federal high court where the presiding judge, Rachid Kassim, had earlier made an order restraining the university from evicting any lecturer or dismissing them as permanent staff outside the terms of the edict creating the University of Nsukka in 1962.

The judge could not hide his displeasure over attempts by the university to flout his injunction until the case brought by the lecturers was disposed of. "The rate at which court orders are flouted by government functionaries is stripping the judiciary of honour and respect. Is there any law in this country which protects a person flouting court orders from facing the full weight of such?" he asked.

Judge Kassim added: "The court protects its orders and judgments jealously. Anybody who disobeys such orders would not be spared." Counsel for the university, Ejike Umeh, told the judge that he had filed another suit challenging the court's jurisdiction to hear the case, which he held was "a trade dispute".

He also argued that the banned union, under which umbrella the action was brought, was moribund. "It has died and when there is no plaintiff in a case, that is the end," he said.

Peter Eze, counsel for the lecturers, reminded the court that the university authorities had ample opportunity to comply with the court's earlier injunctions, but they preferred to disrespect and disregard its orders."

"The issue is that the court made an order restraining them from taking action. Whether the court had jurisdiction or not is not the question here. They should obey the orders first and until it is discharged, they cannot do anything contrary," he added.

As Justice Kassim summoned Professor Gomwalk to appear before him, to show why he should not be disciplined for disobeying court orders, a federal high court in Lagos ordered Professor Gomwalk and all other vice chancellors not to evict any lecturers while proceedings continued.

A lawyer for the lecturers travelled the 1,000 kms to Nsukka to inform the UNN authorities of the move.

The latest court order, coupled with agitation by students on other campuses over the new fees, has temporarily restrained Professor Gomwalk's attempts to eject the union leaders.

But influenced by past occasions when the university authorities openly flouted court orders because they had the backing of the military authorities, lecturers' families have quietly started to move some of their precious books, academic documents and personal belongings to undisclosed locations in anticipation of an expected swoop by security agents on their residential quarters.

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