THE troubled University of Fort Hare (UFH) is gunning for its controversial former dean of the public administration faculty, Professor Edwin Ijeoma, and demanding that he repay nearly R4.8 million.
Ijeoma and the Centre of Excellence for Scientific Research and Innovation (CSRI), of which the Nigerian-born academic is associate director-general and chairperson, are cited as respondents in the lawsuit that the UFH has filed in the Eastern Cape High Court in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown).
The UFH accuses Ijeoma of misconduct that led to losses amounting to R4 773 199.05, as well as material breaches of his employment contract.
Alternatively, the Eastern Cape institution alleges that Ijeoma violated his duty of good faith, resulting from his obligation to disgorge secret profits received to the tune of R4.8m and that the university was entitled to restitution of its performance based on the CSRI’s failure to perform in terms of its contractual obligations.
The UFH said Ijeoma was obliged not to work against the institution’s interests, obliged not to place himself in a position where his interests conflicted with the university’s, not to make a secret profit at its expense and not to receive any bribe, secret profit or commission in the course of or by means of his position as an employee.
In court, Ijeoma denied working against his former employer’s interests, placing himself in a position where his interests conflicted with the UFH’s, making secret profits at its expense and receiving secret profits by virtue of his employment and, as result, he is obliged to disgorge the secret profits.
The UFH contracted the CSRI, on several occasions, to perform work for the institution relating to externally funded projects that had been secured on the UFH’s behalf.
Ijeoma and the CSRI said the academic was also appointed by the UFH to run several other projects including three Institute for Development Assistance Management projects.
However, they deny that the appointments for externally funded projects were subject to the university’s supply chain management (SCM) policy and procedures as each project has its own agreed terms and conditions between the parties involved.
In addition, the UFH accuses Ijeoma of breaching its SCM policy and procedures, which state that all employees must comply with ethical standards and conflict of interest prescripts and that staff members have a fiduciary relationship with the university and, as such, are obliged to protect its interests and well-being.
”Therefore, the employee will neither seek nor accept financial gain in any interaction on behalf of the university. Conflict of interest may arise as a result of activities in which employees engage as private individuals.
“Employees must refrain from allowing their dealings on behalf of the university to be influenced by personal or family interests, or the interests of friends or associates,” states the UFH’s policies, which Ijeoma is alleged to have breached.
Under the policies, competition with the university is prohibited and employees may not accept any form of benefit or payment through the transaction of business on the institution’s behalf.
Eastern Cape High Court Judge Avinash Govindjee granted Ijeoma and the CSRI leave to amend their plea, to the extent set out in his judgment, within 10 days from August 17.
Ijeoma resigned from the UFH in February 2021, after it emerged that his South African citizenship had been revoked in 2013 and that he had allegedly run a degree scam that benefited several prominent politicians after having been placed on precautionary suspension in 2020.
He is also a key person of interest in a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe into allegations of improperly admitting unqualified public servants and politicians to programmes in the UFH department he previously headed.
In June, Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane successfully interdicted the SIU investigation into his admission, pending the outcome of his application to have President Cyril Ramaphosa’s August 2022 proclamation authorising the investigation declared unlawful, invalid and set aside.
Mabuyane also wants the SIU’s investigation, in terms of the proclamation, declared unconstitutional and invalid.
A UFH probe discovered prima facie evidence of Mabuyane’s complicity in having his research proposal for his Master’s degree prepared for him by post-doctoral students under Ijeoma.
But Ijeoma insisted in court that Mabuyane’s registration with the UFH for his Master’s programme was proper even though it appeared he was enrolled for a PhD at the time he registered for a Master’s degree.
Mabuyane’s supervisor was Ijeoma.
Ijeoma told the Sunday Independent this week that the matter was sub judice and that he would be willing to speak only after the matter was finalised in court.