Ocheni: A professor and his bag of worms

Ocheni: A professor and his bag of worms

Friday, April 7, 2017 5:52 pm

Stephen Ikani Ocheni


Prof. Stephen Ikani Ocheni, a ministerial nominee from Kogi State has been engrossed in allegations of academic fraud raised by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU

By Our Reporters

It took President Muhammadu Buhari more than a year to shop for a replacement for late Barrister James Ocholli, minister of state for labor and employment. Tragedy enveloped the country Sunday, 6 March, last year when Kogi state born Ocholi, along with his wife and son, died in an accident while returning from Kaduna. Buhari Tuesday, last week sent two nominees, Professor Stephen Ikani Ocheni and Suleman Hassan to the Senate for confirmation to fill vacuums in his cabinet. Ocheni, a professor of accounting in Kogi State University, Anyigba, is to replace Ocholli while Hassan is to replace Amina Mohammed former minister of Environment from Gombe State who had recently picked up an international engagement at the United Nations headquarters in New York as Deputy Secretary General.

Since his nomination, Ocheni’s kinsmen and foot soldiers, perhaps on automated mode, have praised the President to high heavens for the decision. They have visited high places in Lokoja and Abuja with their messages of commendation for the President. The kinsmen through their community organisation, Igalamela Community Stakeholders at a press conference in Lokoja said Ochieni is compatible with the President’s dogged fight against corruption.

Shaibu Amodu, President of the organisation said, “Our son is a man of impeccable character that has excelled in several spheres of life, rising to the peak of his career in the academic world. The nominee is highly resourceful, innovative, versatile and hard working. He has distinguished himself as an astute administrator, academic and a diplomat per excellence. He garnishes these rare qualities and attributes with the absolute fear of God.” May be they were right. Ocheni’s rise in the civil service had been meteoric.

But as Ocheni’s kith and kin are singing his praise, so are his traducers laboring hard to put a lie to the pious claims. Indeed, if allegations of academic fraud and certificate forgery flying around against Ocheni are anything to go by, he may face a herculean task scaling the Senate’s screening and the president may not wish to touch him even with a long pole, thereafter. Many of Ocheni’s colleagues at KSU raise questions on his PhD degree and cast aspersions on his professorship.

To be certain, the allegations are not new. In fact, they long predate his recent nomination. Documents in possession of TheNews show that the travails started in the 2013/14 academic session. That year, Prof. Hassan Isah, then Vice Chancellor of KSU, made two controversial appointments into the Department of Accounting. He appointed Dr. Iwarere, Henry Taiwo as Associate Professor and brought in Dr. Stephen Ocheni directly from the civil service and made him a Professor of accounting. Until that time Dr. Ocheni was a Director of Finance and Accounts in the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

ASUU’s letter on the professor 1

ASUU’s letter on the professor 2

Not one to stomach such open rape of protocols, the local branch of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU kicked and cried foul over the appointments. The union at its congress on Wednesday, October 9th 2013, eventually set up a five-member committee to investigate the matter. The committee had Prof J.I Omada as Chairman and Dr. L.Y Akor as Secretary. Other members were Profs D.T. Adamo, T. Oluwagbemi and F.G. Ogbe.

The committee was to check the Curriculum Vitae of the appointees, verify the claims therein and “determine the appropriateness of the two recent appointments into professorial cadre in the Faculty of Management Sciences with reference to the approved guidelines for the appointments and promotions of academic staff.”

After exhaustive deliberations, the committee upheld the appointment of Iwarere as ‘appropriate,’ although it noted that he had “concurrent and overlapping employment history,” it advised the management of KSU to sort out this mix up with the candidate as a precondition for formalizing his appointment.” But its verdict on Ocheni was damning and less charitable.

On page 6 of its report, the Committee says it “established that Dr. Ocheni’s claim of having a Ph.D Degree in Public Administration from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka was false. What the candidate had is actually a Doctor of Public Administration. The status of his Doctor of Public Administration degree is contained on pages 81-84 of the programme of the 34th convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria, (UNN) Nsukka, held on April 2, 2005.” The Committee then held that Ocheni’s appointment was ‘inappropriate’ and gave the following reasons for its conclusion.

1. He did not hold a Ph.D degree. He only possessed a Doctor of Public Administration, (DPA) which is an executive management certificate and not an academic qualification. He also did not possess first and second academic degrees. II. The candidate had twenty two (22) publications, two (2) short of the minimum of twenty four (24) publications for promotion to the rank of professor. The nineteen (19) journal publications were not well spread out as eight (8) were published in one website in one year alone (2012). III. The candidate had no University teaching experience and therefore did not satisfy the minimum of ten years teaching experience requirement as contained in the approved guidelines for appointment and promotions of academic staff. The claim that he taught at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels including postgraduate supervision at the University of Nigeria. Nsukka could not be substantiated.”

The committee made further discoveries. It said although Ocheni claimed to have 26 works, only 19 are actually published. “All the published articles were co-authored, meaning that there was no one single authored journal publication. Furthermore, all the papers were published within a space of three years (2011- 2013) and 80% of them by the same group of authors.”

But, the authority of KSU and Ocheni insist his appointment conforms with laid down guidelines for such appointments. In fact, documents in possession of this magazine suggest that Ocheni’s appointment was given accelerated considerations. His application letter was received by the University on Tuesday, 17-09-13 and by Friday 27-09-13, he had been offered appointment as professor subject to positive external assessment of his publications.

Contrary to the fears of ASUU, Ocheni displays a PhD certificate in Pub Admin/ Local Government (Financial Management) from UNN. Also in a letter addressed to Dr Y.M Abdullahi, ASUU Chairperson at KSU dated 28 January 2015, the School of Postgraduate Studies, UNN, Nsukka confirms that Ochenni “was offered admission into the PhD degree programme of the Department of Public Administration in 2001/2002 academic session. Ocheni Stephen Ikani successfully completed the programme and was awarded the PhD degree of the University in March 2004.” The letter, signed by said.

The confirmations not withstanding, Ocheni’s critics vehemently vow that his academic claims still leave a lot of gaps. On the strength of the KSU ASUU Committee’s report, the national secretariat of ASUU on 12th December, 2015 conducted further investigations into the matter and appealed to the KSU management to reverse Ocheni’s appointment. In the letter to Prof. Aliu Abdullahi, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman KSU, signed by ASUU President Nasir F. Isa, PhD, the union queried Ocheni’s suitability to pursue a PhD.

“It is not cleat if S.I Ocheni obtained a PhD degree in the Department of Public Administration (Finance Management) of the University of Nigeria, NSukka in 2004. His highest educational qualifications are HND and MBA which are not eligible requirements for admission into PhD programme in University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Ocheni was appointed a professor without any teaching experience in the University system – clear violation of the KSU Appointment and Promotion guidelines which require a minimum ten years of teaching and research experience..”

ASUU is unsparing in its claims. “S.I. Ocheni’s Curriculum Vitae submitted for assessment is incongruous and suspicious. He claimed to have taught some undergraduate and post-graduate courses but did not indicate when and where he taught those curses. He also claimed to have supervised seven (7) post-graduate theses at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka between 2004 and 2006 with one Prof. B.C Nwankwo, said to be his supervisor at UNN especially at a time when he said he was a doctoral student. All the twenty two (22) journal articles listed in his CV (published between 2011 and 2013) were co-authored with the same Prof. Nwankwo who is now a staff of KSU, Anyigba and who was the Dean who recommended his appointment to the Vice-Chancellor. Prof. Nwankwo was also a member of the panel that interviewed Ocheni for the controversial appointment.”

The union concluded that it believed Ocheni’s appointment as professor was in errors and called on the Governing Council to revert it in order to promote academic excellence and respect for rules and regulations governing the University system. The dust over the incongruities in his academic profile were yet to settle when the Senate received a letter from President Buhari seeking his confirmation as a minister.

Ocheni is from Uwowo, a small village in Igalemela-Odolu Local Government of Kogi State. He attended the Federal Polytechnic, Idah where he obtained an HND certificate in 1983 and earned an MBA from Enugu State University in 1990. His rise in the civil service had been meteoric. He was in the service of Kogi State Government between 1992 and 2003. He became Permanent Secretary, Government House Administration in the year 2000, a position he held until 2003 when he joined the federal civil service as a Director.

This is the profile of President Buhari’s latest ministerial nominee. The question on the lips of many people is “Why the desperation to make an unqualified candidate a professor? Will the allegation of academic fraud rear its ugly head and ultimately affect his chances at Senate screening? Only time will tell.

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