The attention of the Management of Captain Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, Rumuola, Port Harcourt, has been drawn to an embarrassing report and video clips founded on falsehood and deception that recently went viral on social media posted by Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye, a lecturer in the Polytechnic, alleging that he has not been paid for six (6) months, following which he has purportedly engaged himself as a commercial bus conductor.
Ordinarily, it would have been unnecessary to respond to such mendacious and misleading narrative in view of the fact that the Polytechnic as a responsible corporate citizen, is established by law and governed by rules, procedures and regulations. There are also various mechanisms and levels of ventilation of grievances and resolution of disputes by both staff and students, including resort to appropriate legal remedy in any court of competent jurisdiction under the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, where necessary (which Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye has not exhausted), instead of recourse to spurious claims, emotional blackmail of a gaslighter personality and dramatization on social media in order to whip up public sentiments and sympathy.
Consequently, it has become unavoidably imperative to make the following informed and verifiable clarifications on the said vexatious and unfounded allegation by Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye for the benefit of all concerned persons, education stakeholders and members of the public:
1. The Government of Rivers State under the leadership of the Governor and Visitor to the Polytechnic, His Excellency, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, CON, GSSRS, POS (Africa) is not owing arrears of salary to any staff of the Polytechnic, including Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye. Monthly salaries have always been paid to all staff of the Polytechnic promptly and regularly. This, among others, has singled out the Governor as being workers friendly.
2. The Lawyers Watch for Justice International Initiative, a Human Rights Organization, whose official address is No. 12 Isiokpo Street, D-Line, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, by a petition dated 25th May, 2021 and signed by Tom Charles Nwoke, Esq. on behalf of Miss Blessing Audu Lucky captioned “Petition of Attempted Rape, Indecent Assault, Intent to Abduct, Harassment, Intimidation and Abuse of Office Against Miss Blessing Audu Lucky by Mr. Zoe Tamunotonye Solomon” was written to the Management of the Polytechnic.
3. Tom Charles Nwoke, Esq. in the said petition claimed that Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye, an academic staff in the Department of Public Administration engaged the services of Miss Blessing Audu Lucky who incidentally is a student in the Department of Accountancy as his Personal Assistant in ZOETAMS ORGANIZATION “a company wholly owned by him and situate at No.2 Diriyai Lane, G.R.A, Phase 2, Port Harcourt”, implying the existence of employer- employee relationship between Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye and Miss Blessing Audu Lucky.
4. In particular, the Petitioner, among others, also stated thus:
“Mr. Zoe’s brutal actions thus far; his physical, verbal, emotional and psychological assaults on our client and her family has caused them mental trauma. The fear of our client being harassed, sexually assaulted and abducted by Mr. Zoe has made her to no longer be consistent with her academic pursuit. We therefore, call on you to use your good office to investigate the abuse of office, the sexual harassment, intimidation, physical and verbal abuse and threat (sic) abduct Miss Blessing Audu Lucky by Mr. Zoe Tamunotonye Solomon.”
5. The Management of the Polytechnic initially exercised caution on the said petition and acted under legal advisement in view of the fact that the petition arose from employer-employee and not lecturer-student relationship and considering that the matter appeared to have been resolved by the parties at the time.
6. However, between 29th December, 2021 and 6th January, 2022, Management was irked by the spate of reports in certain sections of the media, particularly the electronic and social media by one Mrs. Ruth Audu (mother of Miss Blessing Audu Lucky), some Human Rights Activists and public commentators accusing the Management of the Polytechnic of condoning and protecting one of its lecturers, Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye who was alleged to have been involved in the harassment, intimidation, unlawful arrest and detention of Miss Blessing Audu Lucky.
7. Accordingly, in a swift response to the negative reports in the media, Management at its Special Meeting held on 7th January 2022, took the following actions:
i. Issued a Press release through the Registrar, Chris Woke, Esq. disassociating itself completely from the alleged misconduct by Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye.
Suspended Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye from office for three months without pay with effect from 10Ul January, 2022, in connection with allegations of harassment and exploitation of a female student, Miss Blessing Audu Lucky and other acts of misconduct prejudicial to the good name of the Polytechnic in line with the relevant Provisions of the law establishing the Polytechnic and the Senior Staff Conditions of Service; and,
iii. Constituted an Investigative Committee to investigate the alleged misconduct and submit its report to Management within one month.
8. The terms of reference of the Committee were to:
(i) investigate the allegations of harassment and exploitation of a female student of the Polytechnic, Miss Blessing Audu Lucky and other acts prejudicial to the good name, discipline and proper administration of the Polytechnic.
(ii) invite and receive testimonies from both parties, staff, students, the Police and members of the public in respect of the allegations.
9. One Prince Wiro Junior under the aegis of the Centre for Basic Rights Protection and Accountability Campaign whose office address is at 27b Ada- George Road, Port Harcourt, in a letter dated 14/01/2022, addressed to the Management of the Polytechnic and captioned “The Role of Centre for Basic Rights and LAWII on the Incident Involving Blessing Audu (Female Student) and Zoe Tamunotonye Solomon (Lecturer)” inter alia, stated that:
“We were informed by our partner, Lawyers Watch for Justice International Initiative (LAWSII) that were earlier briefed by the father of Blessing Audu, a female student of Captain Elechi Amadi Polytechnic (sic) was arrested by Police Officers attached to Sani Abacha Police Division in GRA, Port Harcourt, following a complaint of alleged diversion of Two hundred and fifty thousand Naira (N250,000.00) and theft of property belonging to Zoe Tamunotonye Solomon (complainant) who is also a Lecturer in the institution…we interacted with Blessing Audu and she denied diverting money belonging to the Lecturer. Blessing Audu also denied stealing property belonging to Zoe Tamunotonye Solomon. Blessing Audu in the course of our interaction with her in the Police Station told us that Mr. Tamunotonye Solomon suddenly came up with allegations of diversion of money and theft after she turned down his alleged love advance/marriage proposal. As an organization which promotes rule of law, we requested that the female student should be granted bail while investigation into the allegation made by Zoe Tamunotonye Solomon against her continues and if she is culpable, the law should take its course.
The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the station declined granting Blessing Audu bail even after she has spent twenty-four hours in detention. On Friday, 31st December, 2021, Isiaka Jamiu Isiaka, Esq. a Lawyer representing the two organizations went back to the Police Division to request that Blessing Audu be granted bail or arraign (sic) in court if she is culpable of the allegations against her since she has already spent forty- eight hours in detention. From all indications, the Police was unwilling to grant Blessing Audu bail or arraign her in court if she is culpable. At that point, we felt that the action of the Police in keeping Blessing Audu in detention beyond forty-eight hours without valid court order or arraigning her in court is a breach of her fundamental human right. We retch (sic) out to the Commissioner of Police, CP Friday Ebuka to critically look at the matter. The. Commissioner of Police in Rivers State on Friday 31st December, 2021, instructed the DPO to bring Mr. Zoe Tamunotonye Solomon and Blessing Audu to his office where the Commissioner of Police interviewed the lecturer and the student. After the interview the Commissioner of Police ordered the immediate release of Blessing Audu and dismissed the case. That is our level of involvement in the matter”.
10. Mr. Tamunotonye in his written testimony to the Investigative Committee dated 13th January, 2022 confirmed that the matter between him and Miss Blessing Audu Lucky had been resolved by the Police.
11. He admitted in his written testimony under reference that he was informed by “a media personnel” that he was suspended by the Polytechnic for “Sexual harassment”. The reasons for his suspension which were contained in our press release on 7/01/2022, have been stated in paragraphs 7 and 8 above and were communicated to him in our letter of suspension from service and invitation to appear before the Investigative Committee. They need not be restated.
12. The Centre for Basic Rights Protection and Accountability Campaign further stated: “we commend the management of the institution for the step it has taken so far with respect to the matter.”
13. Upon submission of the Report of the findings and recommendations of the Investigative Committee, Management took the following decisions:
(i) that Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye’s conduct as widely reported in the media amounted to misconduct to the scandal and prejudicial to the good name of the Polytechnic in line with the relevant provisions of the law establishing the Polytechnic and justifies his suspension from service without pay for a period of three months;
(ii) that the three months suspension imposed on Mr. Tamunotonye should be lifted with effect from 10th April, 2022, subject to:
(a) an unreserved written apology by Mr. Tamunotonye to Management for his misconduct; and,
(b) to enter into an undertaking in writing to be of good behaviour throughout his period of service in the Polytechnic;
(iii) that Mr. Tamunotonye should be strongly warned against such or similar unwholesome act in future, especially any wilful act or behaviour prejudicial to the good name of the Polytechnic.
14. The decisions of Management were duly communicated to Mr. Tamunotonye vide letter ref. GC/CEAP/REG/1181 dated 11th April, 2022, for his attention and compliance.
15. Mr. Tamunotonye in a letter dated 5th May, 2022 deliberately refused to comply with the decisions and directives of Management. In fact, in paragraph 9 of his letter, Mr. Tamunotonye stated that:
“To the best of my knowledge, I have not committed any misconduct as alleged. The issue at stake has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the Polytechnic. It was a business transaction carried out outside the Polytechnic premises between myself and Miss Lucky Audu, a lady who was placed on internship duties in my humanitarian organization and who uptill now has not confessed or proved any form of harassment and exploitation against me, although, it is only coincidental that she is a student and I am a staff of the Polytechnic”.
16. In response to Mr. Tamunotonye’s letter under reference, Management in a letter dated 19,n May, 2022 reminded him that its decisions and directives on the Report of the Findings and Recommendations of the Investigative Committee were direct, specific and unambiguous and should not have elicited such uncouth response from him.
17. Management restated that his conduct and unwholesome acts (including but not limited to his continuous, unauthorized, embarrassing and unguarded statements at press interviews on electronic media and posts on social media) were considered prejudicial to the good name of the Polytechnic and amounted to misconduct as provided by the law establishing the Polytechnic and the Senior Staff Conditions of Service, especially with reference to Professional Ethics for Academic Staff.
18. Management further directed Mr. Tamunotonye in the same letter under reference to the effect that he was “strongly required” to comply with its decisions and directives within one week and in any case, not later than 31st May, 2022, failing which Management would invoke necessary administrative and disciplinary measures against him in line with the law establishing the Polytechnic.
19. Again, in another reply to Management’s letter dated 26th May, 2022, Mr. Tamunotonye, among others, expressly stated: “I still stand on my earlier position as stated in my response to Management decision on the alleged misconduct dated 5th May, 2022.” He emphasized that he would rather face the appropriate punishment than to write “a mere apology letter”.
20. Mr. Tamunotonye through O. C. Higher King, Esq. of Higher King Chambers (Legal Practitioners) of No. 6 Azikiwe Road, Port Harcourt, in a letter dated 25th May 2022, wrote to the Management of the Polytechnic on the subject with a caveat “to put the law in motion with more costs” if his demands were not satisfied after twenty- one (21) days of receipt of the letter. The 21 days ultimatum had since elapsed.
21. Mr. Tamunotonye by his express words and actions, having elected not to comply with the lawful decisions and directives of Management (including effective resumption and performance of his official duties) after his suspension was lifted in April, 2022 is not entitled to remuneration.
22. As the legal maxim volenti non fit injuria states, a person who voluntarily and willingly consents or undertakes to take a risk or action cannot turn around to complain or bring action against the other party on the consequences of the risk or action.
In other words, a person is not wronged by that to which the person consents. Similarly, it is trite that a person cannot approbate and reprobate: a person cannot accept and reject an instrument at the same time or choose what is favourable and reject what appears to be unfavourable in an instrument. These maxims are applicable to Mr. Tamunotonye in this instance.
Management has taken time to chronologically present and clarify the underlying facts of the subject matter of the spurious claim by Mr. Zoe Solomon Tamunotonye that he has not been paid for six months, and hereby unequivocally and completely refutes the claim. The said claim is exasperating, deliberately intended to misinform, deceive and mislead members of the public as well as malign the reputation of the Polytechnic. Management will remain committed to the actualization of the objects of the Polytechnic, uphold the rights and ensure the maintenance of high level of discipline among members of staff and students at all times and follow due process in handling all matters brought before it for determination in the interest of fairness, justice and equity.
Chris A. Woke Esq