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Car theft case against renowned Nigerian Academic, Professor Edwin Ijeoma, thrown out of South African Court

Car theft case against renowned Nigerian Academic, Professor Edwin Ijeoma, thrown out of South African Court

The Zwelitsha Magistrate Court, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, dismissed for lack of merit the case of car theft brought against renowned Nigerian academic Professor Edwin Ijeoma by his former employers, the University of Fort Hare (UFH).

The charge was instituted following his voluntary resignation in February last year due to what he described as personal attacks masterminded by the UFH Vice Chancellor. Professor Sakhela Buhlungu.
“For me, these attacks have become too personal and always come with one-UFH Management side of the story and press releases on news and other social media platforms. It brings to mind Professor Chinua Achebe’s famous quote, “Until lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter,” Professor Ijeoma lamented in the resignation letter.
For the first time, the former Head, Public Administration, University of Fort Hare narrated his side of the story in this long and revealing exclusive interview with Global News Network (GNN):
GNN: Thank you, Prof, for agreeing to speak with us and congratulations on your victory at the court.
PROF IJEOMA: Thank you very much.
GNN: You have always maintained that your travails at UFH were instigated and insisted that you won’t go to press about it as the case was still in court. Now, the Magistrate Court’s judgement has vindicated you. How do you feel?
PROF IJEOMA: Relieved. The January 11, 2022 ruling by Magistrate Venter gave me tremendous relief from the trauma of knowing that someone was deliberately making life difficult for me and trying to rubbish not only my hard-earned reputation, but also my family name.
GNN: By ‘someone’, you mean the Vice Chancellor of Fort Hare University, Professor Sakhela Buhlungu. Why are you so sure that he is the mastermind?
PROF IJEOMA: Well, first, our people say if an owl cried in a compound at night and a baby dies in the morning, you don’t need to ask if witchcraft was the cause of death. Professor Buhlungu’s vindictiveness is an open secret. I’m not the only victim of his witch-hunting and xenophobic tendencies.
GNN: How do you mean?
PROF IJEOMA: When he assumed office in early January 2017, Professor Buhlungu openly indulged in xenophobic rhetoric against non-South African black academics by calling on the people of the Eastern Cape to reclaim their university from the foreign blacks. His call led to an eruption of conspiracy theories, distrust, and professional envy amongst  academic and non-academic  staff of UFH  for the first time in  its over one hundred  years of historic and enviable  legacies, in which Africans  born outside South Africa played prominent roles. The VC propagated conspiracy theories around what he considered the UFH’s legacy of selling master’s and doctoral programmes under the leadership of his two former predecessors. It got so bad that he had to hire bodyguards and protectors, a measure that incurred extra financial burden for the already financially handicapped university.
Moreso, the university has what is called the Convocation AGM Report, which evaluates its administration and performance. In the 2021 Convocation AGM Report, the president of the university’s Convocation, Solomzi Tshona, lamented the fate of the university since Professor Buhlungu became the VC in 2017. The report complained about what it termed the “Xenophobia and exclusion of foreign academics and foreign students.”
It declared:
“We received reports the Fort Hare management target foreign students and foreign academics to exclude them. It is dangerous when people start making allegations that the VC is highly Xenophobic in his approach. Even now, foreign students who complained that they did not have anywhere to go during lockdown are being taken to DC for crying that they have nowhere to go. We are no longer a caring university.”
The report also drew attention to the unstable management at UFH. According to it, this is indicated by the culture of hiring and firing of top managers.
“We always have most positions that have people on Acting Capacity e.g., Acting DVC, Acting Dean of Students and Acting SRC etc. It is well known that since the arrival of the VC, a registrar was fired, two DVCs were fired, Deans of students were fired, managers in various divisions were fired, and CFOs were fired. We observed that of all these people fired, none of them was found guilty by any tribunal or court of law. We also observed that it is only the VC who is right everyone else is wrong. Unstable management compromises quality and institutional memory.”
GNN: We see that you are reading from the Convocation Report. What else does it say about the nature of the VC?
PROF IJEOMA: Indeed, I am. It is a public document. The report lay the blame for the dwindling fortunes of the university squarely at the feet of the “Incompetent and vindictive Vice-Chancellor”.
“It is now clearer to the convocation that we have an incompetent and useless Vice Chancellor at the University of Fort Hare. He arrived 5 years ago with a mantra of fighting corruption, and he is still fighting corruption until his term ends with no successful conviction of those alleged to be corrupt. We are now known as a university for losing a lot of court cases in a very embarrassing way. All the managers of the university fear him instead of respecting him. The VC fires the alleged corrupt and replaces them with questionable characters that are alleged to be corrupt again. The university under his term is very hostile to the provincial government as you all can see in the public domain that provincial officials are always haunted and discouraged to work closely with the university. The VC has no ideas at all; when he wakes up every morning his agenda is to look for the next target person to victimize. Now that the term of office of the current VC is approaching an end it is very important for all of you as the convocation to help the university to identify a new Leader with a vision to unite and rebuild our institution.”
GNN: Talking about reports, there was a report in the media that you were behind the illegal admission of postgraduate students at UFH. What was that about?
PROF IJEOMA: Thanks for referring to that. In fact, the same Convocation Report commented on the controversy surrounding the admission of prominent South Africans for postgraduate studies at the university. It stated:
“We cannot have a university that fails to defend even its own admission policy which allows recognition of prior learning (RPL). The university may think that they are embarrassing senior leaders whom they do not like but it is the university itself that is embarrassing itself in public. If we allow the University to continue to embarrass itself in public soon, we will be left with no University to talk about”.

GNN: One of the senior leaders mentioned in that media report was the Premier of the Eastern Cape Province, Hon. Oscar Mabuyane, who happens to be a former students’ leader of the same university. Did you have a hand in that?
PROF IJEOMA: I had a very good working relationship with the Premier, a brilliant young man I respect a lot. He supported the work we were doing at the Institute for Development Assistance Management of the University of Fort Hare, which I headed. I think that didn’t go down well with the VC, for whatever reason. But Hon. Mabuyane spoke for himself on the matter. I have his response here, contained in a press release from his office. It said pointedly:
“I have no letter from the University informing me that I will be deregistered nor am I aware of the University’s intention to (de)register me as suggested by the Sunday World journalist. I understand the university has confirmed same. Since the beginning of this academic year, the University has been in contact with me and the last correspondence was the replacement of my instructor ostensibly as a result of the suspension by the institution of Prof Edwin Ijeoma.
The last communication I received from the University of Fort Hare last week Friday was informing me that my ethical clearance application was approved by the University for me to start with the research part of my MA course.”

GNN: Did you have a personal fallout with the VC or existing cases of professional misconduct recorded against you that he could have been acting on?
PROF IJEOMA: None, whatsoever, as far as I know. In my eleven years of dedicated and severally commended service at the University, I was never told about or questioned on any wrongdoing by any person, office or the University Management structures. The first time I knew there was fire on the mountain was when I was suspended on October 16, 2020. About  a month earlier, precisely on September 23, 2020, the Vice Chancellor, Professor Sakhela Buhlungu dispatched a notice of suspension captioned “Precautionary Suspension of Two Staff Members” to the University Community. He stated the alleged offences in the notice but did not mention the names of the offenders. Prof. Buhlungu did not officially brief the South African media and the global community on the two staff members. But in my case, in an apparently well-orchestrated attempt to assassinate my character and undermine my outstanding legacy at the University of Fort Hare (UFH) and my home country, Nigeria, he circulated the notice of my suspension to the media.
In hindsight, though, I think it has to do with the VC’s sense of insecurity. For instance, I planned and led the implementation of the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency of the Eastern Cape Department of Agriculture and Agrarian Reforms (DARDAR)’s rural development conference, which took place in Magwa Tea Estate in Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape, from January 28-30, 2020, on behalf of the Institute for Development Assistance Management (IDAM) of the University of Fort Hare. It was an exceedingly successful and widely reported conference with the Premier, the MEC DRDAR and two Deputy Ministers from the national departments in attendance. Several of these dignitaries commended the role I played. Shortly after the conference, on February 3, 2020, two senior managers from the Institutional Advancement Unit of UFH came to me with a message from the VC that I should be made to realise that IDAM was becoming more prominent than the university itself. Therefore, I should remove all IDAM signposts at different locations on the Bisho Campus of the university, where my office was located. I expressed my disappointment at the pettiness of that decision and requested them to convey an official letter on the matter to me. I never got that letter. Looking back, I think the success of that conference did not sit well with the VC, who easily feels threatened when he thinks someone else from the university community is taking the shine off him.
GNN: We saw reports of your alleged criminality in several provincial and national newspapers. For instance, The Daily Dispatch, published in the Eastern Cape Province that hosts the university, reported your resignation in its 5th March 2021 issue, citing fraud. How do you respond to that?
PROF IJEOMA: Let me first say that the wicked tale was disseminated on several platforms, including the University of Fort Hare’s staff and students’ notice platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. Professor Buhlungu had no authority to inform the institution or the International community about my employment at the University of Fort Hare. There was no similar communication when I joined the University in 2009, and there have never been such communications on all the milestones, outstanding legacies, and innovations initiated and implemented by me during my service at the University of Fort Hare.
GNN: Our readers would be interested in these “outstanding milestones.” Do you mind sharing with them?
PROF IJEOMA: Certainly not! I don’t mind at all.
You know, my people say the Agama lizard nods its head because of what it experienced. The lizard had a free fall from the top of an iroko tree, looked around to see if anyone would praise it for the feat, but no one did. It looked at the height of the tree, nodded its head and said to itself, “I tried!”
Ordinarily, I’m a very modest person. But since you asked, let me mention just a few of my accomplishments at UFH.

  • I successfully supervised and graduated about 50 Masters, 60 Honours and 45 Doctorate degree students.
  • I wrote and co-authored 21 books and book chapters that are recommended texts at Fort Hare University and beyond, the latest of which are:
  • Ijeoma EOC and Nzewi IO (2018) Editors: Culture, philosophies and reforms in public administration for the globalizing world: A reflection on local, regional and international perspectives. AOSIS Publishers.
  • Wessels S, Kwaza MH and Ijeoma EOC (2021) Sustained Poor Audit Outcomes: The case of the Amathole District Municipality in Public Administration Challenges: Cases from Africa, supported by the National School of Government, South Africa, and funded by the European Union Commission. Edited by Jacobus S Wessels, Juta Publishers. Pp.247-274.•

I pioneered the following academic journals:
Founder and Chief Editor (2013-2021)

  • Africa’s Public Service Delivery and Performance Review published by the Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Networks (ISDMN) in collaboration with Institute for Development Assistance Management (IDAM), University of Fort Hare.

Founder and Chief Editor: (2015-2019)
Journal for Local Government Research and Innovation (JLGRI). Published by the School of Government and Public Administration, University of Fort Hare.

  • I attended over 50 local and international conferences.
  • I am a recipient of many prestigious academic research and scholarly awards.
  • I am the pioneer Project Leader and was the Director of the Institute for Development Assistance Management (IDAM) from 2010- 2021, as well as a director at Fort Hare Solutions from 2009 when I joined the university until my resignation in 2021. Fort Hare Solutions is a business, research, and training company fully owned by the University of Fort Hare on whose behalf I signed and raked in millions of rands in contracts and sponsorships and facilitated many external partnerships and projects.

It needs to be mentioned that UFH head-hunted me from the University of Pretoria to replicate my innovative ideas and outstanding contributions backed by my experience as a research specialist at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). I leveraged those experience and connections to drive and position IDAM and Fort Hare Solutions as a global brand for over a decade.
GNN: Fantastic! Back to the issue of media reports, News 24, a South African national news publication, reported in its April 30, 2021, edition, ‘Former Fort Hare Professor appears in court after a month on the run from the police’. Why were you on the run?
PROF IJEOMA: I think the correct question should be whether I was on the run. When I read that story, I laughed and wondered if the editor or whoever commissioned the story knows the meaning of the expression “on the run”. In my almost eleven years of meritorious service at UFH, I worked on the Bisho Campus. My residences in King Williams Town and Pretoria were in the university’s Human Resources database and were known to staff and students. My mobile phones have been active and open for direct communication for over 20 years. Yet, I was said to be on the run from the investigating police officer (IPO), who admitted under oath that he never even phoned me.
GNN: The same paper reported that “Ijeoma stole a vehicle and irregularly admitted and registered two students including the Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabunyane.” And that the UFH lay charges against Prof Ijeoma.
PROF IJEOMA: The authors of the article, which was also published in the Sunday World, acted on information from Professor Buhlungu without bothering to contact me, either on my mobile phone or via e-mail, to hear my side of the story, thus publishing fake news. I never stole a car. That, of course, has been attested to by the Magistrate Court’s ruling. The alleged stolen car was my official car as the Director of IDAM.

A car parked on the side of the road  Description automatically generated with low confidenceMy official car as the Director Institute for Development Assistance Management (IDAM), University of Fort Hare, that I reportedly stole

GNN: The same article reported, ‘Fort Hare Professor expelled from South Africa over a bigamous marriage.’
PROF IJEOMA:  I was never expelled by any South African authority; otherwise, I wouldn’t be here in South Africa having this conversation. That news was not only FAKE, but also malicious and grossly unprofessional.
GNN:  It was also reported ‘the Head of the UFH School of Public Administration is under suspension by the University in connection with the illegal registration of the axed Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba for an honours degree in Public Administration.’
No one suspended me over admission matters. By the way, I was neither the Admissions Manager nor the Registrar of UFH. The truth is that I was suspended to enable Professor Buhlungu to dig for incriminating evidence of what he thought I might have done wrong long before he joined the UFH as Vice Chancellor. This is buttressed by the fact that it took the UFH about five months after my suspension to fabricate charges against me on issues that took place ten years earlier. These unfounded allegations were published via the following outlets:                University of Fort Hare Notice platforms, Sunday World, Daily Dispatch, and News 24.
GNN: You’re obviously disappointed at the way the media handled your story. Many unpalatable terms were used to describe you in the process, including car thief, fugitive, fraudster, etc. This verdict has put a lie to all that. Are you contemplating seeking any redress?
PROF IJEOMA: For now, I’m just happy that I’ve been vindicated. Real judgement is from God. I leave my traducers and their collaborators to God, although I doubt whether such people believe in God. I hope other innocent people do not go through the type of media trial I experienced. The publications that went to town with my story to boost their circulation figures did not contact me to hear my side of the story. Instead, they fed the public lies concocted by their sponsors. That was not only unfair but also unethical.
I want to use this opportunity to appeal to the relevant regulatory authorities to continue to sanction any media outfit or publication, conventional or online, that is in the habit of flouting its sacrosanct journalistic ethics and standards or the professional code of ethics that requires print, broadcast and online media to uphold the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability. These ethics, which include the principle of “limitation of harm” as in withholding certain details or information not materially related to the news report, where the release of such information might harm someone’s reputation, were clearly breached in a number of the instances mentioned above.
GNN: As you said, media ethics are indeed sacrosanct. Finally, permit us to ask about your plans for the future professionally.
PROF IJEOMA: Well, you can’t keep a good man down. All my adult life, my passion has been to contribute to the body of knowledge globally. God has given me the grace to do that substantially. By the same grace, we are working as a consortium of seasoned professionals to advance that noble cause under the auspices of the Centre of Excellence for Scientific Research & Innovation.
Also, I’m open to any opportunity that would provide me with a platform to feed my passion for mentoring young graduates and postgraduate students.
GNN: Thank you very much, Professor Ijeoma, for sharing your experience with us. We wish you the best going forward.
PROF IJEOMA: I thank you for seeking the truth. Let me also use this medium to thank my family members, friends and professional colleagues, who believe in ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and stood by me throughout the ordeal, as well as my attorneys and the magistrate for their professionalism. This has proven to everyone that fair justice is still obtainable in South Africa.


Professor Edwin Ijeoma
Car theft
Professor Sakhela Buhlungu
University of Fort Hare


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