Behind UNICAL's Protests: Harrowing Accounts from Cyril Ndifon's Victims
Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. Sources' names have been withheld for their protection.
The prevalence of sexual harassment in the form of Sex for Grades in Nigerian tertiary institutions continues to pose a threat and an impediment to the future of female students within the university community. These issues continue to be overlooked as victims often do not feel safe enough to report incidents. Most tertiary institutions do not have proper reporting mechanisms and structures to protect victims or provide pathways that could lead to justice for them.
The rot stems from the culture of silence that prevails within all types of gender-based violence, victim blaming, and fear due to lecturer-student power dynamics.
On 14th August 2023, some students of the Faculty of Law, University of Calabar rallied outside the office of the Vice Chancellor of the institution, calling out their Dean, Prof. Cyril Osim Ndifon with allegations of sexual misconduct amongst other acts of misconduct stated in the letter of appeal directed to the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Florence Obi.
Videos of the protest circulated across social media, showing students carrying placards bearing rebuttals against the lewd acts the Dean had allegedly requested of them.
The sight of female students outrightly calling out an abusive lecturer in that way appealed to many, especially considering his position. The girls were commendable, but beneath that bravery, is a tired demographic of Ndifon’s victims. The revelation that Ndifon has been here before, his acts of abuse of power and sexual misconduct gone unchecked for almost a decade, spurred outrage.
At the time of writing, the University of Calabar has suspended him for "alleged violation of the provisions of the extant laws and policies" of the institution.
Document Women logged a brief timeline of the outcome following his first indictment, spanning eight years. Ndifon was first indicted on 29th August 2015 for allegedly assaulting a student in his office while she was retaking a test.
In the report, after a suspension from the school in September 2015, by February 2021, under the leadership of Prof. Florence Obi, Ndifon was reinstated as Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Calabar. Sources close to the matter also confirmed to Document Women that he was re-elected in May of this year, still under the leadership of Prof. Florence Obi.
What does it say about the moral standards of an institution that reinstates an alleged sexual predator into a position of power where he can continue to abuse? Was the University's management unaware of the previous case or do they not care about the welfare of students? Why was Cyril Ndifon reinstated after such grave allegations and an unresolved court case?
Document Women spoke to some female students of the Law faculty who claim to be victims of Ndifon’s sexual exploitations, their accounts have been sourced from voice notes and screenshots and their identities will remain hidden. Instead, we will refer to them as Anon#.
Anon#1 said she was afraid to speak out on the sexual harassment she faced as she risked jeopardizing her chances of going to the Nigerian Law School. As the Dean, she informed Document Women that Ndifon curates the list of students who would proceed to Law School and would often hold this over the female students he exploited, threatening to withhold their names if they did not let him have his way.
“I would like to point out that Ndifon has a system of picking out victims. He picks his victims, people who he believes are clueless, and gets to know more about them to see if they are the perfect victims. I only got to realize this after my experience.
I've experienced sexual assault from him twice, One in 2020 and the other in 2021. The first time, he touched me and tried to see how I would react. I froze. To be honest, I never believed I would because I always felt I would react, but I didn't.
I also forgot to mention that at these times, I was running for a political office in my faculty, I believe that he felt I was desperate for the position and would do anything to get it. Hence, he felt I was an easy target.
With the first experience that happened, I blamed myself. The second time, he did the same thing, but he was bolder. I believe he actually wanted to kiss me. I froze again. He tried to drag me closer but I just stood still. I think he saw how I was shaking and avoiding eye contact, so he let me be. Saying this makes my skin crawl. These two experiences happened in his office. After that, I decided to stop going to his office. If I had to go, I needed to go with like a lot of people And if I see that people were reducing, I would leave.
After these experiences, I avoided going to see him until the election came proper. He had me and some candidates unjustly disqualified on very unreasonable grounds.
Talking about Ndifon is going to open a can of worms. A world of election manipulation in the faculty. Before I was told I was disqualified, I sensed foul play in the process. I observed that I and some other candidates were not allowed to submit our forms for very silly reasons. I spoke to some people I knew outside the school and opened up about my experience with him.
When I spoke to these people, they spoke to contacts they knew in high places and the whole thing caused an uproar. I was actually going to take the matter up, but I considered the evidence I had and decided to let it be. There were also subtle threats about jeopardizing my future, by speaking up, so I just decided to let it go
A few days after, we were called to a meeting and told we were disqualified, it took a lot of self-control in me to not hit that man in the face. It was like he was taunting me, like saying, you went ahead and said something and nothing happened
It also made me see how scared he was of losing his position because for a long time after that, he never really spoke to me or called me to his office. He did see me a couple of times especially when I reported the issue, and he tried to act like everything was normal. I don't know what he was trying to achieve, but it just got me more irritated I really wish I hadn't given a damn and gone ahead to speak up. Maybe other girls in the faculty wouldn't have fallen into the trap, but who knows?
DW: In regards to the protest, did you know anything about it?
No, I didn't know there was going to be a protest, I was just told to come online that something was happening in school. I’m just happy that some people had the courage to bring it up. What I couldn’t do, someone has finally done it.
DW: When he was reinstated in 2021, were there any pushbacks on that decision, from students or even Lecturers?
I didn't even know he had been reinstated until I resumed school in February after the lockdown and heard that he had been appointed Dean. I don’t think there were any pushbacks, I only know of a few people who expressed their concern.
DW: What can you tell us about the 2015 scandal?
I don’t know much about it because I hadn’t entered the school at the time. However, when he was reinstated, we heard that he had won the case in court and that the girl had lied against him. We also heard that he said he was set up by his enemies, but I believe it’s true because when I read the girl's story, I never got to read about it until after my own experience with him when I read the story there were certain things that were similar…it was like he had a modus operandi.
First of all, he gave the girl wine to loosen her up and he also gave me wine once to “loosen me up” I did not even know that was what he did to his victims, but I didn’t drink it, I took a sip and poured the rest away when he was not looking. Secondly, he tries to use fear in regard to something he can hold over you, like your academics if you aren’t doing well or like in my case the political position I was going for. So when I saw the similarities, I knew this man definitely did this. But lots of people still hold the opinion that it was a setup.
Prof. Ndifon was brought back as dean shortly after the resumption of the lockdown. When it became news that he was the new dean, I got a lot of calls from concerned relatives who were scared for me. And they kept on emphasizing how I shouldn’t go close to that man. My mom who is an alumni of the school even emphasized that as far back as 2000 when she graduated she had always heard stories of the professor. He is confident in his harassment, even my Aunty, her sister, as of 2001 was also harassed by Ndifon.
The thing about Prof. Ndifon is that he is very vindictive, he’s a very evil and vengeful man, if he approaches you because you’re interested in him and you turn him down, he’s going to make your life hell. My Aunty told me her sister graduated with a third class and still almost didn’t go to law school, because she refused to have sex with Professor Ndifon, I’ll send evidence. I can tell you about a lot of people that still have issues in school because they have refused to have sex with Prof. Ndifon.
The thing about this man is, not only is he confident in his molestation, his confidence gives a lot of other male lecturers confidence too because they know that they can never get into trouble as far as he is around. An example of this is, in my second year, I was failed for a course twice in both semesters because I didn’t sleep with the lecturer in charge, the lecturer's name is Dr Mike Otu, yes, I’m going to mention his name. He failed me for both semesters, the course in question is “Legal System” because I refused to have sex with him.
When I reported this to my senior colleagues, one of them told me that this same man made her book a hotel room, coerced her to have sex with him and he still failed her, and obviously, this could not be reported, who can you report to when almost all the male lecturers are guilty of this, and then those who are not are intimidated by those who are guilty of this.
I went ahead to reported this to Prof. Ndifon as the Dean because at the time we had a cordial relationship, as in I was one of the faces he could recognize in my class, when I reported this to him, he told me that he will look into it and make sure my grades were amended because those two F’s messed up my c.g.p.a quite badly.
When I went back to him for feedback, he told me and I quote “Just ignore it and write the course again, who knows maybe this second time if you read hard enough, you could get at least a C and because you are my friend, I will make sure that you do well”
When he said that, I knew he was obviously trying to cover up for his colleague because I know that as Dean he had the power to make sure the result was changed to what it was supposed to be through the appropriate means.
My very first sexual encounter with Prof. Ndifon was on 29th November 2022, I have a friend, a coursemate who the professor had an interest in. The thing with Prof. Is that he will first make you very comfortable with him before he strikes, and at the point that he strikes, it’s usually the point of no return. He would want to know that you’re someone who would corporate, he would want to know how vulnerable you are, he needs to know that you’re not doing well in your academics, “Let me help you” that’s always his punchline.
So on that day he saw my friend and came up to where she was, he then saw me sitting beside her. He then called her to the side and spoke to her, after he spoke to her he told her to come see him in his office, and he also asked me to come along with her. When we finally got to his office, he was trying to talk academically at first, he then found out that my c.g.p.a was not where it was supposed to be due to underlying issues, he then remembered I was the girl that came to complain to him about my grades in the Legal System course and how the lecturer tried to sleep with me and all that. Then he turned the conversation around and started asking me if I have a boyfriend, all of that, he was equally asking my friend. I could tell he knew both of us were tense so he was trying to keep us relaxed and make us comfortable.
Then he asked my friend to go call someone for him. When my friend left, he locked the door behind her, and once I noticed that I got scared obviously, and when we got into his office, I don't know if he does this with other girls but when we got into his office, he made us keep our bags on his table, even our phones, which now I realize he probably did so I wouldn't record or video him. After locking the door, he told me that I should come give him a hug, he cornered me and obviously, I wasn’t in a position to refuse, when I went to hug him he grabbed my ass and started fondling me.
I am actually a survivor of sexual assault so this sent my body into shock, he kept touching me and telling me how soft my ass is, and how full my boobs feel, and then he told me I had a stain on my shirt and in the process of trying to show me the stain, he started to unbutton my shirt and started trying to massage my breasts, I couldn’t even believe what was happening at that moment, while one hand was on my boobs he tried to slip his other hand to my thighs, obviously trying to go towards my vagina, at that point I held his hand and I had to lie that I was on my period, that was when he left me alone, he started to compliment my breasts and then told me to button my shirt back, at this point my friend came back and was knocking on the door.
After that, she came in with some other people so when he then sent me on an errand I was comfortable enough to leave my friend because other people were there, another thing is when he sends you on such errands, he will ask you to leave your bag in his office so you would come back, so he demanded I dropped my bag. When I got outside to run the errand, I saw a text from my friend that she had sent earlier, she told me that before he told me to come along to his office, he told her that he wanted a threesome with both of us and she should arrange it, she said she told him she wouldn’t be able to that and did not even expect him to go ahead to call me.
While on my errand she sent me a message on Snapchat, that I should hurry and come back to the office and that if I give him five more minutes he would go as far as raping her. After I went back, he then started asking me questions like am I a lesbian and if I had ever done women before.
The next time I got called into his office, we had a general school issue in which a lot of people were not registered for exams and were unable to write the exams and I was one of those involved, we had to go through the whole process of writing supplementary exams, this happened the week of the general election, the general election was on a Saturday, and this happened on the Monday of that week. Prof. called me to his office to tell me that I had made some mistakes in my supplementary letter. I was on mufti (non-faculty mandated wear) that day, I came to school to do some other things when I got the notice on the class group chat that I was to see him, I was wearing a sort of crop top and palazzo pants.
After he told me about my issue, he then told me to stand up, my mind already went far, he then started telling me how he liked my shape and then he started touching me, what saved me was I had texted a senior colleague earlier that I was going to see him, he knew of my history with the man, so I had told him that after a while he should call me and pretend to be my dad. He then called me, I even had to put the phone on speaker, he pretended to be my dad who had come to school to pick me up, so that was what saved me that day. Since then I have tried my best to avoid him even though he keeps trying to reach out to me. There are two entrances to the faculty, because of him I had to start using the back door because once he sees you, he will not let you go until he is done with you.
Prof. Ndifon is so confident in his predatory acts that he isn’t secretive, everybody knows this is what this man is.
I became “friends” with him after he helped me correct a course I was wrongfully graded in. I was in his office when he asked me to give him a hug and then he proceeded to molest me, he then told me to sit on the couch in his office and pulled down his trousers, and told me “suck it,” that’s another phrase that is popular among any female Law student he has harassed. If you tell any Law student “Suck it,” they know what you’re talking about, it’s become like a joke because everyone knows that’s what the Dean tells girls.
When he asked me to do this, I was resisting and trying to stall, I was in shock, until when he suddenly legit carried his genitals to rub on my mouth, what saved me that day was a student who then knocked on the door, so he left me alone. Unfortunately for me, he has continued to be on my case.
Any female law student can tell you that Prof. Ndifon is an evil pervert, he is someone that can easily fail you and tell you that he failed you because he likes you and wants you.
A lot of male lecturers that support Ndifon are doing so because sometimes he passes girls he’s had sex with to them, two beneficiaries I can name are Dr Mike Otu and Dr Adams (he’s no longer a lecturer). When they fail you and you come back to him, he will make you believe that the only way out is to sleep with that lecturer and he will eat so deeply into your mind that when the lecturer finally asks you to sleep with him, you will accept.
Anon #4 notes that while they did not participate in the protest, Ndifon's reputation precedes him.
"It’s not only the sexual misconduct they were protesting for, but they were also protesting for embezzlement of funds, and the man is a dictator, he has been a dictator before I even entered the school.
Sometimes you’d be passing in school and his wife would be coming and a lecturer, one of his boys will run to tell him because his door is locked and he’s with a girl. I’ve heard of cases where they would go to tell him their problems and the next thing he will bring out his genitals to their face or he will try to force you, or his hand would be trying to grab your chest.
I heard about the 2015 case from one of my senior colleagues who was the girl's classmate. I even heard of girls who would go to meet him for one issue and the other and he would lock them up in his office and proceed to touch them or force them to touch his genitals. It’s been like a normal thing in the faculty because he knows that no matter what, nobody had the mind to come out, he would threaten with your Law school position, that you would lose it and frankly, you won’t want to lose your Law school position because it’s only the faculty that can send your name to Law school. He also often manipulates the list, which is also one of the things the protest was for.
The Law school journal, since my 100 level, we have never gotten it and we pay for it every year, this has been happening for like five years now. No single student has gotten theirs after their first year, calculate the amount of money that has gone over five years.
Then the LAWSAN body dues, he doesn’t even allow a free and fair election, he’s so into the union. He appoints some offices, that’s what he did last year, he appointed the female President, so he becomes a signatory to that account and he gets whatever money he wants whenever he wants from the account. These are also other things they protested for.