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[Just In] Industrial Court orders UBA to pay Austin Okafor 2yrs Current Ass. Manager salary for wrongful employment termination

870 Tuesday 11th May 2021

The Presiding Judge Portharcourt Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court, His Lordship, Hon. Justice Faustina Kola-Olalere has declared the constructive employment termination of Austin Okafor from UBA on November 2006 as wrongful, ordered the bank to pay Austin 2 years’ salary of an Assistant Manager at the current rate in the Bank for the wrongful employment termination within 60 days.


The Court further ordered the UBA to de-freeze or remove the lien placed on Austin's account with the bank, awarded the sum of N5 million as general damages.


From facts, the claimant- Austin Okafor had pleaded that sometime in 2006 he got a call that his service was no longer needed and was asked to resign which he refused and his employment has not been terminated till date.


He submitted further that the bank stopped payment of his salary and also freeze his account making it impossible for him to access his account sought for the sum of N50 million damages for mental pain, agony, and hardship being suffered from the said unlawful account freezing among others.


In defense, the bank averred that Austin’s was asked to resign and obtain the necessary final exit clearance so as not to experience any difficulties in getting another Banking job as he may desire, but refused and decided to stay away until the bank was forced to treat his absence as a voluntary termination. 


The firm counsel Helen Ovonlen (Mrs.) with Elijah Tutu submitted that Austin refusal to comply with the condition precedent to commence the suit has robbed the court of the jurisdiction to entertain the matter that the bank has done all it’s required to do in the circumstances with payment of salary in lieu of notice and severance package that the allegation that he (Austin) was unable to operate his salary account from November 2006 till date because the same was frozen is completely false.


The defendant pleaded that the Claimant refused to go through the mandatory exit clearance process that a lien was placed “only on the gratuitous payment credited” into the claimant’s account with the bank pending the completion of his exit clearance process, urged the court to dismiss the case for lacking merit.


In opposition, the Austin Counsel E. I. Aman Esq maintained that his client appointment has not been terminated that the bank could not point to any provision to justify their claim, urged the court to grant all the reliefs sought.


Delivering the Judgment via virtual proceeding, the presiding Judge, Justice Kola-Olalere held that no evidence before the Court shown that the Austin Okafor employment with the bank was determined through any of the ways provided for in the contract agreement that Austin’s was not an ex-staff of the bank when the action commenced at the Rivers State High Court to be required to comply with the condition precedent in the contract agreement. 


Justice Kola-Olalere also held that placing lien, restriction, or embargo on Autin’s only salary account pending the mandatory exist clearance was in breach of the terms and conditions governing his employment.


“I hereby direct the defendant to pay to the claimant, two years’ salary of an Assistant Manager at the current rate in the defendant/Bank for the wrongful constructive termination of his employment that was never communicated to him.


“In the instant case, I agree with the claimant that he has suffered a great loss when he was deprived of the use of the money in his account; thereby frustrated, put in mental pain, anguish and untold hardship. Consequently, I hold that it is wrongful and in fact unlawful of the defendant to have frozen or put a lien on the claimant’s account with the Bank.” Justice Kola-Olalere  


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