Hon. Justice Polycarp Hamman of the Portharcourt Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court has declared the announcement made on the 4th day of April 2013, vide Bayelsa State Glory FM purporting to suspend the Kieri Victoria and 24 others’ appointments with the Bayelsa State Govt. and State Universal Basic Education Board as ultra vires, null, void and of no effect whatsoever.
Justice Polycarp held that the purported suspension of Kieri Victoria and 24 others’ appointments by the Bayelsa Government negates the Fundamental Rights Provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; ordered the Bayelsa State Govt. and State Universal Basic Education Board to pay them all their unpaid salaries and allowances from January 2013 till the day of judgment and thereafter.
The Court affirmed that Kieri Victoria and 24 others were neither indicted nor queried of any allegation and were never heard before the said radio announcement was made and declared the submissions of the Bayelsa State Govt that since Kieri Victoria and 24 others were on probation that the radio announcement was sufficient notice as baseless and unfounded.
From facts, the claimants- Kieri Victoria and 24 others had submitted that they were employed by the Bayelsa State Government in April 2011, that after the Board of the State Universal Basic Education Board was reconstituted, they were inexplicably invited for another verification, and interview exercise slated for 16th September 2012, which they attended.
They submitted further that on the 28th day of September 2012, the Board secretary went on air to announce the termination of the employment of all those appointed by the board in 2011, and requested that they should re-apply to him for another employment, which they did; re-issued letters of employment dated 2nd January 2013 and redeployed to different places.
According to the Claimants, after they assumed duty, the Secretary to the State UBEC Board for no reason went on Radio and announced their suspension from offices, an act they alleged to be wrongful and an infringement on their right to fair hearing.
In defense, the Bayelsa State Govt. and State Universal Basic Education Board posited that the suit is statute-barred having been commenced more than three months as stipulated by the Public Officers Protection Act, Laws of Bayelsa State, and the Bayelsa State Universal Basic Education Board Law.
The defendants submitted further that since Kieri Victoria and 24 others were still on probation the State Government have the power to suspend and or dismiss them from service, and urged the Court to dismiss the suit in its entirety for want of jurisdiction and want of merit.
The Claimants counsel, Martin O. Nwabali Esq maintained that his clients can only be terminated or suspended in the manner expressly provided by the statute or applicable rules, and urged the Court to grant the reliefs sought.
Delivering the Judgment, the Presiding Judge, Justice Polycarp Hamman dismissed the objections for lacking merit and held that the Public Officers Protection Act (POPA) does not apply to cases founded on contracts, including employment contracts.
Justice Polycarp reiterated that where evidence given by a party to any proceeding is not challenged by the opposite party who had the opportunity to do so, the court is at liberty to act on such unchallenged evidence as the correct version of the case it seeks to support.
The Court continued that the Kieri Victoria and 24 others’ appointments have statutory flavor and not at the pleasure of their employers that rules or regulations must be followed before they can be lawfully removed from the office.
Justice Polycarp held that the suspension of Kieri Victoria and 24 others through a radio announcement on Bayelsa State Glory FM on the 4th day of April 2013 cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as valid and in line with the law.
“It is hereby declared that the Claimants are still in the service of the 1st and 2nd Defendants and are entitled to all their unpaid salaries and allowances till date.” Justice Polycarp Ruled