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The court has exclusive jurisdiction in civil causes and matters relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety, welfare of labour, employee, worker and matter incidental thereto or connected therewith.

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Industrial Court voids suspension of FADAMA Director, awards N5m damages


264 Tuesday 5th March 2024

The Presiding Judge, Ebonyi Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court, Hon. Justice Oluwakayode Arowosegbe has declared the purported resolution of the Ebonyi State Executive Council and the approval of the Governor of Ebonyi State suspending Dr. Cletus as FADAMA Coordinator of Ebonyi State ultra vires the powers and functions of the State Executive Council and the Governor of Ebonyi State.


Justice Arowosegbe ordered the Government of Ebonyi State, its Attorney-General and 5 others to immediately pay Dr. Cletus Chukwuma all his arrears of salaries, remunerations, emoluments and all other entitlements accruing to him as FADAMA Director throughout the period of his unlawful suspension with the sum of Five Million Naira as damages.


The Court declared that the purported resolution of the Ebonyi State Executive Council and the approval of the Governor on the indefinite suspension of Dr. Cletus since 14th July 2020 from his confirmed and pensionable employment by the Government of Ebonyi State as a civil servant are contrary to the rules of natural justice, unlawful, unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect whatsoever.


From facts, the claimant- Dr. Cletus Chukwuma had pleaded that he was a civil servant on GL 16 and Director in charge of Rural Institutions Development of Ebonyi State Agricultural Development Program [ESADP] and he was appointed by the Ebonyi State Governor in 2007, as the State Coordinator of FADAMA III and served in this capacity till 14th July 2020 when he was unlawfully suspended, while his salary as a civil servant was also stopped. 


He pleaded that his suspension did not follow due process as laid down for public officers, and his application dated September 26, 2019 for transfer of service to Ebonyi State University, as the FADAMA III was winding up, was frustrated by the Government of Ebonyi State’s letter to the University not to renew his appointment as adjunct lecturer or recruit him until the issue of his suspension was sorted out. 


The defendants- Government of Ebonyi State, Attorney-General and 5 others counterpleaded that Dr. Cletus was given fair hearing and his suspension followed due process and urged the Court to dismiss the case with punitive cost.


The learned counsel to the Ebonyi State Government argued that Dr. Cletus was merely suspended as the State Coordinator of FADAMA III and was not suspended as a civil servant. He argued that, though Dr. Cletus is now retired, the fact remained that, his appointment was neither terminated as Coordinator of FADAMA III nor as a civil servant but merely suspended indefinitely under the power of the State Government, and urged the court to dismiss the case.


In opposition, the learned counsel to Dr. Cletus argued that his client’s employment as a civil servant was statutory and not master-servant and his position as FADAMA III Coordinator goes hand-in-hand with his status as a civil servant and urged the court to grant the reliefs sought.


Delivering judgment after careful evaluation of the submission of both parties, the presiding Judge, Hon. Justice Oluwakayode Arowosegbe held that Dr. Cletus’s appointment as FADAMA III Coordinator has no statutory flavor, that it is purely a contract appointment, and no statutory provision gives the Governor or any authority within the facts of the case, the right to indefinitely suspend Dr. Cletus without the payment of wages.


Justice Arowosegbe held that Dr. Cletus’s unlawful indefinite suspension for allegations of misconduct is deemed as constructive dismissal, and the attempted further disciplinary actions against Dr. Cletus by the State Head of Service was medicine after death, as the letter of suspension was clearly that of suspension as punishment, as it did not say that the suspension was for the purposes of further investigation.


The Court faulted the indefinite suspension of Dr. Cletus since July 14, 2020 without pay, and held that the modern jurisprudence of labour law in Nigeria defines constructive dismissal as unfair labour practice.


Justice Arowosegbe also declared the recommendations of the Ebonyi State Fiscal Responsibility Commission, which is the foundation of the disciplinary action of indefinite suspension of Dr. Cletus from work and stoppage of his salaries and emolument as a senior and confirmed public servant as unlawful, ultra vires the functions and powers of the said Commission and therefore, null, void and of no legal effect whatsoever.

 


Visit the judgment portal for full details www.nicnadr.gov.ng/judgement