Enugu – His Lordship, Hon. Justice I. J. Essien of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, sitting in Enugu on Wednesday 21st November 2018 in a judgment delivered and set aside the indefinite suspension of UDENIGWE UDOGU (claimant) by PROVOST INSTITUTE OF ECUMENICAL EDUCATION (defendant) was in breach of the terms of employment, ordered defendant to write to ESUT immediately withdrawing their response to the enquiry and stating clearly in another letter to ESUT the correct position to wit the claimant resigned his appointment with the defendant, payment of N 8million naira as general damages, within one month.
The claimant commenced this suit by complaint on the 23/3/2015. In the originating process, the claimant sought against defendant among others; An order for payment of His salaries from February 2010 to January 2013 = N4,608,000; 13 % interest rate on the unpaid salaries based on fixed deposit for the 3 Years period the Claimant’s salaries were withheld by the Defendants.
Likewise, The cost 50 Copies of Introduction to Issues in Comparative Analysis at N1,000 per copy and N30 million general damages for the suffering and frustration caused to the claimant and his family.
In summary, the claimant in the course of his services to the defendant wrote books for use by the students in his department. The defendant alleged that the policy of the institution was that all lecturer textbooks had to be approved by the book review committee before it can be deposited in the institution library for sale at an approved price. That the claimant books were not approved but he continued to sale the books at exorbitant prices. This led to his being queried.
The claimant was subsequently placed on an indefinite suspension with half salary until the claimant resigned his appointment with the defendant. The claimant later secured a temporary appointment with Enugu State University of Science and Technology.
Following a letter of reference sent by the defendant to the ESUT, the temporary appointment was withdrawn. The claimant has since then not been able to secure any other teaching appointment.
The claimant testified that he wrote a book titled Introduction to Issues in Comparative Analysis and which was approved upon application and recommendation for students use. That he also tendered various applications to the book committee for approval of his book and some other books and evidence of the approval given for the use of the books by students.
He testified that it was the duty of the book committee to approve books for sale in the bookshop and not the provost.
He also requested the defendant to furnish any evidence of the handout or the material he was alleged to have sold. The defendant never gave any evidence nor supplied the evidence of the fact as alleged that the contention of the defendants that the books were never approved cannot be true.
After careful analysis of all the processes filed, and the submissions of the learned Counsel from both sides. The Court presided by Hon. Justice I. J. Essien expressed thus;
“The law is very clear and it is that an employer who alleges misconduct which is likely to lead to the termination or dismissal of the employee must give the employee an opportunity to be heard and must also comply with the terms and condition of the employment.
“I do not also understand how a query written in 2007 and replied in the same year could found a basis for the suspension of the claimant in 2010 three years after the incident.
“I have also examined the letter of suspension the reasons given therein are completely at variance with the content of the query Exhibit C9 for which it was to relate to.
“This court hereby holds that the claimant had secured the necessary approval for his books to be sold to students from the defendants.
“In view of the above state of facts this court hereby holds that the indefinite suspension of the claimant was in breach of the terms of employment of the claimant. The suspension was unlawful and ought to be set aside and is hereby set aside.”
On the claim of the sum of N 30 million Naira as general damages for the suffering and frustration caused to the claimant and his family by the defendants' conduct, his Lordship also expressed that;
“It does appear that the defendants were all out to ensure that the claimant should not exist as a decent human being with a right to work and support himself and his family and dependent. The event that followed next should not be anything that should be ascribed to the defendants, which is a faith-based institution that should uphold the dignity of a human being."
The court ordered defendant to pay the claimant the sum of N 8million naira as general damages, and also the defendant shall write to ESUT immediately withdrawing their response to the enquiry and stating clearly in another letter to ESUT the correct position to wit; that the claimant resigned his appointment with the defendant within one month from the date of this judgment.