Owerri – His Lordship, Hon. Justice I. S. Galadima of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, sitting in Owerri, Imo State on Tuesday 4th December 2018 in a judgment declared as wrongful the dismissal of MR BUCKY UFUOMA AGARRY (claimant) by LONESTAR DRILLING NIGERIA LIMITED (defendant), Ordered Defendant to pay Claimant, the total sum of N 1,152, 200.00 within 14 days which shall attract interest at 10% per annum until fully paid.
The claimant had sought against defendant among others; A declaration that the purported dismissal of the Claimant from the services of the 1st Defendant by an unsigned letter dated 19/5/2006 but with the name of the 2nd Defendant typed thereon on the basis of findings by the Audit Committee without giving the Claimant opportunity to defend himself for whatsoever is illegal, irregular, wrongful, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void, and of no effect.
A declaration that the Claimant is still in the employment of the 1st Defendant and as such is entitled to his salaries and other benefits commensurate with his position from March 2006 till judgment is delivered.
Likewise, An order directing the 1st Defendant to pay to the Claimant all his salaries and benefits from March 2006 till judgment is delivered.
This suit was originally filed at the Rivers State High Court by a writ of summons filed on 13th September 2006. Following the Third Alteration of the 1999 Constitution, the Defendants filed a preliminary objection necessitating the transfer of this case by the Chief Judge of the River State High Court on 14 March 2013 to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. On the 14th of March, 2018, this Court had in a ruling, struck out the name of the second Defendant (ERNEST ASAK) having found that he was misjoined.
The Claimant’s Counsel, in his written address isolated a lone issue for determination whether from the evidence adduced before this Court that the Claimant has satisfactorily shown that he is entitled to his claims as contained in this suit.
Counsel urged the court to enter judgment for the claimant with substantial costs because he has discharged the evidential burden of proof imposed by the Evidence Act 2011.
In his argument, Counsel to the defendant believes that this entire suit is a gold digging exercise and an abuse of court process instituted to harass the Defendant.
Furthermore, counsel asserted that the case the Claimant was to answer before the Audit Panel was clear and specific and apart from the invitation given to him to appear before the panel to defend himself, the Claimant further admitted under cross-examination that he indeed appeared before the panel.
It is counsel’s opinion that the Claimant was afforded fair hearing before he was dismissed, more so, as the dismissal of the Claimant was based on the allegation of clearing invoices without due process against him which necessitated his suspension.
Counsel submitted that his claim of want of fair hearing prior to his dismissal is completely non sequitur, meaning that his relief and case founded on it should be dismissed.
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. S. Galadima expressed thus;
“In fact, it is only a dismissal from a statutory flavoured employment that can be declared null and void. A dismissal under a master and servant relationship can only be declared wrongful.
“It is my considered view that the Defendant failed to discharge the burden of proving that the dismissal of the claimant is justified, and it failed to furnish a complete defence to the claim for wrongful dismissal.
“There is frankly no doubt that the 1stDefendant intended to dismiss the Claimant from its employ since he was not even recalled from his suspension. I find and hold that the Claimant was dismissed from his employment on 5/7/2006 the day he received his dismissal letter.
The court declared the dismissal of the claimant as wrongful, ordered payment of the sum of N634,800.00 as salary arrears for the months of March, April, May, and June of 2006 at N158,700.00 per month. The sum ofN158,700.00 one month salary in lieu of notice for wrongful dismissal within 14 days of this here judgment.