Owerri – His Lordship, Hon. Justice Oluwakayode Arowosegbe of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, sitting in Owerri has nullified the directive of the Governor Of Imo State on purported suspension and retirement of Four Directors in Imo State Civil Service, ordered reinstatement, payment of salaries, emoluments and allowances from May 2015 till date within 30 days.
The court held that the justification of the irregular disciplinary measures meted out to the claimants on the altar of section 5(2) of the Constitution is, to say the least, an encouragement of executive lawlessness.
The claimant had sought against defendants among others for A DECLARATION that the Claimants are still in the service of Imo State Government and are entitled to their salaries, emoluments, benefits, and privileges. A DECLARATION that the directive or instruction from the 1st Defendant to the 3rd Defendant on the purported suspension of the Claimants is unconstitutional, null and void, and of no effect.
Likewise, An Order setting aside the purported suspension of the Claimants from Imo State Civil Service.
The claimants stated that Imo State Civil Service (3rd defendant) employed them individually and traced their individual trajectories upward to the rank of Directors in the Imo State Civil Service. They stated that in November 2015 or thereabout, the 1st defendant-Governor Of Imo State directed the 3rd defendant to suspend them indefinitely without salaries.
The claimants pleaded that, as at the time the letters of suspension were issued, the members of the 3rd defendant was not constituted and pleaded that, they were not issued queries before being suspended, pleaded that their suspension was unconstitutional and void.
However, the defendants maintained that claimants were issued queries on account of their misconducts and dereliction of duties and that, since the claimants’ answers to the queries were not satisfactory, they were retired on 27th March 2017 or thereabout.
It was equally pleaded that the suspension of 20th November 2015 was done by duly constituted Imo State Civil Service Commission contrary to the pleading of the claimants that, the membership of the Commission was vacant at the time, pleaded that the suit be dismissed.
In opposition, the claimants also denied that they were issued queries and retired on 27th March 2017 or thereabout; and that, up till date, they have not received notices of the retirement. They also pleaded that neither did they appear before any Personnel Management Board nor were they guilty of any misconduct and incompetence.
In his Final Written Address, the learned counsel submitted that the claimants could not be retired at the pleasure of the defendants without full compliance with the law.
In argument, the learned counsel cited the provisions of section 5(2) of the 1999 Constitution and submitted that the 1st defendant had the constitutional powers to personally discipline the claimants and could also do so through relevant commissioner that as civil servants, the claimants could be lawfully disciplined.
After careful evaluation of all the processes filed, and the submissions of the learned Counsel from both sides, the Court presided by Hon. Justice Oluwakayode Arowosegbe expressed thus;
“The phrase “or thereabout” attached to the 27th March 2017 when the claimants were purportedly retired, bedeviled the purported retirement with a cancerous element of uncertainty. It gives credence to the fact that the claimants had not been retired; otherwise, the defendants, who claimed to have retired them, would not have been in the dark about the specific date they were allegedly retired.
“…the defendants had the burden to prove that queries were indeed issued and served on the claimants; since they pleaded unsatisfactory answers, produce these unsatisfactory answers given by the claimants.
“I, therefore, hold that since no letters of retirement had been served on the claimants till date, they still remain in service.
“The justification of the irregular disciplinary measures meted out to the claimants on the altar of section 5(2) of the Constitution is, to say the least, an encouragement of executive lawlessness.
“In consequence, I hereby doubly declare the suspension of the claimants on the directive of the Governor of Imo State null and void and of no effect at inception.
“Failure to prove the existence of the Imo State Civil Service Commission at the material time means, the Commission was not in existence, and not been in existence at material time, the Governor, who had the responsibility to inaugurate it, and failed, could not take undue advantage of its non-existence to usurp its powers."
In all, the court set aside the purported suspension of the Claimants from Imo State Civil Service, ordered that claimants be restored to their positions as Directors in the Imo State Civil Service and cost of N800,000.00 within of 30 days.
His Lordship held that 5th claimant S.C. Ihezue, listed on the processes before the Court cannot and does not benefit from the judgment, having failed to prove his case as earlier explained before now.
“His name is accordingly struck out of the case, and his case not dismissed since it was not heard at all.” His Lordship rules