The presiding Judge of the National Industrial Court, Enugu judicial division, His Lordship, Hon. Justice Oluwakayode Arowosegbe has declared the dismissal of Mr. AUGUSTINE ANIKE from employment of ENUGU STATE COLLEGE OF EDUCATION (TECHNICAL) ENUGU on the basis of an alleged offence of forgery of General Certificate of Education as wrongful and violation of Claimant’s right to fair hearing guaranteed under section 36 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
The court also Set aside and quashed the letter of dismissal dated 17th February 2014 and ordered college to write a letter of termination without stating any reason other than services are no longer required to the claimant within 30 days.
From facts, the claimant pleaded that he was a public servant employed by the 2nd defendant-ENUGU STATE COLLEGE OF EDUCATION (TECHNICAL) ENUGU in 2007 and his employment was subsequently confirmed by a letter dated 12/1/10. The claimant pleaded further that, by a letter dated 23/12/2013, the 2nd defendant informed him that his result slip could not be traced during the verification exercise conducted on it.
Consequent to this, the claimant obtained his original certificate from the 3rd defendant- WAEC and submitted same to the 1st defendant -College registrar and 2nd defendants on 23rd January 2014. The claimant pleaded that he was surprised that, in spite of the submission of the original certificate to the 1st and 2nd defendants, they went ahead to dismiss him for forgery of the same certificate.
3rd defendant pleaded that the claimant did not register for the December 1985 GCE and did not sit for the exam. The 2nd and 3rd defendant pleaded that since the claimant failed to establish the genuineness of the certificate presented; he was rightly dismissed in accordance with the college conditions of service.
The learned counsel to the 1st and 2nd defendants formulated for a determination whether the Claimant presented satisfactory GCE O/L 1985 Certificate in Verification and to authenticate the result G.C. E. O/L December 1985 based on which the Claimant was employed.
Also in his Final Written Address, claimants counsel also asked for determination among others whether it is not erroneous in law for the 1st& 2nd Defendants to adjudge the Claimant’s December 1985 G.C.E. certificate as fake and forged using same as plank for his dismissal when no complaint of forgery has been laid out let alone being investigated, tried, heard and convicted?
The learned counsel submitted that it was wrong for the 1st and 2nd defendants to dismiss the claimant without being subjected to criminal investigation and prosecution first on an allegation of forgery of 1985 GCE Certificate. The learned counsel submitted that the grouse of the claimant in the instant case is that his right to a fair hearing was breached.
The learned counsel argued further that, since the defendants’ Statements of Defence are mainly on allegations of crimes, they ought to have proved these crimes beyond a reasonable doubt.
The learned counsel submitted that whatever the 3rd defendant told the 1st and 2nd defendants were hearsay since the 3rd defendant was not called as a witness.
Delivering the Judgment, Justice Arowosegbe expressed that the claimant has shown that he was dismissed without observing the fair hearing; the defendant has to disprove this by showing that the principles of fair hearing were observed in the dismissal.
“It is very obvious from the first letter [Verification of Staff Certificates] that no allegations at all were leveled against the claimant. It was also clear that he was not asked in the first letter to come and defend any allegations or make any explanation.
“It is therefore as clear as daylight that the dismissal in the instant case offends the principles of fair hearing, and I so hold.
“The arguments of the learned counsel to the 1st and 2nd defendants that the current position of the law is that an employer could dismiss notwithstanding allegations of crime against an employee without trial in court, is a misstatement of the law because, this rule is subject to conditions precedent, as I have shown earlier above; and which were not satisfied in the instant case.
“On the claim for reinstatement, the court held that claimant did not plead nor lead evidence on the issue of his employment being clothed with statutory flavour; and the law is that the status of an employment is a matter of fact and not law.
In all, his Lordship ordered 1st and 2nd defendants pay to the claimant 12-month [a year] salaries as damages for wrongful dismissal and to calculate and pay to the claimant all due terminal benefits at the date of termination, and the sum of N200,000 within 30 days.