His Lordship, Hon. Justice Polycarp Hamman of the Industrial Court, Portharcourt Judicial division has declared the purported retirement of former Permanent secretary Rivers State Ministry of Finance Mrs Alaliba Dokubo from Service as illegal and unlawful.
The Court set aside the letter of the said retirement dated 14th August 2015 by the Rivers State Civil Service Commission and ordered for payment of salaries and other entitlements from August 2015 to 27th January 2018 within 30 working days.
According to the claimant- Mrs Dokubo stated that shortly after her appointment by the Rivers State Government in 1973 sought and obtained approval for study leave without pay for three years and for unforeseen circumstances she spent a total period of eleven years outside the three years approved for her.
That upon the completion of her studies, she was re-absorbed into the service by the Rivers State Government and the period of 11 years she over-stayed was approved as a period of break-in-service.
Via circular a circular of the state government dated 14th August 2015 retired her from service with effect from 27th January 2008 on the ground that she had spent 35 years in service even when she had only spent 32 years and was less than 60 years of age.
The Defendants averred that the expression ‘break-in-service’ was never meant to extend claimant period of service since she failed to apply for ‘condonation’ having stayed away from service for a long time that her retirement was in line with the law and counter-claimed for Ninety One (91) months’ salary received after her employment ended on 14th August 2015.
The claimant argued that the defendants cannot unilaterally turn round to retire her before the due date of retirement as doing that will run contrary to the doctrine of estoppels by conduct.
Delivering Judgment, the presiding Judge, Justice Hamman held that letters that reabsorbed the claimant to service and the one that confirmed the earlier decision on the status of the claimant’s employment written by the Rivers State Civil Service Commission emphatically regarded the eleven years during which the claimant overstayed her approved study leave without pay as a break-in-service which will not attract pension.
“Going by the claimant’s date of birth 12th May, 1958 she would have been due for retirement on ground of 60 years of age on or about the 12th day of May 2018; meaning that the 27th January 2018 which comes first would be her due date of retirement on ground of 35 years of service. It is therefore explicit that the claimant was prematurely retired with effect from 27th January 2008 vide letter dated 14th August 2015. Her retirement is therefore illegal and unlawful. I so find and hold.”
On reinstatement claim, the court held that the claimant is above 60 years of age and it will be against public policy to restore her to the service.
Justice Hamman ordered defendants to compute and pay to the claimant all her salaries and other entitlements as a Permanent Secretary from 14th August 2015 to 27th January 2018 within 30 working days.