The Presiding Judge of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Uyo Judicial Division, His Lordship, Hon. Justice Mahmood Namtari has ordered University of Uyo to forthwith withdraw the suspension and termination letters issued to the Dr. Inih Ebong and to reinstate him back to his duty post with payment of all salaries, allowances and non-pecuniary entitlements accruing to him since 1st August 2001 when his salary was stopped and from 28th March 2002 when his appointment was wrongfully and unlawfully terminated and the sum of Ten Million Naira as aggravated and exemplary damages within 30 days.
The Court held that the decision of the governing council of the institution was done in flagrance with the rules of natural justice.
The Claimant- Dr. Ebong as a Senior Lecturer alleged that he applied for annual leave and was approved by the registrar and secretary to council on June 22, 2001. That before resumption, he wrote to the Defendants to protest the stoppage of his salary.
That the Defendants accused him of abandonment of duty and threatening to take severe disciplinary action against him to which he promptly responded by explaining the circumstances that surrounded the annual leave.
Thereafter, the Defendants Panel absolved him of wrongdoing on the issue and recommended the reversal of the directive stopping his salary, that the Defendants refused to implement the recommendation and suspended him indefinitely for instituting the suit against them without their consent or resigning.
To the Claimant, the stoppage of salary, suspension and eventual termination of appointment, did not comply strictly with the terms and conditions of services.
The defendants submitted that Report of the panels set up to investigate the Claimant’s acts of misconduct particularly the one he walked out on and subsequently the Senior Staff Disciplinary Committee which he shunned their subsequent meetings, that the Governing Council in its meeting held and decided that the Services of the Claimant was no longer required by the Defendants. Hence the termination of the Claimant’s appointment on 28th March 2002.
The Defendants argued that the suit which the court inherited was not commenced and was neither signed by the Dr. Ebong or any Legal Practitioner thereby robbing the court the jurisdiction to entertain it and further that the claimant having waited 14 years before approaching the Court instead of three months period prescribed by the Public Officers Protection Act that the Claimant has lost his right of action if any, urged the court to dismiss the case.
In reply, Claimant submitted that the Writ of Summons issued earlier was validly issued and further that a suit that was filed within time and later struck out and re-filed is not caught up by the Public Officers Protection Act, submitted that the composition of the Committee is unknown to the regulations of the institution, urged the court to grant all reliefs sought.
Delivering Judgement after careful evaluation of the submission of both counsel, the presiding Judge, Justice Namtari held that the suit is competent that the application of the Public Officers Protection Act on the case rooted in the contract of employment no more tenable.
“From the evidence of the Claimant, I am of the firm view that he has discharged the onus placed on him to justify the non-imposition of the penalty on him of either removal from office or forfeiture of salary for the period.
“The letter of query dated 18th September 2001 and the Panel constituted to investigate the matter on 15th October 2001 are clear after-thoughts and akin to medicine after death. I have therefore no doubt in finding and holding that the stoppage of Claimant’s salary was ultra vires, unlawful, null and void.
“The Claimant was not afforded the opportunity of being heard by the University Council before his appointments were unilaterally and prematurely terminated on 27th March 2002 upon a questionable report. The decision of the 3rd Defendant – Governing Council fell short of the standard of fair hearing and is hereby declared null and void and no effect whatsoever.” Justice Namtari ruled.