Yenagoa---The Presiding Judge, Yenagoa Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court, His Lordship, Hon. Justice Bashar Alkali has nullified Federal University Otuoke reclassification letter dated 18th December 2018 reclassifying Prof. Stephen Nwaobuzor appointment from Professor on pensionable basis to a Lecturer 1 on contract basis; restrained the university from tempering with his salaries and entitlements as Professor until retirement.
The Court held that the University failed to satisfy the requirements of the Establishment Act in terminating Professor Stephen Nwabuzor tenured Professorial appointment, that no section of the Act empowers the defendant to convert the pensionable appointment of an employee to a contract appointment.
From facts, the claimant had submitted that sometimes in 2018, he received a letter from the university informing him that his tenured appointment has been converted to a contract appointment, on the ground that his appointment was at variance with applicable rules, without been afforded any hearing in contravention of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and all known Labour Laws.
He protested to the conversion, and got another letter reclassified his appointment from Professor to Lecturer 1 from the date of the first appointment, called a well-attended press conference where they published to the whole world that he forged certificates and other documents and have exposed him to hatred, ridicule, contempt and has injured his reputation in office and profession.
In defence, the defendants submitted that the purported appointment of the claimant as a professor by the University was done in error arising from the deliberate misrepresentation of facts to the pioneer Vice-chancellor that the claimant appointment as dean was done without regard to extant applicable Rules and Regulations.
Moreover, the defendants averred that the conversion and reclassification of the claimant’s appointment followed due process and was done in accordance with the University establishment Act; Rules and Regulations and extant public service Rules that the claimant was given a fair hearing to defend himself but he did not make use of the opportunity.
Counsel concluded that the claimant have failed to prove that the publication is either false or malicious urged the court to dismiss the suit with punitive cost.
In opposition, the counsel to the claimant submits that both parties agreed that the claimant was employed before the Law establishing the 1st defendant came into existence that the university assumption that the appointment of the claimant as a professor was irregular was misconceived that no section of the enabling Act which gives the defendants power to convert a pensionable appointment to a contract one.
Delivering judgment after careful evaluation of the submissions of both counsel, the presiding Judge, Justice Alkali held that claimant’s appointment as a Professor by the University on the pensionable basis is valid.
“Consequently, I am in the standing that the defendants cannot make a regulation in 2015 and retrospectively declare employment made in 2012 irregular even after it has been ratified by the same university council. It goes to say that the claimant’s employment was done by the 1st defendant and ratified by the university council and not by the former Vice-Chancellor, therefore the act of employment of the claimant as an Associate Professor is an official act.
“The claimant’s letter of regularization of appointment was an act of the 1st defendant, and cannot after confirming an appointment that was made since 2012 take sharp bend in 2019 to contend that it was not validly made. Our laws and equity will surely frown at such sharp U-Turn without trafficating.
“I must state here that the act of reclassifying the claimant’s appointment from Professor on pensionable basis and reclassifying him into a contract staff as a Lecturer 1, amounts to terminating the claimant’s earlier appointment as a Professor on pensionable basis to a new contract of Lecturer 1, on contract basis.
“Having said this, I must state here that this move by the defendants without first hearing from the claimant or even giving the opportunity to hear from him amounts to unduly truncating the claimant’s employment without due process of the law, I so hold.
In all, the Court also awarded the sum of Five Million Naira in favour of Prof. Stephen for defamation that the defendants could not discharge the burden of showing that what they published was true in any way.