Saturday, August 7, 2021

Court Orders Ahmadu Bello Varsity To Reinstate 110 Workers Illegally Sacked Between 1996, 1999

A Court of Appeal, Abuja, has ordered the authorities of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, to reinstate 110 workers, whose employments were unlawfully terminated between 1996 and 1999.
It was gathered that the sacked employees had served the university for several years in various capacities before their employments were unceremoniously terminated by the University's management.
The Federal Government of Nigeria in 1995 appointed Major General Mamman Kontagora (Rtd) as the sole administrator of the university contravening the stipulated Laws and Regulations.
In further defiance of the established laws, General Kotangora, during his reign as the sole administrator, sacked employees.
However, the Federal Government, under the current political dispensation had up various administrative panels which recommended a review of the sack of staff by the former military regime.
While other universities complied with the directive, Ahmadu Bello University refused to adhere to the directive.
The University also allegedly ignored the recommendations of several administrative panels set up by the Federal Ministry of Education for the review of the cases of the sacked staff.
 Hence, affected staff members filed a suit at the National Industrial Court, Abuja Judicial Division seeking certain reliefs, including;

“(a) a declaration that the determination of the plaintiffs’ appointment by the defendants from 1996-1999 without any just cause whatsoever is illegal, null and void.   

“A declaration that the plaintiffs are entitled to reinstatement as bonafide staff of the 1st defendant and payment of their outstanding salaries and allowances. (c) An order setting aside the defendant’s letter which purportedly determined the plaintiffs’ appointment from the public service forthwith.

“An Order directing the defendants to reinstate the plaintiffs forthwith and pay them all their outstanding salaries and allowances since their appointments were illegally determined.”

Consequently, in 2012, the law firm of Falana & Falana's Chambers wrote the Federal Government through the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to pressurise the Ahmadu Bello University to address the grievances of the aggrieved staff.

A suit was thereafter filed at the National Industrial Court. 

The preliminary objection of the Ahmadu Bello University and the Attorney-General of the Federation that the case was statute-barred was dismissed.

The trial court stated that the injury was continuous, based on the letter of the Attorney-General that the Complaint of the sacked staff was receiving attention in 2012.

Consequent upon this, the National Industrial Court delivered its judgment in favour of the sacked staff.

In its judgment, the Court held that “it is hereby declared that the purported determination of the claimants' appointment by the 1st defendant through the various letters is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.

“The claimants are hereby reinstated as bonafide staff of the 1st defendant and all outstanding salaries and emolument shall be paid to them within 30 days from today or else it attracts an interest of 10% per annum.

“The 1st defendant is hereby directed to immediately implement all the various visitation panel reports as it affects Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, towards ensuring good governance, Industrial Harmony and workplace tranquility...”

Dissatisfied with the decision of the trial court, the Ahmadu Bello University appealed to the Court of Appeal via its Notice of Appeal dated 2nd November 2017 but filed on the 8th day of November 2018.

The University's counsel, Kayode Amodu urged the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment of the National Industrial Court for failure to consider the fact that staff were sacked under the Public Officers (Special Provision) Decree No.17 of 1984. 

Nevertheless, the employees' counsel. Femi Falana SAN who led Deji Morakinyo prayed the Court to dismiss the appeal as it was totally devoid of merit.

In dismissing the appeal the Justices of the Court of Appeal (Theresa Ngolika Orji-Abadua JCA; Amina Audi Wambai JCA and Ibrahim Ali Andenyangtso, JCA) unanimously agreed with the submission of Falana that the Public Officers (Special Provision) Decree No.17 of 1984 was not applicable in view of the Reports of the Visitation Panels of 1999, 2004 and 2010 which recommended the reinstatement of the respondents.

It was further held fact that the suit did not wholly challenge the termination of the employment of the respondents but basically, the non-implementation of the 1999, 2004 and 2010 Federal Government White Papers which the University is by law duty bound to implement.

The court held that the Visitor to the appellant having accepted the recommendations of the Visitation Panels and directed the appellant to comply with same, the appellant was therefore under compulsion to obey the directives of the Visitor.

The Appeal Court, therefore, held that the refusal, neglect and failure of the appellant to implement the various White Papers and Resolution Committee Reports amounts to unfair labour practice as guaranteed by Section 254C (1) (f) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and contrary to international best practices and standard.

The appeal of the University was therefore dismissed in its entirety as unmeritorious and the decision of the lower court was affirmed by the Court of Appeal.

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