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WHETHER A CIVIL SERVANT CAN BE SUSPENDED BEFORE SUBMITTING A RESPONSE TO A QUERY ISSUED

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CASE TITLE: UGIAGBE v. A.G EDO STATE & ORS (2021) LPELR-54861(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: 25TH JUNE, 2021

PRACTICE AREA: LABOUR LAW.

LEAD JUDGMENT: JAMES GAMBO ABUNDAGA, J.C.A.

SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:

INTRODUCTION

This appeal borders on dismissal of a civil servant.

FACTS

This is an appeal against the judgment of the National Industrial Court, holden at Akure delivered by Hon. Justice A. Adewemimo on 11th April, 2019, in Suit No. NICN/BEN/18/2017.

​The Appellant before the unfortunate events that led to his dismissal and hence, this appeal was a staff of the Ministry of Justice in the Citizens’ Rights Department under the Edo State Civil Service. He was alleged to have received the sum of One Million Naira from a relation of some accused persons with the aim of perverting the course of justice, and was accordingly issued a query in which he was requested to answer within 24 hours. However, before the expiration of the 24 hours, and without receiving the Appellant’s answer to the query, he was placed on indefinite suspension without pay by the Respondents. He was at that time an officer on Grade level 10. A disciplinary committee was subsequently constituted to investigate the allegations against him as contained in the query that had been issued to him. The committee completed its assignment and submitted its report, upon which he was dismissed.

The Appellant felt displeased with the dismissal and decided to approach the National Industrial Court before which he sought the following reliefs vide his complaint which was filed on 15th August, 2017 inter alia:

a. A DECLARATION that the indefinite suspension without pay of the Claimant by the 4th Defendant and subsequent dismissal of Claimant vide letter dated 17th May, 2017 from Edo State Civil Service by the 4th Defendant constitutes/constituted an unfair dismissal without any factual basis at all and as a result wrongful, unlawful, unconstitutional, illegal and invalid.

b. A DECLARATION that the setting up/constitution of the Disciplinary Committee by the 4th Defendant and the subsequent purported findings of the Disciplinary Committee and its report/recommendations is unlawful, unconstitutional, illegal and invalid.

c. A DECLARATION that the actions of the 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th Defendants herein jointly and severally in procuring the punishment of dismissal of the Claimant from Edo State Civil Service without any factual basis in wanton breach of all principles of natural justice as well as the relevant constitutional guarantees to Claimant of due process and as shown on the facts of this case is malicious, arbitrary and constitutes abuse of office hiding under the colour of law and/or office and as such the 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th Defendants are personally liable for such acts of abuse of their respective offices.

​After the exchange of processes filed between the parties, the National Industrial Court took evidence including documentary exhibits from parties. Parties also, through counsel filed final written addresses which were adopted as counsels’ final oral addresses.

In his judgment, the trial Judge upheld the dismissal, with the effective date being 17th May, 2017, when he was dismissed. He also granted the Appellant, arrears of salary from October 26th, 2016 to May, 17th 2017 based on his last Grade level 10 with a further order that the sum thus awarded shall be computed and paid to the Appellant within 60 days from the date of judgment.

Dissatisfied, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION

The appeal was determined on the following issues:

i. Whether the lower Court was right when it failed to make a finding on the various critical issues bordering on breach of right to fair hearing raised by the Appellant all through the length and breadth of his case and finally in his written address?

ii. Whether the lower Court was right when it upheld the dismissal of the Appellant despite the fact that the Appellant was dismissed for divided loyalty notwithstanding the fact that he was only queried for attempting to compromise the diligent prosecution of the case?

DECISION/HELD

In conclusion, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. The Court also awarded the sum of N10,000,000.00 being compensatory, aggravated and exemplary damages jointly and severally against the Respondents for their actions in the wrongful dismissal of the Appellant with the resultant injustice done to him.

RATIOS:

  • LABOUR LAW – EMPLOYMENT WITH STATUTORY FLAVOUR: Effect of failure to adhere to the procedure for terminating an employment with statutory flavor
  •  PUBLIC SERVICE – SUSPENSION OF A CIVIL SERVANT: Whether a civil servant can be suspended before submitting a response to a query issued
  •  PUBLIC SERVICE – DISMISSAL OF A CIVIL SERVANT: Requirement(s) of the Edo State Civil Service Rules (Revised to 1st January, 2006) for the dismissal of an officer in the State Civil Service
  • PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE – SIGNING OF COURT PROCESS(ES): Whether non-ticking of the name of the counsel that signed a court process affects the competence of same
  • APPEAL – APPEAL AS OF RIGHT: When will an appeal lie as of right from the National Industrial Court to the Court of Appeal
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civil servantlabour lawpublic servicequerysuspension

lawpavilion • July 5, 2021


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