Hon. Justice Zaynab Bashir of the Port Harcourt Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court has declared the purported disengagement of one Oguamanam Ann from the Abia State Civil Service by the Governor of Abia State, its Head of Service, State Universal Basic Education Board and its Attorney General as unconstitutional, null and void.
The Court held that the purported transfer or disengagement of services of Oguamanam Ann from the Abia State Civil Service is discriminatory, and contrary to international best practice and the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended and awarded her the sum of N2m as general damages, N1m cost of action.
Justice Zaynab ruled that Abia State Government cannot purport to disengage or transfer the services of Oguamanam Ann from the Abia State Civil Service in the manner they did by reason of not being an indigene of the State; ordered for her immediate reinstatement with payment of arrears of her Salaries and allowances from the date of the unlawful termination/disengagement of her employment in September 2011 till date.
From facts, the claimant- Oguamanam Ann had submitted that she was offered an appointment as an employee of the Abia State public service with the secondary education management board dated 21st June 1995 and was promoted to a Chief Education Officer on salary Grade level 14/2 of N362,959 (Three Hundred and Sixty-two Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty Nine Naira) in 2011.
She added that on August 25, the Head of Service of Abia State announced the transfer of all non-indigenes working in the State Public Service (except tertiary institutions), back to their states of origin and in adherence to the circular issued by the State Universal Education Board purportedly terminated her appointment without any legal justification on September 30th, 2011.
She averred that the circular which led to her disengagement was discriminatory, and unconstitutional and thus violated her rights to live and work anywhere in Nigeria, and urged the court to grant the reliefs sought.
In defense, the defendant- Abia State Civil Service by the Governor of Abia State, It’s Head of Service, State Universal Basic Education Board and its Attorney General objected to the suit on the grounds that Ann instituted a similar action filed in Owerri division of the court as an unnamed represented party in a representative action whose Appeal is pending at the Court of Appeal.
Counsel to the State Government submitted that since the same issue of the purported disengagement of Oguamanam Ann from the public service of the State is already pending before the Court of Appeal, and it is in the interest of justice that the issue is heard in one court, and urged the court to dismiss the suit for being an abuse of court process.
In the said suit pending before the Court of Appeal, Justice Ibrahim Galadima, the then presiding Judge of Owerri Division had declared that any executive or administrative order or law made in transferring Njoku Fidelia Ada and 460 other workers without their consent on the basis of not being indigenes of Abia State as unlawful, null and void; ordered Abia State Civil Service Commission to reinstate them to their status as Civil Servants without prejudice to their entitlements and promotions which might have accrued to them during the period of their disengagement with the sum of Three Million Naira as cost of action.
Counsel submitted that the State Universal Education Board has statutory powers to post and deploy staff. Counsel went further to add that the policy of transfer of workers to their states of origin was not peculiar to Abia State as other states have in the past implemented the policy.
The State Government urged the court to dismiss the case for being statute-barred as the case was filed 10 (ten) years after the cause of action arose against five years prescribed by the Limitation Law of Abia State.
In opposition, Ann’s counsel, Eze Egbusiri Esq urged the court to discountenance the Abia State Government’s claim on the ground that his client was not in any way a party to the said Suit, and the matter being an action predicated on the infringement of her rights cannot be extinguished nor barred by any statute of limitation and urged the court to grant the reliefs sought in the interest of justice.
Delivering judgment after careful evaluation of the submissions of both parties, the presiding Judge, Justice Zaynab Bashir dismissed the objections for lacking merit and affirmed that the name of Oguamanam Ann in the present suit is not listed as a person being represented in the earlier suit.
Justice Zaynab ruled that the purported disengagement of the services of Oguamanam Ann from the Abia State Civil Service is not in compliance with the express provisions of the Abia State Government Public Service Rules.
“Consequently, it is the sacred duty of the court to protect the fundamental human rights of the people, therefore the Defendant’s purported disengagement or transfer of service of the Claimant from the Abia state civil Service is hereby set aside & declared null and void.” The Court ruled.
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