Indigeneship: Court Declares Staff’s Sacking By Abia State, Illegal

The Port-Harcourt division of the National Industrial Court (NICN) has declared as illegal, unconstitutional, null and void, the sacking of one Oguamanam Ann, from the Abia State Civil Service, by the State government, it’s Head of Service, Universal Basic Education Board and Attorney- General.

Justice Zaynab Bashir, who presided over the court also held that the purported transfer or disengagement of services of Oguamanam Ann from the Abia State Civil Service, as discriminatory, and contrary to international best practice and the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amende.

The judge also ruled that Abia State Government cannot purport to disengage or transfer the services of Oguamanam Ann from the Abia State Civil Service, on the ground that she is not an indigene of the State.

Consequently, the judge has ordered the Abia State government to immediately reinstate her 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.

Justice Bashir also ordered that Abia State government to pay Oguamanam Ann, a total sum of N3 million as general damages and cost of instituting the suit.

Thee facts of the case is that the claimant, Oguamanam Ann had submitted that she was offered an appointment as an employee of the Abia State public service with the State’s Secondary Education Management Board dated June 21, 1995, and that she was promoted to a Chief Education Officer on salary Grade level 14/2 of N362, 959, 000, in 2011. 

She stated 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 30, 2011. 

She stated further 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 defending the case, Abia State Civil Service, 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 the claimant had instituted a similar action before 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 Abia State Government submitted that since the same issue of the purported disengagement of the  claimant 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.

The counsel stated that in the said suit pending before the Court of Appeal, Justice Ibrahim Galadima of the then presiding Judge, 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 N3 million, as cost of action.

Counsel submitted that the State Universal Education Board has statutory powers to post and deploy staff. Adding 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 defendants’ purported disengagement or transfer of service of the Claimant from the Abia state civil Service is hereby set aside and declared null and void.” 

Source-: NICN