Breaking: Court Orders Reinstatement Of Law Officer, Payment Of 46 Months Owed Salaries, Okays Imo State Law Officers And Magistrates Law 1998

Owerri – The Presiding Judge of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Owerri Judicial division, His Lordship, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Galadima on Thursday 11th April 2019 declared the suspension of Barrister Rachael Nsofor-Ndulue without pay by the government of Imo State since May 2015 in the absence of a duly constituted Civil Service Commission as a nullity.

The court ordered that claimant be reinstated with immediate effect and all her salaries and allowances which were withheld be accordingly paid to her within 30 days of this judgment which shall in default; attract 10% interest per annum until fully liquidated.

The Claimant was appointed as a legal officer by the CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION, IMO STATE (4th Defendant) and attached directly to the Imo State Ministry of Justice by letter of appointment dated the 18/7/1995.

She benefitted from several promotions until she attained Grade Level 17 (9) as Director of Estates and Trusts. She equally doubled as the Administrator – General of Imo State.

She accordingly held these offices until April 2015 when the Defendants allegedly arbitrarily suspended the payment of her salary and later in November 2015 purportedly placed her on indefinite suspension. She, along with several of her colleagues who were also State Directors, accordingly suffered the same fate.

Consequent upon the intervention of the Labour Union, a truce was brokered on the 9/2/2016 whereupon all the suspended staff of the State were recalled from suspension including the Claimant. However, whereas the other staff received their monthly emoluments, the Claimant was denied hers.

The claimant sought against defendants among others; A declaration that the order of suspension of the Claimant’s salaries and allowances and her suspension from work is a nullity. A declaration that neither the Governor of Imo State or any other person is empowered to suspend or to withhold her salaries, benefits, and allowances without due compliance with the statutes, rules and regulations which govern and regulate her employment.

Likewise, A declaration that she is entitled to continue to act in her capacity as the Administrator- General of Imo State which office is different and distinct from the Director of Estates and Trusts from which she was purportedly suspended.

The Claimant opened her case on 30/1/2018, the court earlier delivered two rulings, granted some interlocutory orders of restraint against the Defendants and a ruling on the notice of preliminary objection challenging the Claimant’s cause for purportedly being statute barred.

The Defendants in their final written address argued that the Claimant ignored the query by refusing to respond to it on the excuse that there was no validly constituted Civil Service Commission in Imo State at the time which could have authorized the issuance of a query to her. Counsel stated that in the absence of any form of valid response to the query within 48 hours as stated therein, the Defendants were not wrong to ratify the suspension of the Claimant which had earlier been issued to her on the 19th November 2015 and also take other disciplinary steps deemed appropriate by the Defendants.

In reply, claimant counsel expressed that, despite the fact that there was no valid suspension against this Claimant, the Defendants still carried on with the wrong assumption that she was still under suspension and continued to unjustly deprive her of her emoluments.

Counsel expressed that Public Servants within the established and pensionable cadre, do not hold their offices at the pleasure of Government that the letter of suspension issued is incompetent as there was no Civil Service Commission of Imo State duly Constituted at that material time urged the court to grant the reliefs sought.

After careful evaluation of all the processes filed, and the submissions of the learned Counsel from both sides, the Court presided by Hon. Justice Ibrahim Galadima that the Claimant’s employment is statutorily protected and expressed thus;

“The Claimant had in her testimony in Court stated that the above Commission had been dissolved by the Governor and was not duly constituted at the time of the purported Exhibit C 16 reproduced above. This is a fact that required a rebuttal if untrue, from the Defendants. However, this was never challenged whatsoever.

“I find it quite strange that a powerful allegation like this was not rebutted by the Defendants and even their response in their pleadings is to say the very least, weak.

“Being a constitutional body, the Civil Service Commission, like I had already explained, dictates the fate of the civil and public servants of the State where it is constituted.

“It, therefore, suggests that the Defendants admit this piece of unchallenged fact. If that is the case, it is no longer a matter requiring further contemplation. The letter of suspension dated 19/11/2015 is indeed, illegal. The effect is the suspension order purportedly communicated on behalf of the Chairman of the Commission directing the indefinite suspension of this Claimant is a nullity too and I so hold.

“It goes without saying that the directive made for the retirement or dismissal of the Claimant by letter dated 23/3/2017 by the SSG to the 4th Defendant, is null and void. The same is also hereby quashed.

The court declared that the order of claimant suspension by the Governor of Imo State without pay and in the absence of a duly constituted Civil Service Commission is a nullity and declared that the Law Officers’ (Harmonization of Salaries of Magistrates) Law 1998 being an existing law, neither expressly contains nor provides any template for the payment of salaries to Law Officers and Magistrates and same is accordingly subject to the provisions of Section 315 (2) CFRN 1999.

His lordship ordered that claimant be reinstated with immediate effect to GL 17 (9) and all her salaries and allowances which were withheld for 46 months from May 2015 to March 2019 on her grade level as Director for Estates and Trusts, be accordingly paid to her within 30 days of this judgment which shall in default, attract 10% interest per annum until fully liquidated.

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