His Lordship, Hon. Justice K. I. Amadi of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Jos Judicial Division on Thursday 31st January 2019 in a judgment nullified and set aside the compulsory retirement of MOHAMMED HADIS AUTA (claimant) as issued by YOBE STATE JUDICIAL SERVICE COMMISSION (Defendant), ordered claimant be reinstated back to his employment as the Chief Registrar of Yobe State Sharia Court of Appeal, and the defendant shall pay claimant all salaries, emolument, and entitlements from the month of October 2010 to date as they fall due as a full staff of the defendant.
The claimant commenced this action by a writ of General Form of Complaint dated the 7th day of July 2015, sought amongst others; A Declaration that the purported compulsory retirement of the claimant by the Defendant is illegal, null and void. A Declaration that the claimant not being accused nor tried and found guilty of misconduct by any panel of investigation cannot be found guilty of misconduct by the Defendant as this amounted to an infringement of his right to fair hearing and fair trial. An Order directing the payment of the claimant’s salaries, emolument, and entitlements from the date of his purported retirement.
Likewise, An Order reinstating the claimant back to his employment as Chief Registrar Yobe State Sharia Court of Appeal.
From the statement of fact, the claimant was employed by the Defendant on September 1, 1992, as a Magistrate Grade 1 and rose to the rank of a Chief Registrar on the 29th of October, 2009 only for his substantive appointment as Chief Registrar to be unilaterally designated to Acting Chief Registrar on the 10th of June, 2010 by the Defendant. That in spite of his complaint against the re-designation of his substantive appointment, the defendant redeployed him to the Sharia Court division as Acting Chief Inspector on the 8th of July, 2010.
That while serving as Acting Chief Inspector of the Sharia Courts Division of Sharia Court of Appeal, he was served with a letter inviting him to appear before an investigation panel on the 16th August 2010, to assist the panel in its assignment.
That he appeared before the investigation panel and objected to the verification exercise and submitted his written objection. That the panel without verifying the authenticity of the document admitted among other things and overruled his objection.
That the panel went ahead wrote and submitted a report of its verification exercise and the Defendant on its own found him guilty of misconduct and compulsorily retired him from the services of the Yobe State Judiciary, by a letter dated 8th October 2010.
That aggrieved by the actions of the Defendant, he filed Suit on the 18th of October, 2010 at the High Court of Justice, Damaturu; claimed for reinstatement amongst other reliefs and judgment was declared in his favor on the 4th of October, 2013,wherein the Defendant appealed to the Court of Appeal, Jos.
The Court of Appeal on the 17th June 2015, held that with the effective date of the Constitutional amendment reflected in Section 254(C) (1) being 4th March 2011 and hearing in the case was commenced on 18th April 2011; the judgment was delivered without jurisdiction. As a result, the suit instituted by the Claimant at the High Court was struck out for want of jurisdiction; which led to this action.
On the other hand, the defendant stated that the claimant as the Chief-Registrar cum chief accounting officer of the Yobe State Sharia Court of Appeal was indicted in the disbursement of the overhead cost for the month of June 2010 and 8 days salary in respect of late Grand Khadi of Yobe State Sharia Court Appeal.
That the defendant in the discharge of its statutory functions constituted a 4-member committee to verify the aforesaid disbursement and the claimant was invited to appear before the committee to enable discharge assignment. That when the claimant appeared, he presented a preliminary objection on the competence of the committee to undertake the assignment and the committee delivered a well-considered ruling dismissing the objection.
That the findings of the panel of investigation established a prima facie case against the claimant. The claimant was compulsorily retired from the services of the defendant in its 94thGeneral meeting of 7th October 2010. The defendant came to the conclusion to compulsorily retire the claimant after having considered the report of a panel of investigation for misconduct against the claimant.
Counsel submitted that the claimant cannot be heard to complain of lack of fair hearing, that the rules of natural justice were not breached and that the disciplinary panel followed the laid down procedure.
Claimant urged the Honorable Court to hold that the appointment of the Claimant as Chief Registrar remains continuous and uninterrupted.
After careful analysis of all the processes filed, and the submissions of the learned Counsel from both sides. The Court presided by Hon. Justice K. I. Amadi expressed thus;
“From the wordings and contents of the letter (investigation panel), it is very clear that the claimant was not accused of any misconduct. Even the further letter of August 9, 2010did not accuse the claimant of any misconduct rather the investigation was for the purpose of this verification only.
“In the absence of any accusation against the claimant before the said panel, I hold that he was denied fair hearing, Even at that, the report of the said panel never recommended the retirement or punishment of the claimant.
“Worse still, the document purportedly verified is a mere sheet of paper with written figures titled “Fund Disbursement for the Month of June 2010 Over Head Cost”; it did not disclose its source, origin or author. It was not dated and it was not signed by anybody and It is settled that an undated document that is not signed has no worth or value in law.
“For the reasons adduced above, I am inclined to nullify the compulsory retirement of the claimant and I hereby nullify it and declare same as null and void.”
In sum, the court declared null, void and set aside the compulsory retirement of the claimant as conveyed by the notice of compulsory retirement issued by the Defendant.
His Lordship ordered claimant be reinstated back to his employment as the Chief Registrar of Yobe State Sharia Court of Appeal, and the defendant shall pay claimant all salaries, emolument, and entitlements from the month of October 2010 to the date as they fall due as a full staff of the defendant.
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