The National Industrial Court of Nigeria in Lagos has dismissed a suit by an alleged “deserter”, Idris Abdulrahman, against the Nigerian Army and Chief of Defence Staff.
Justice Nelson Ogbuanya held that the suit was statute-barred, having been filed 13 years late.
The claimant sued the army for refusing to pay his salaries.
Abdulrahman, who enlisted in the Army in August 1980, said while he was serving with the Artilery Regiment in Epe, Lagos, he obtained a three-day pass sometime in 1997 to enable him take his sick brother to a hospital in Ikeja.
On his way to his brother’s house in Shangisha Estate at about 8pm, he had an altercation with a vigilante group, which denied him access.
He said he was framed up and detained at the Kirikiri Maximum Prison for seven and a half years without trial following the altercation.
The claimant said his salary was stopped from August 1997 and he did not receive any salary all through his detention period.
According to him, following the intervention of a lawyer, Isaac Boro, the false charges against him was struck out by a Chief Magistrate’s Court.
Abdulrahman said his lawyers wrote the army asking that he be reinstated and his salaries paid, but the letters were not acknowledged.
He prayed the court to hold that he was still a military officer, and to order the army authorities to pay his accumulated salaries to the tune of N732, 000 as at November 2017.
But, the defendants maintained that Abdulrahman was declared a deserter having been away without leave (AWOL) by operation of military law.
The army said he was deemed to have been convicted by the court marshaled when his three-day pass expired and he did not resume duties.
According to the defendants, the military law provides that after seven days of absence, an absent officer would be declared AWOL; after 21 days he would be declared a deserter and after another 21 days of absence, he would be deemed to have been convicted by a Court Marshall and dismissed from the services of the armed forces.
The army said his salaries were stopped in compliance with military rules guiding officers’ employment.
In his verdict, Justice Ogbuanya found that Abdulrahman was released on November 1, 2004 but filed the suit on November 22, 2017.
“The claimant rather alluded to poverty as reason for his not pursuing legal action since his release from detention but offered no explanation as to why he did not quickly visit the Army Headquarters to incident his issues. It would not cost him much to pay such visit,” the judge said.
Justice Ogbuanya held that the claimant ought to have filed the suit within three months of his release from prison in November 2004.
“Thus, such action should have normally been commenced latest in February 2005, but it was commenced in November 2017, a period of about 12 years after the cessation of the cause of action.
“I, therefore, find that the suit is caught up by the limitation provisions of Section 2 of Public Officers Protection Act (POPA). Accordingly, this suit is statute-barred. I so hold.
“Where a court comes to the finding that the suit before it is statute barred, the legal consequence is that of dismissal.
“In the circumstance, this case is liable to be dismissed. It is hereby dismissed. I so hold.
“Having so dismissed this suit based on the preliminary objection, the issue bordering on the substantive issue also submitted for determination hereby abates as I find no further jurisdictional competence to pronounce further on it. I so hold. Judgment is entered accordingly. I make no other as to cost.”
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