Be Reasonable, Supreme Court Tells Unilorin Lecturers

08 Jan 2013

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Symbol of Justice

Tobi Soniyi 

The Supreme Court Sunday  in Abuja advised University of Ilorin’s sacked but reinstated lecturers to be reasonable in their demand for allowances based on a June 12, 2009 Supreme Court judgment which voided their dismissal by the university authorities.

Reacting to an application filed by Malam Yusuf Ali (SAN) on behalf of the university for interpretation and clarification  of the Supreme Court judgment of 2009, Justice Mahmud Mohammed expressed concern that the lecturers were making unreasonable demand including payment for sabbatical leave.

Ali had told the court that the lecturers had secured an order of  garnishee attaching N302 million belonging to the university.

He said the lecturers had misinterpreted the Supreme Court judgment which reinstated them and were making unreasonable demands on the university.

Responding, Justice Mohammed said the judgment of the court was clear and it was for the payment of the lecturers’ salaries and allowances.

He advised the counsel representing the parties to sit together and reach a mutual understanding.
He told lawyer representing the lecturers, Mr Toyin Oladipo to advise his clients by telling them that what they were asking for was not included in the judgment.

He said: “Sanity should be introduced. Put your heads together. Bring sanity into the legal profession. This is indiscipline.”

Justice Afolabi Fabiyi who was visibly angry said that he took part in the hearing and determination of the lecturers’ case adding that that the judgment did not provide for the payment for sabbatical.
He said: “Which sabbatical? Which order of this court say you should go on sabbatical?  Sabbatical when you were not around for eight years? Is it moral for you to be asking for all these?

“You are embarking on an illegality. It is not your business to ask for money which your clients were not entitled to.
“Your clients must abide by the law. You don’t take instructions blindly. I was in the matter. What you are doing is  immoral.”

Justice Mohammed said it was not  necessary for the court to interpret the judgment and called on the lecturers’ counsel not to take any step that would embarrass the judiciary.

“I owe you the duty to tell you in blunt terms. You are not entitled to those things you are asking for. Go and advise your clients and stop embarrassing the university,” Justice Fabiyi added.

The Supreme Court had in its judgment ordered the immediate re-instatement of the forty nine lecturers of the University of Ilorin who were sacked for taking part in the activities of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on May 15, 2001.

The Supreme Court in a unanimous decision read by Justice Olufumilayo Folasade Adekeye granted all the prayers brought by the appellants and ordered their immediate re-instatement to their former positions.

The court held that the lecturers were not given fair hearing before the purported termination of their appointments.

The court consequently set aside the judgment of the Ilorin division of the Court of Appeal which had earlier held that the lecturers’ sack was in order.
Justice Adekeye also ordered that all their salaries and allowances be paid to them from the date of their sack to the date they were reinstated to their offices.

She said: “We have considered the arguments of both sides alongside the Universities Act in respect of fair hearing and there is no iota truth in the contention that the sacked lecturers were given fair hearing. Although the Universities Act allows the Institution to employ and discipline its staff but it must be in conformity with the principle of fair hearing.

“Accordingly, I grant all the reliefs as prayed for by the appellants, and order that the appellants be re-instated to their offices with immediate effect, all their salaries and allowances should be paid to them from the date of their sack to the date they are re-instated to the offices.
“The majority judgment of the Court of Appeal is hereby set aside and the judgment is hereby affirmed.”

Justice Adekeye also awarded the sum of N60,000.00 as costs to each of the appellants.
The lecturers had dragged the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Shuaib Oba Abdul-Raheem, and three others, Tunde Balogun, the Registrar of the University, the University and its Governing Council  to court challenging their sack on May 15th 2001.

The appellants averred at the Federal High Court that no reason was adduced for their sack arguing that their appointment with the University was of permanent, pensionable and statutory nature and was governed by the Senior Staff Regulations of the University and the University of Ilorin Act Cap 455 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1990.

The appellants had argued at the lower court that though the respondents did not state the reason(s) for their sack, the respondents made allegations of misconduct, including the disruption of examination.
The appellants stated that these weighty allegations for which they were never taken through due process as required by Chapter 8 and Section 15 of the University Acts formed the basis for their sack.
They further averred that the respondents victimised the appellants as executive members of their union, ASUU, for the strike action which members of the union in all Nigerian universities embarked upon in 2001.

The respondents had in their response at the lower court vehemently denied that the lecturers were sacked for misconduct or for participating in strike action, but that they (respondents) merely exercised their purported right under the memorandum and the letters of appointment to effect their sack simply for the fact that their services were no longer required.

The trial court in its judgment on July 27, 2005, had held that having regard to the provisions of the statute of the university, the respondents had no right to summarily terminate the appellant’s appointments.

However, the Court of Appeal in a unanimous decision reversed the decision of the trial court, stating that the Federal High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the case.

But irked by the decision of the appellate court they brought their appeal to the Supreme Court asking it to determine whether the majority Justices of the Court of Appeal were right in holding that the Federal High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain their case.

They also asked the apex court to determine whether the majority of the Justices of the Court of Appeal were right in allowing the respondents’ appeal when it was apparent from the evidence on record that the respondents did not comply with the procedures laid down in section 15(1) of the University of Ilorin Act Cap 455 Laws of the Federation 1990 before terminating the appellants’ appointments without any reason and without giving the respondents any fair hearing.

They asked the Supreme Court for an order re-instating them to their positions and the payment of their salaries, allowances and all other entitlements from the date of their purported sack to the date of their re-instatement.

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