Wrongful Dismissal: Appeal Court Okays N500m for Okereke-Onyiuke

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By Davidson Iriekpen

The Court of Appeal in Lagos yesterday dismissed the appeal filed by the  Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) against the ruling of Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos which nullified the removal of Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke and ordered the commission to pay her N500 million.

Justice Idris, had in his judgment, described Okereke-Onyiuke’s removal as reckless, hasty and done in bad faith.

The court awarded  N500 million against  SEC as exemplary  and aggravated damages  for the  reckless manner  Okereke-Onyiuke’s  right  to fair hearing was violated.

Dissatisfied, SEC filed appealed and urged the court to set aside the judgment.

In its notice of appeal, SEC maintained that Okereke-Onyiuke’s sack was in exercise of its statutory powers to protect the NSE, the interest of investing public and the Nigerian economy as a whole.

But when the appeal came up yesterday, Okereke-Onyiuke’s lawyer, Michael Akintayo urged the court to take cognisance of a notice of discontinuance filed by the appellant.

He submitted that once a notice of discontinuance had been filed the proper order was to dismiss the appeal.

In her reply, counsel to SEC,  Mrs.  Imaoboy, urged the court to ignore the notice of discontinuance adding that it was filed in error.

But,  in a short ruling,  the panel presided over by Justice U.I  Ndukwe-Anyanwu noted that SEC had earlier filed notice of discontinuance of the appeal and that the appeal could not be resuscitated.

Justice Ndukwe-Anyanwu held that there was no appeal before the court since the notice of discontinuance had entered the record of the court.

“You cannot build something on nothing, the appeal had ceased to exist before the court the moment notice of discontinuance was filed,” the court held.

The lower court had in its judgment declared the removal of Prof.  Ndi  Okereke-Onyiuke as irrational, hasty  and did not  comply with the condition precedent in removing the plaintiff.

Justice Idris had held “It is indeed ridiculous that SEC removed the plaintiff within 24 hours, based on  bad and  unverified allegations and that it is not in doubt that SEC did  not  comply with the condition precedent in removing the plaintiff.

SEC acted in breach of section 308 of Investment and Securities Act (ISA) and therefore, her removal based on the section is a nullity.

“It is also important to note that the plaintiff has not attempted at any forum and in any manner whatsoever  to answer that allegation on their merits.”

 

Okereke-Onyiuke, had in the suit, challenged  the propriety of her removal by SEC and sought to  restrain the commission and its agents from treating and relating to her “as a removed DG of the NSE.”

 

She had said that she was through with the NSE, having tendered her resignation letter before her sack, adding that she harbours no grudge against her former employer.

 

She added that she was neither seeking to be reinstated nor did she intend to disrupt the on-going efforts by the interim management to reorganise and restructure the stock market.