THUMBS UP: Succour for 860 Sacked Employees of Mobil

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Succour last week, came the way of 860 sacked Nigerian employees of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited as the Supreme Court voided their disengagement.

The Nigerian workers were variously employed in early 1990s by Mobil as security officers, but named by the company as Supernumerary Police officers (SPY).

For unknown reasons, the company chose to refer to them as: “SPY Police of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited,” a decision that later created confusion over the actual status of the workers.

 In 2000 a dispute arose about the status of the security guards, with the company claiming to have transferred their employment to the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).

 Mobil claimed it engaged them as SPY police personnel, and not actual staff; a claim the affected workers disputed, with some of them refusing to be transferred out of their stations.

 The workers were sacked unceremoniously and were compelled to sign a document identified as “Mobil Producing Nigeria status agreement for supernumerary police service condition agreement.”

 While some of the workers were intimidated by the company to sign the documents, others stood their ground, and later sought the protection of the court by filing a suit at the Federal High Court, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

The matter was brought before the Appeal Court, which upheld the Nigerian workers’ claim that they were employees of Mobil. The oil giant approached the Supreme Court to reverse the 2009 Court of Appeal judgment.

But the five man panel of justices of the apex court, in a unanimous judgment on Friday, held that it was illogical and without legal backing for Mobil to have employed the Nigerians and sought to off-load them to the Nigeria Police through the back door.

Justice John Inyang Okoro in his ruling, upheld the decision of the appeal court, which voided the termination of the appointment of the Nigerian employees and held that the Nigerians, led by Okon Johnson, were and are still Mobil’s staff and should be accorded all benefits.

 The apex court held that: “There is nothing in the Police Act, which gives Mobil the authority to appoint security officers and then, off-load them to the Nigeria Police. If the Police Council wanted to appoint SPYs it would have done in accordance with the Police Act, which it failed to do,” the court held.

“The law is very clear. Whoever wants the services of policemen in its establishment, should apply to the Inspector General of Police (IGP). The IGP would then request for and receive clearance from the President of the country. After receiving clearance from the President, the IGP will now authorise the Police Council to direct the Police Service Commission (PSC) to appoint. That is the way the law puts it. The PSC will now appoint these officers and then, post them to any establishment that requires them. But, in this case, Mobil advertised for recruitment, conducted interview, issued them with appointment letters; and then, gave them that name: Supernumerary Police Officers (SPY). Whatever name you give them, the basis is, who appointed them? So, whoever appointed them is their boss, which is Mobil Nigeria Unlimited,” Justice Okoro added.

 This landmark judgment is a lesson to companies operating in Nigeria that violate the country’s labour laws and met unfair treatment to the Nigerian workforce. It also affirms that indeed, the judiciary is the last hope of a common man.