Alex Enumah in Abuja
The National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) sitting in Abuja yesterday reversed the demotion of the former Commandant of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Academy, Mr. Ayo Olowonihi.
Justice Musa Kado, in a judgment ordered the reinstatement of Olowonihi to his position as Detective Commandant, Grade Level 17, after he set aside a letter of reinstatement, which downgraded Olowonihi to Grade Level 16, for being illegal, null and void.
Olowonihi, who was demoted from grade level 17 to 16/7 in 2017, two years after he was recalled from suspension without pay, had instituted a legal action at the Industrial Court, challenging his demotion by the EFCC.
In the suit marked NICN/ABJ/347/2017, the claimant asked the court to declare his demotion as well as the processes that led to it illegal, unlawful, null and void.
The claimant in a 62 paragraph oath deposed to in support of the suit, said he was not given fair hearing before disciplinary action was taken against him.
Among the issues raised for determination before the court include whether the EFCC Staff Regulations Handbook 2007, used for the discipline of the claimant was validly made, having not been approved by the Commission.
Delivering Judgment in the suit, Justice Kado decided all three issues raised for determination in favour of the claimant. He held that for the fact that the commission’s Regulation Handbook, which guides the appointment as well as disciplinary procedures of employees has not been approved by the commission renders it invalid. “Failure of the defendant’s counsel to produce approval by the commission means it is either not in existence or it will be not be in the favour of the defendant”, he said.
Justice Kado further noted that while the absence of signature on the document may not necessarily make it invalid, there was no commencement date to show when it actually came into force. He held that the approval of the draft by the chairman does not amount to approval by the commission, which has been empowered by law to do so.
He, accordingly, held that the purported regulation handbook used for the suspension and subsequent demotion was not valid and as such null and void.
On the second issue, the court, having declared as invalid the EFCC’s handbook for lacking approval of the commission, agreed with the submission of counsel to the claimant, Prof. Joash Amupitan (SAN), that the defendant did not comply with the Public Service Rules, which is the applicable regulation on disciplinary matters affecting the claimant who is a Director on GL 17.
He said section 9(2b) of the Act establishing the EFCC provides that until there is a regulation in place guiding the appointment, discipline and dismissal of employees of the commission, the civil service rule shall continue to be in force.
Justice Kado held that while the chairman of the commission or the secretary has the right to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the claimant, it is the commission that has the power to sanction after due consultation with the Federal Civil Service Commission.
Similarly, on the issue of fair hearing, the judge agreed with the claimant that the fact that he was not given opportunity to defend himself before the Ad-hoc Committee set up to investigate him and two others rendered the whole exercise a nullity.
“There is a violation of natural justice”, the court held “the claimant appointment is statutory and can only be tampered with strict public service rule.
He subsequently held that the letter of reinstatement downgrading the claimant to GL 16 is “nullified and set aside” and ordered the EFCC to reinstate the defendant back to his position as Detective Commandant Grade Level 17.
Justice Kado, however, stated that the court cannot order the defendant to restore the claimant as Commandant of the EFCC Academy as the defendant has the right to deploy its personnel to any position it seems appropriate.
The court also refused to grant the prayers of the claimant on the payment of all his salaries and allowances within the period of the suspension on the grounds that the claimant failed to prove that he was entitled to such relief.