After about three and a half years of legal battle, respite came the way of about 90 workers of the Edo State College of Agriculture, Iguoriarkhi, on Monday, when the Benin Division of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, NICN before which they had dragged the state government for alleged wrongful termination of their appointments, ruled in their favour. The NICN not only nullified the sack of the workers, but ordered a compensation of four million naira to each of them, as well as a general damage of ₦500,000.
Delivering judgment in the suit no. NICN/BEN/25/2018 between Messrs Imhenrion O. Martin, Adorolo O. Michael, Osayande Clifford, Eikhor Nosakhare Abel, as well as Mrs. Mercy Ozabor, as claimants, and Edo State Government, Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Provost of the College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi, and the Governing Council of the College, as defendants, Justice Abiola Adewemimo ordered that the compensation be paid to the workers within 30 days, adding that failure to do same, would attract an annual interest of 10 percent.
Justice Adewemimo held that the state government was wrong to have claimed that the workers were temporary workers, as according to her, their letters of employment indicated a period of probation which she said did not translate to temporary employment. “This court is to check labour practice; and for the defendant to say their employment was temporary, connotes unfair labour practices”.
According to the judge, even though an employer has the right to terminate employments, such action must be done in accordance with established conditions of service, noting that the Edo state government did not do that in this case. She said though the government did not show any evidence that the school was no longer in existence, but that it was being restructured, therefore it would be difficult to reinstate the workers as demanded.
Justice Adewemimo said the special damages in the form of salaries and promotions claimed by the workers could not be given because they did not prove them with the statutorily required documents to enjoy such benefits.
Reacting to the judgment, counsel to the workers, Matthew Edaghese, said the court had in its wisdom held that “the so-called termination of appointment was null and void; it negates all known and relevant labour laws. It was a reckless executive indiscretion. This is a warning to the executive arm of government that they are governed by the laws of the land and they are not laws unto themselves.”
The workers had instituted the court action in August 2018 as a result of the termination of their appointments by the state government which claimed it was restructuring the institution.