From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
The National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) has dismissed the suit jointly filed by the former Managing Director of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Adebayo Somefun and former Executive Director, Operations, Kemi Nelson, challenging their suspension in July 2020 and consequent removal by President Muhammadu Buhari, acting through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige.
Delivering judgment on Wednesday, in Abuja, Justice Olufunke Anuwe dismissed the suit tagging it as “having no merit.”
Somefun and Nelson had gone to the court to contest their suspension and consequent removal, on the grounds that the action not only violated some provisions of the NSITF Act but equally contravened the President’s directive through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) that no minister should suspend or sack any head of an agency.
The 1st to 4th defendants respectively, in the suit-NICN/ABJ/ 185/2020-were the Minister of Labour and Employment, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Attorney General of the Federation and the NSITF Board.
The claimants had asked the court to determine whether having regards to the Provisions of Section 2, 3, 4,5,6,7 and 8 of the NSITF Act, their suspension by the 1st Defendant (Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment) purportedly with the approval of the 2nd Defendant (President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) does not amount to illegality, usurpation of the Powers of the Board and negation of due process of the law.
The claimants also asked the court to determine whether having regard to Section 2, 3,4,5,6, 7 and 8 of the NSITF Act and circumstances of the suit, Defendant has the powers to suspend the Managing Director and Executive Directors from office.
They equally asked the court to determine whether by the combined provisions of Section 6,7 and 8 of the NSITF Act and paragraph 3 and 5 of the Circular with reference number SGF/0p/1S3/T/163 issued on the 19th of May 2020, the letter dated 1st July 2020 is not illegal, null and void on the ground that the Minister of Labour and Employment has no powers to issue the said letters and in particular to communicate to the claimants the said decision of the President of the Federal Republic Of Nigeria, suspending them from office.
The claimants further asked the court to determine whether having regard to the combined provisions of Section 36 (1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as altered and Section 6 and 8 of the NSITF Act, the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment acted properly when he suspended the claimants as Managing Director and Executive Director of the Board of NSITF, purporting to have established prima facie infractions on the Financial Regulation and Procurement Act and gross misconduct against them in breach of the claimants constitutional guaranteed right to fair hearing.
In her judgment, Justice Anuwe considered issues 1-3 together and held that it was not the 1st Defendant (Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment) that suspended the claimants from office but the 2nd Defendant (President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria).
On the fourth pleading, Justice Anuwe submitted that the suspension of the claimants was a prelude to the investigation of the allegations made against them.
According to the judge, suspension from work or office is a disciplinary procedure that keeps an employee or appointee from being disciplined from duty for a fixed or terminal period or indefinitely pending investigation into the alleged misconduct.
Citing relevant authorities, she explained that at the stage of suspension, fair hearing is not a privilege the claimants can insist to be accorded them before they can be suspended.
‘The claimants are therefore misconceived as to their rights when they complain in this suit that their right to fair hearing was breached when they were suspended from office without giving them the opportunity to be heard.
‘In sum, I have thoroughly considered all the questions submitted by the claimants for determination in the Originating Summons and all the 4 questions are resolved in the negative and against the claimants,’ she said.