Industrial Court Orders Nigerian Correctional Service To Reinstate Senior Inspector

Hon. Justice Olufunke Anuwe of the Abuja Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court has declared the purported dismissal of Senior Inspector of Corrections, Ebute Christopher from the service of the Nigerian Correctional Service as published in the Controller General of Corrections Radio Message dated 28th day of March 2022 as invalid, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.

The Court ordered the Nigerian Correctional Service and Controller General of Corrections to reinstate Ebute Christopher into the service, promote and place him in the same or similar rank or position with his colleagues who are still in the service and which he would have been but for the unlawful dismissal.

Justice Anuwe directed the Nigerian Correctional Service and Controller General of Corrections to pay Ebute Christopher forthwith all the arrears of his salary and other entitlements and benefits from 1st March 2022 to date and to restore the claimant to be at par in terms of rank, remuneration and other benefits with his mates prior to his dismissal, with the sum of N500,000 cost of action.

The Court granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Nigerian Correctional Service, their servants, agents and privies from further acting on or implementing the contents of the Radio Message dated 28th day of March 2022, concerning or relating to Ebute Christopher.

Justice Anuwe noted that the Nigerian Correctional Service and Controller General of Corrections lack the powers or authority to try Ebute Christopher and punish him with dismissal for the criminal offence alleged against him for which he was never subjected to criminal prosecution in court and convicted.

From facts, the claimant- Ebute Christopher had submitted that he had not committed any offence and had never been queried for any disciplinary offence by the Board or any other appropriate authority for any disciplinary offence prior to his dismissal in 2022 and he stated further that the actions of the defendants constitute a gross abuse of his right to fair hearing and breach of the terms of his contract of employment.

Senior Inspector Christopher maintained that the only time he was ever accused of wrong-doing was when he was falsely and maliciously accused and charged with an offence of misconduct.

He stated further that the allegation of his involvement in misconduct is criminal in nature and Nigerian Correctional Service failed to report the case to NDLEA or the Police or take the matter before any court of competent jurisdiction and upon his transfer to another State, no new committee was set up to try him and he was not given any opportunity to complete the trial before proceeding on transfer.

In defence, the defendants- Nigerian Correctional Service and Controller General of Corrections maintained that Ebute Christopher was properly tried by the adjudication panel and in the course of the cross-examination, he admitted to have committed the offence of trafficking in Indian Hemp which was discovered in his pocket at the prison gate and he said he was using it as medicine to cure migraine.

The defendants maintained that the panel’s recommendation was forwarded to the higher authority and the Zonal Disciplinary Committee recommended Christopher’s dismissal, which the Controller General approved.

In opposition, the learned counsel to Christopher, Ani Patrick Chikezie Esq. averred that there is no basis for his dismissal which action was fraught with malice and was executed malafide against him in breach of his fundamental human rights, the Public Service Rules and the Guidelines for appointment, promotion and discipline of officers in the Public Service of the Federation, urged the Court to grant the reliefs sought.

Delivering judgment after careful evaluation of the submission of both parties, the Presiding Judge, Justice Olufunke Anuwe held that the allegation against Ebute Christopher is a criminal offence which is subject to criminal prosecution in a competent court of law that can convict and impose any of the stipulated punishments.

The Court held that the Nigerian Correctional Service is not a court of law and, by the provisions of the Prisons Act 2004, it does not have the jurisdiction to convict any person for any of the offences in Section 14[1] or to impose any of the punishments provided in the section.

Justice Anuwe stated that by the Public Service Rules, an employer cannot straightaway dismiss a staff for criminal offence which has not been prosecuted, proved and a conviction handed to the staff.