34 Years After, Industrial Court nullifies Donatus Wokpe’s employment termination from UniPort Teaching Hospital

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The Presiding Judge, Calabar Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court, Hon. Justice Sanusi Kado has nullified the suspension and termination of Mr. Donatus Wokpe from the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital; ordered UPTH to pay Mr. Donatus his salaries and allowances from 22nd Dec. 1988 to August 2018, when he was deemed to have retired from the public service within 30 days.

Justice Kado held that the decision of the Teaching Hospital to terminate the employment of Mr. Donatus without compliance with the laid down procedure amounts to a nullity and the Hospital’s reliance on Mr. Donatus’s purported admission of fault as the reason for not setting up a committee or issuing a query to him was based on a misconception of law; awarded the sum of N1m cost of action against the teaching hospital.

From facts, the claimant- Mr. Donatus Wokpe had submitted that he joined the services of the UPTH in July 1983, as a driver and was assigned to drive the Coaster Bus attached to NASU of the Hospital.

According to the claimant, on Friday, 9, September 1988, at about 6pm he was given the sum of N240.00 and was orally authorized to take the Bus for repairs and was involved in an accident. Consequent to this he was suspended from work pending an investigation of the matter.

Mr. Donatus averred that his continued suspension has been without compliance with the Federal Government Public Service Rules regulating the procedure to be adopted in taking decisions to mete out disciplinary action to defaulting employees and all efforts to have the authority to recall him back to work or cause a thorough investigation of the matter was to no avail.

In defense, the defendant- the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital maintained that Mr. Donatus committed gross misconduct by using the bus assigned to him for official duties for private use and that the issue of suspension has been overtaken by an event as the claimant’s employment had subsequently been terminated.

The defendant avers further that the claimant was given an opportunity to state his case, as a result, the claimant made a formal presentation to management of his letter dated 13/9/1988 and having admitted guilty in correspondence to management, the management dispensed with the need to summon claimant to appear before the board, as there is no need to defend himself as there is nothing to defend in the circumstances.

Furthermore, the defendant’s counsel argued that the cause of action accrued on 8/6/1990, but Donatus commenced the action on 3rd December 2009 at the Federal High Court Portharcourt, a period above six years limitation period stipulated by law, urged the court to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.

In opposition, Mr. Donatus learned counsel, J. N. Wali, Esq averred that the suspension letter was issued to his client pending investigation of the matter, which investigation has not been concluded to date, and that his client did not admit or plead guilty of removing the vehicle without authority and was not given any opportunity to defend himself.

In reply, the defendant submitted that Mr. Donatus was informed via the termination of his employment in six (6) months if the coaster bus was not put in good working condition and following the Claimant’s admission of guilt, his employment was summarily terminated upon the expiration of the agreed six (6) months, urged the Court to dismiss the suit in its entirety.

Delivering the judgment after careful evaluation of the submission of both parties, the presiding Judge, Justice Sanusi Kado dismissed the objection for lacking merit and held that having found that Mr. Donatus is still in the service of the defendant on suspension, the limitation laws cannot operate to render the claimant’s suit challenging his suspension from work statute-barred, that the suit as it is presently constituted being a challenge to suspension is not statute-barred.

Justice Kado held that Exhibits J and D9 cannot in all sense of responsibility be interpreted to mean termination/dismissal of claimant’s employment and if there had been any termination, the evidence of such termination has not been adduced before the cour

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