TEN years after the University of Ilorin sacked them during a labour dispute, the Supreme Court has ordered the university to reinstate 41 of the 44 lecturers.
Three died during the disputes that ran its full course from the high court in Ilorin, through the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court.
Justices John Afolabi Fabiyi (leading), Dahiru Musdapher, Mariam Mukhtar, Francis Ogbuagu, and Olufunlola Adekeye of the Supreme Court were unanimous in reversing the decision of the lower court to sustain the universityâ€™s powers to sack the lecturers.
The power of the university to sack its staff was doubtless. The crux of the case was that the lecturers maintained they did not get fair hearing.
Justice Fabiyi in his judgment noted, â€œThere is no evidence that I can see wherein the appellants were offered opportunity for fair hearingâ€.
He faulted the Court of Appeal on this point, â€œIt must be stated in clear terms that it is not the responsibility of a court to set up for parties a different case from the one set up by the parties themselves in pleadings and evidenceâ€.
The university was unfruitful in its position that the conduct of the lecturers by striking fouled Section 15 (3) of the University of Ilorin Act 1990.
The Supreme Court ruled that though the conduct of the staff could have been scandalous or of a disgraceful nature, according to that provision, the staff deserved notice of the allegation and opportunity to defend themselves.
University of Ilorin rejected a directive of the National Universities Commission, NUC, to reinstate the staff.
The explicit NUC directive, also sent to the University of Nigeria Nsukka, UNN, stated, â€œI am directed to draw the attention of your Council to the cases of academic staff, whose rights of continuous employment have been wrongly and prejudicially affected as a direct consequence of the national strike of ASUU and to request you to kindly reverse such action taken by your Council/Administration in order to ensure peace and harmony on the campuses in the country and in the spirit of negotiationsâ€.
While Nsukka complied with the NUC directive, which the then Executive Secretary Professor Munzali Jubril signed, Ilorin ignored it.
The Supreme Court ruled that the lecturers be reinstated and paid all their entitlements from February 2001. For the three who died during the dispute, the court held that they died on active service.
They are to be paid their full entitlements to the dates of their demise. It also awarded costs of N2.8 million against the university.
Had the University of Ilorin followed the NUC directive, the case would have been finished more than 10 years ago, precisely on 29 June 2001 when the NUC issued the directive.
The verdict emphasises the point that the path to justice, liberty, fairness, and democracy may be tortuous, windy, and lengthy, but at the end of the day, it defeats arbitrariness and tyranny.