By Ise-Oluwa IGE,Â Abuja
A five member panel of the Supreme Court, Friday , reinstated all the 44 lecturers of the University of Ilorin who were dismissed from service on May 22, 2001 forÂ participating in an industrial action embarked upon by their union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities.Â
That was after the court rejected an invitation by the university to throw out Â the case on the account that three of the lecturers who jointly filed the suit were dead.
The court held that the death of two (now three) plaintiffs did not invalidate the case of the plaintiffs.
Besides, the court also awarded a N50,000 cost against the university authorities which sacked them. The court said the cost should be paid in addition to the N10,000 and N5,000 awarded against the authorities at both the lower and the trial courts.
The decision was unanimous and canâ€™t be appealled. But the three of the judgment creditors who died during the pendency of the case didnâ€™t have the opportunity of last laugh as the remaining 41 lecturers. But the apex court held yesterday that the dead lecturers were deemed to have passed on while they were in service. It ordered that their salaries and allowances should be paid from the day they were dismissed from service to their respective dates of death.
Justice John Fabiyi delivered the lead judgment in the case.
The verdict was not only rich but also comprehensive. Other justices of the court who concurred with his decision included Justices Dahiru Musdapher, Aloma Mariam Alogba, Ikechi Francis Ogbuagu and Olufunmilola Oyelola Adekeye. The background of the case was that shortly after the lecturers were sacked for participating in industrial action, they hired lawyer to challenge their dismissal in court.
They contended that they were not given fair hearing among other reasons. The Federal high court presided over by Justice Peter Olayiwola gave judgment in favour of the plaintiff lecturers.
But the university authourities under the leadership of Prof Shuaib Oba Abdu-Raheem refused to obey the judgment.
His position to appeal the judgment was curious in view of the directive by the Federal Government that they should be re-absorbed. At appeal, the university authorities got judgment against the sacked lecturers by a majority judgment of two to one.
Aggrieved by the decision of the Appeal Court Ilorin which upturned the verdict of the trial court, the plaintiff came on appeal to the Supreme Court where they floored the university authorities yesterday.
The apex court noted that the authorities in University of Ilorin deliberately chose to punish the lecturers because the crisis ought to have ended in June 29th, 2001 when the National Universities Commission wrote to the university asking it to recall the dismissed lecturers.
Justice Fabiyi noted that while University of Nigeria, Nsuka complied with the directive, University of Ilorin chose not to and consequently created the impasse. In restating the lecturers, the Supreme Court held that they were not given fair hearing.
The court noted that after accusing the lecturers of not discharging their academic responsibilities, the university refused to give them fair hearing.â€There is no evidence on record that I can see wherein the appellants were offered opportunity for fair hearing,â€Justice Fabiyi held. He faulted the court of appeal for holding that the lecturers were given fair hearing.
According to him, the court of appeal went out of its way to set up a case for the respondents. He said, â€œIt must be stated in clear terms that it is not the responsibility of a court to set up for parties a case different from the one set up by the parties themselves in the pleadings and evidence.â€
The court held that it was not opened to the university to conclude,Â under section 15(3) of the University of Ilorin Act 1990, that the conduct of a staff was of scandalous or disgraceful nature and yet refused to give the affected staff notice of the allegation and opportunity to defend himself.