By Ise-Oluwa Ige
The Supreme Court has ordered the immediate reinstatement of five lecturers of the University of Ilorin who were sacked alongside 44 others more than a decade ago for allegedly taking part in the activities of the Academic Staff Union of Universities [ASUU].
The court also awarded a total N300,000 damages against the authourities of the University of Ilorin in favour of the reinstated lecturers.
The reinstated lecturers are Dr. Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju, Dr A.S Ajayi, Dr. Adeyinka Banwo, Dr.Sola Ademiluka and O.O.Olugbara.
The 44 others who were given the boot by the University authourities did not join the quintet to pursue the matter at the apex court.
In the unanimous judgment handed down yesterday, the apex court also ordered the authourities of the University of Ilorin to pay all the reinstated lecturers all salaries and allowances due to them from the date of their sack to the date they are restored to their offices.
Justice Olufunmilayo Folashade Adekeye read the leading judgment of the court yesterday.
Other justices who sat on the panel concurred with the verdict of the court.
According to her, â€œwe have considered the arguments of the both sides alongside the Universities Act in respect of fair hearing and there is no iota of truth in the contention that the sacked lecturers were given fair hearing.
â€œAlthough the Universities Act allows the institution to employ and discipline its staff but it must be in conformity with the principle of fair hearing.
â€œAccordingly, I grant all the reliefs as prayed by the appellants and order that the appellants be re-instated to their offices with immediate effect with all their arrear salaries and allowances paid to them from the date of their sack to the date they are re-instated to the offices.
â€œThe majority decision of the Court of Appeal is hereby set aside and the minority judgmentof the court below is hereby affirmedâ€ she added.
Justice Adekeye also awarded the sum of N60,000 as costs in favour of each of the lecturers.
Although 49 lecturers were sacked, only five pursued their case to the apex court.
Since the case instituted by the five lecturers was not a class action and since the judgment handed down yesterday by the apex court is a judgment in personam and not a judgment in rem, the 44 others cannot benefit.
They may have to come to court before they can get reinstated.
The background of the case is that the five reinstated lecturers had through their counsel, Mr Yusuf Ali (SAN), dragged the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Shuaib Oba Abdul-Raheem, and three others to court over their sack by the university authourities.
The three others sued are the Registrar of the University, Mr Tunde Balogun; the University itself and its Governing Council.
In the suit maintained against the university authourities, the lecturers contended at the trial Federal high court that no reason was adduced for their sack .
They argued that they were axed contrary to their term of appointment which is of permanent, pensionable and statutory nature and governed by the Senior Staff Regulations of the University and the University of Ilorin Act Cap 455 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1990.
It was also their contention at the Court below that though the University authourities did not state the reasons for their sack, they said that it made allegations of misconduct, particularly alleged disruption of examination at their council deliberations against them in the build up leading to their purported sack.
They stated that as weighty as the allegations against them were, they said they were never taken through due process as required by Chapter 8 and Section 15 of the University Acts which formed the basis for their sack.
They further said that the authourities victimized them as executive members of their union, ASUU, for the strike action which members of the Union in all Nigerian Universities embarked upon in 2001.
But the University authourities had in their response at the lower court vehemently denied that the lecturers were sacked for misconduct or for participating in strike action.
It simply argued that it merely exercised its purported right under the memorandum and the letters of appointment to effect their sack simply for the fact that their services were no longer required.
The trial court in its judgment on July 27, 2005 had held that having regard to the provisions of the Statute of the University, the University authourities had no right to summarily terminate the appellantâ€™s appointments.
However, the Court of Appeal, upon appeal, reversed the decision of the trial court vide its majority decision, stating that the Federal High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the case.
But irked by the decision of the appellate court, the sacked lecturers brought their appeal to the Supreme Court asking it to determine whether the majority decision of the Court of Appeal was right in law.
They also asked the apex court to determine whether the majority of the Justices of the Court of Appeal were right in allowing the appeal of the Unilorin authorities when it was apparent from the evidence on record that they did not comply with the procedures laid down in section 15 of the Unilorin Act Cap 455 Laws of the Federation 1990 before terminating their appointments without any reason and without giving the respondents any fair hearing.
They asked the Supreme Court to hold that the Court of Appeal was wrong in its decision and issue an order re-instating them to their positions.
They also asked the court to order payment of their salaries, allowances and all other entitlements from the date of their purported sack to the date of the re-instatement.
The apex court, in its judgment yesterday, moved in their favour.