By Edith Nwapi
Abuja, Oct. 20, 2020 The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Tuesday reserved judgment in a suit filed by a Director of the EFCC, Mr Ayo Olowonihi, seeking an order for the anti-graft agency to pay his accumulated salary arrears from Dec. 29, 2015 till date.
A three-member panel led by Justice Stephen Adah announced that judgment in the cross-appeal is reserved to a date that will be communicated to all parties.
Naija247news reports that Olowonihi in a cross-appeal against part of the judgment of Justice Musa Kado a National Industrial Court of Nigeria, predicated his request on the grounds that the court erred in law when it refused to order payment of his outstanding salaries after it nullified his suspension by the commission.
The EFCC under suspended Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, had in 2015 following alleged “indiscipline” placed Olowonihi, under suspension without pay.
Although the commission recalled him in 2017, it however demoted him from grade level 17 to 16.
Displeased with the commission’s decision, Olowonihi then approached the Industrial Court, to challenge his demotion and also prayed the court to order his reinstatement as well as payment of his entitlements held during the period of his unlawful suspension.
In the suit marked: NICN/ABJ/347/2017, the claimant in a 62-paragraph affidavit deposed to in support of the suit said he was not given fair hearing before disciplinary action was taken against him.
The appellant’s counsel, Prof. Joash Amupitan, SAN, prayed the court to determine whether the EFCC Staff Regulations Handbook 2007 used to discipline his client was validly made.
NAN reports that in its judgment, the Industrial Court decided all three issues raised for determination in favour of the claimant.
“There is a violation of natural justice,” the court held “the claimant’s appointment is statutory and can only be tampered with strict public service rule”.
He subsequently held that the letter of reinstatement downgrading the claimant to GL 16 is “nullified and set aside” and ordered the EFCC to reinstate the defendant back to his position as Detective Commandant Grade Level 17.
However, Justice Kado refused to grant the prayers of the claimant on the payment of all his salaries and allowances within the period of the suspension on the grounds that the claimant failed to prove that he was entitled to such relief.
Displeased by this latter part of Justice Kado’s decision, Olowonihi then approached the appellate court to challenge the denial of his outstanding emoluments.
In the cross-appeal marked: CA/A/190/2020 and filed on April 8, 2020, Amupitan argued that, “the refusal of the trial judge to order the payment of the outstanding salaries and emoluments of the Cross Appellant is contradictory and at cross purpose with the principal reliefs already granted by him”.
He further submitted that having nullified the EFCC Staff Regulation Handbook, 2007, Justice Kado erred in law when he failed to set aside the letter of query dated Dec. 22, 2015 as well as the Notification of Suspension dated Dec. 29, 2015.
“The query dated Dec. 22, 2015 was the instrument that originated the disciplinary proceedings against the Cross Appellant and it was issued pursuant to the EFCC’s Staff Regulation Handbook and not the Public Service Rules.
” Being the originating instrument, it is defective and all other steps or action taken based on it is a nullity”, Amupitan submitted.
He further submitted that the court is duty bound to set aside the query and suspension of Olowonihi having voided the disciplinary proceedings.
He therefore prayed the appellate court for, “an order reinstating the salary and emoluments of the cross appellant which was suspended by the cross respondent on Dec. 29, 2015, pending the outcome of the disciplinary case against him which disciplinary action was resolved in favour of the cross appellant on Feb. 26, 2019 by the trial court”.
He also prayed for another order, urging the Court of Appeal under its inherent powers under Section 16 of the Court of Appeal Act, to set aside the letter of query dated December 22, 2015.
He added and notification of suspension dated Dec. 29, 2015, “because there was no valid query and suspension in the first place to warrant stoppage of his salary.
“An order of the Court of Appeal restoring the usual accumulated salary of the cross appellant from Dec. 29, 2015 to date being an employee with statutory flavour”.
NAN further reports that the Court of Appeal on Aug. 25, in a unanimous decision, dismissed the main appeal by the EFCC for lacking in merit.
The appellate court in the lead judgment delivered by Justice Yargata Nimpar, held that the lower court was right in declaring as invalid the EFCC’s handbook used in disciplining the respondent because it was not approved by the commission.
The appellate court further held that Justice Kado was right in setting aside the demotion as well as ordering the reinstatement of the respondent.
“Appeal lacks merit and it is therefore dismissed”, Justice Nimpar held.