Hon. Justice Polycarp Hamman of the Portharcourt Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court has faulted the purported employment termination of Mr. Awodutire Oluwatobi from service, ordered the Federal Polytechnic of Oil And Gas Bonny, Rivers State to pay him the sum of N3,315,737.32 (Three Million, Three Hundred Fifteen Thousand, Seven Hundred and Thirty-Seven Naira, Thirty-Two Kobo) only, being the salary arrears of twenty-eight months beginning from August 2016 to December 2018, the sum of N118,419.19 per month from the month of January 2019 till May 2023 within 30 days.
The Court held that the resolution or minutes of the alleged decision of the Polytechnic Council or the parent Ministry (Federal Ministry of Education) where the appointments of Mr. Oluwatobi and others were declined is not before the court, and it’s not the duty of the Court to act on speculation.
However, Justice Hamman declined to make an order for reinstatement on the basis that Mr. Awodutire Oluwatobi whose employment is statutorily flavoured did not ask for such and the Court not being a Father Christmas cannot grant what is not asked for.
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From facts, the Claimant- Mr. Awodutire Oluwatobi had submitted that he was employed by the Federal Polytechnic of Oil and Gas Bonny, Rivers State as a lecturer II on the 2nd of August, 2016 and only received salary for the month of December, 2016 despite relocating his family from Ibadan to Port Harcourt, and all effort to get his entitlement proved were no to avail.
In defense, the defendant- Federal Polytechnic of Oil and Gas Bonny, Rivers State stated that Mr. Oluwatobi was a probationary employee and sometime in late August 2016, the Rector on behalf of the Defendant informed the new appointees that given the disapproval of their appointments by the Council their appointments had been terminated.
The Polytechnic averred that since Mr. Oluwatobi’s claim is for arrears of salary, the onus is on him to prove that he worked as to entitle him to salaries, that the Claimant who on his own admission was in the University of Port Harcourt pursuing his Doctorate Decree full time cannot claim to have worked for the Institution during the period.
In opposition, Oluwatobi’s Counsel argued that since their client was employed in writing in an employment governed by statute, the Polytechnic cannot be heard to argue that oral notice will be sufficient to terminate the appointment, and urged the Court to grant the reliefs sought.
Delivering judgment after careful evaluation of the submission of both parties, the Presiding Judge, Justice Polycarp Hamman held that the employment of Mr. Oluwatobi had statutory flavour, and having been employed in writing, if the defendant was not satisfied with his services, then a formal letter should have been written to him terminating the employment and also pay the requisite salary in lieu of notice.
The Court ruled that the narration for the salary paid to Mr. Oluwatobi on the 30th day of December 2016 indicates clearly that the payment was for salary, and there is no indication that the money was for payment in lieu of notice.
The Court further ruled that the Polytechnic allegation that the Claimant pursued a PhD programme at the University of Port Harcourt during the period without permission or leave is of no moment.
“If the Defendant was aware that the Claimant absconded from duty and was pursuing a PhD programme without authorization or leave, that should have been a good ground to formally terminate the employment in line with the Regulations governing the Institution, particularly since he was on probation. This court has repeatedly admonished and advised public-funded institutions whose employees have statutory coverage to be circumspect and meticulous in handling disciplinary issues.” Justice Hamman Ruled