The National Industrial Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, has on Friday, January 31, 2020, reinstated the permanent secretaries sacked in 2015 by the Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike.
The court declared the action of removing and compulsorily retiring the affected senior civil servants by the governor as unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void.
Ruling on the case brought before him by the aggrieved permanent secretaries, the presiding judge, Bashar Alkali, held that the state government overstepped its constitutional bounds by treating the civil servants as if they were his political appointees.
Alkali held that all their entitlements, salaries and other privileges should be restored within 30 days adding that their salaries must be paid from November 2015 till date.
“They should not lose their entitlements if their appointments were wrongly terminated. They are entitled to their salaries from the day of the termination till date”, he said.
Alkali further condemned the eviction of the affected permanent secretaries from their official quarters despite the order of the court that all the parties should maintain the status quo.
He said: “The action is unacceptable and is totally condemned. It is unlawful, illegal and null and void. I declare that the claimants remain permanent secretaries. I set aside the purported approval of compulsory retirement. Pay them all the arrears. They should be paid”.
Wike in a statement issued by his government in November 2015 removed and compulsorily retired 14 permanent secretaries.
Aggrieved by the action of the governor, the permanent secretaries approached the INC praying the court to declare the action of the governor as illegal and unconstitutional.
Among other reliefs, the claimants also prayed the court to make orders setting aside their compulsory retirements, reinstating their salaries and other entitlements as well as awarding them N600 million as damages.
Alkali while determining the case, first dismissed the submission of the lawyer to the defendants that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter and that the matter should be dismissed following the decision of the claimants, who were not employed on the same day, to join the case.
But the judge, who held that the court had jurisdiction to adjudicate over the case, added that the matter was rightly instituted since despite their different dates of employment, the permanent secretaries had shown the existence of common grievances.
“This suit is rightly instituted and the court has jurisdiction to adjudicate over this matter. It is crystal clear that all the claimants have shown existence of common grievance so that the judgement will be given jointly and severely”, he said.
On whether the governor had the right to compulsorily retire the permanent secretaries, Alkali, who cited many judicial precedents, said the claimants were civil servants under industry rules and not under the whims and caprices of the governor.
He said as civil servants, the permanent secretaries were employed under the civil service regulations to work for 35 years before retirement or quit after attaining 60 years of age.
He said the case of compulsory retirement only applies when a public servant is indicted of wrongdoing, which must be handled by the civil service commission through an established procedure.
Alkali said though the governor had powers based on Section 281 of the 1999 Constitution to appoint a permanent secretary, he lacked the power to remove and retire such public servant without recourse to the established procedure in the civil service.
He said: “The power of the governor to remove does not include retirement. The government of Rivers State having appointed them must adhere to the civil service guidelines. Only the civil service commission is vested with the powers to discipline the civil servants.
“The power of the governor to appoint is not absolute. Civil servants do not hold their offices at the mercy of the governor. Even if they are removed, they should be returned to the civil service. They are not like commissioners or special advisers, whose tenures are tied to the governor.
“Civil servants cannot be removed at will without compliance to the rules. If the governor doesn’t want them as permanent secretaries, they should be returned to the service as directors.
“The security of tenure and rights of the civil servants are determined by the civil service Commission. The claimants are not political appointees and cannot be retired by the governor”.
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