The National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) sitting in Owerri, has ordered the Micheal Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike (MOUAU), Abia State, to restore the professorial rank of one of its lecturers, Professor Vincent Ele Asor.
Asor had dragged the university to the NICN in Suit No: NICN/OW/29/2019, challenging his demotion from the rank of Professor of Mathematics to a Senior Lecturer by the governing council of the University in a letter dated May 20, 2019.
He also stated that he was not given fair hearing to defend himself if he had committed any offense before the university decided to humiliate him by such decision.
The university, however, stated that that Asor had ample opportunity to present to it his letter of transfer of service from previous institutions where he had served, arguing that since he failed to produce such, it was deemed that he had no defence.
Delivering judgement on the suit, the Presiding Judge, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Suleiman Galadima, granted six of the seven reliefs sought by Asor, and ordered the Defendants to continue to pay the Claimant’s salaries, emoluments and allowances as a Professor of the University.
The reliefs sought by Asor include “a declaration that the Defendant’s letter of 20/5/2019 titled “Council Decision on Staff Audit/Proper Placement” purporting to revert the claimant’s appointment from the rank of a professor of Mathematics to senior lecturer in the employ of the 3rd Defendants (sic) is ultra vires, null and void and of no effect.
“A declaration that his appointment in the service of the 3rd Defendant (sic) as a Professor is subsisting and valid, a declaration that the reversion of his appointment from the rank of Professor of Mathematics to Senior Lecturer in the employ of the 3rd Defendant (sic) is not in line with the 2017 Conditions of Service for Senior Staff of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike.
“A declaration that the failure, refusal, or neglect of the Defendant to afford the Claimant an opportunity to be heard before the purported reversal of his appointment from the rank of a Professor to Senior Lecturer is a breach of the Claimant’s right to fair hearing and is therefore unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect whatsoever; an order compelling the Defendant to reinstate and or restore the Claimant to his post as Professor of Mathematics in the MOUA with all his rights, entitlements and emoluments of office as a Professor.
“An order compelling the Defendants to continue to pay the Claimant’s salaries, emoluments and allowances as a Professor of MOUA, and an order setting aside the Defendant’s letter dated 20/5/2019 titled “Council Decision on Staff Audit/Proper Placement being that same was null and void”.
Galadima declared the demotion of the Professor was punitive a demotion, and said it was ultra vires, null and void and of no effect, saying that the demotion was not in line with the 2017 conditions of service for senior staff of the University.
The Court therefore set aside the letter of the governing council of the University, dated 20/5/2019 titled “Council Decision On Staff Audit/Proper Placement”, declaring it null and void.
The judge declared: “It is therefore my honest belief, that his appointment cannot be subjected to the quirks and vagaries of the Defendant in the manner that it was done simply because some of his colleagues in the university community are dissatisfied with his appointment, and I so hold.
“The only way the Defendant can succeed in downgrading him is if he accepts a fresh appointment on a downgraded rank or if his current appointment were terminated by the Defendant in accordance with the statute and terms and conditions of his appointment.
“On the whole, and for all the reasons above adduced, the invalidation and withdrawal of the Professorial appointment of the Claimant by the Defendant vide Exhibit C3 dated 20/5/2019 is not only wrong but most oppressive.
“The arguments of the Claimant as to unfair hearing do not even arise as the very action of the Defendant in downgrading, invalidating and withdrawing his Professorship is indeed wrong and unjust ab initio.
“Thus held, the Claimant’s case is meritorious and his reliefs (1), (2), (3), (5), (6) and (7) are hereby granted in the terms indicated above. Judgment is entered accordingly.”