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AKINOLA AROBIEKE v. NATIONAL ELECTRICITY LIABILITY MANAGEMENT COMPANY

(2017) LPELR-43461(SC)

In The Supreme Court of Nigeria

On Friday, the 15th day of December, 2017

SC.176/2006


Before Their Lordships

MARY UKAEGO PETER-ODILI Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria

OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria

JOHN INYANG OKORO Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria

AMINA ADAMU AUGIE Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria

PAUL ADAMU GALINJE Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria


Between

AKINOLA AROBIEKE - Appellant(s)

AND

NATIONAL ELECTRICITY LIABILITY MANAGEMENT COMPANY - Respondent(s)


Other Citations

; ;


Summary

INTRODUCTION:
This appeal borders on Labour Law.
FACTS:
This is an appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Calabar Judicial Division (Coram: Dalhatu Adamu, JCA, Christopher M. Chukwuma-Eneh JCA (as he then was) and Jean Omokri JCA, delivered on Monday, the 23rd day of May, 2005 in which it set aside the decision of C. C. Nwaogwugwu J, of the Federal High Court, Calabar.

The appellant was an employee of the respondent. At all times material, he was deployed to the Calabar District Office and held the office of Assistant Manager (O & M). His schedule of duties included the supervision of Head of Fitters, Head of Cable, Head of 33KV Line Maintenance, Head of 11KV Line Maintenance, Trainee (IT) Officer 1 (O & M) and he reported to the Manager (Distribution).

???On or about 26th June, 1996, the appellant was allegedly in a case of co-ordination and supervision of unauthorized extensive electrical maintenance works at the Calabar Wood Company Limited in conspiracy with one Mr. O. J. Oyira and using other workers of the Respondent for private monetary benefit from the said company. In engaging in his unauthorized venture (business) the appellant perpetuated his unlawful act using the servants of the respondent (under his official control), the official time of the respondent and the respondent's filtration plant.

When these alleged activities came to the knowledge of management of the respondent, which was a clear violation and abuse of office by the appellant, the management conducted initial investigation which was followed by a query to the appellant dated 25th June 1996 - REF.3114.5 NOL.XI/96/3236. Queries were also issued to others found involved in the unauthorized works.

The appellant was also placed on interdiction. The query served on the appellant carried the offences and breaches levelled against him, properly formulated, which duly informed him of the penalty, which was dismissal as a possible result for which he was required to respond within 48 hours. He signed for same on 27th June, 1996.

The responses received from other workers similarly queried for the illegal and unauthorized maintenance works, were attached to the appellants query and served on him, (These were responses from Messrs Oyira J. Oyira and E. Akioyemen who colluded with appellant in the works). 

Appellant responded to the queries.

Against this background, and being dissatisfied with the appellant's response and that of the other accomplices/partners in the unauthorized works which was considered a grave breach of the authority's regulation and abuse of office for private benefit, the respondent set up an AD-HOC DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE to determine the magnitude and culpability of these officers - MR. A.I.C. EZE, Manager (D); Oyira J. Oyira Officer III (Fitter); A. A. Arobieke - Assistant Manager (O & M); M. E. Akioyemen Officer; (O & M) in particular and others in Calabar District and amongst other things apportion blame and also recommend appropriate disciplinary actions.

By a letter dated 10th July, 1996, the Chairman of the AD-HOC DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE, Engineer J.I. Ahamioje invited the appellant to appear before the committee still on the issue of "Alleged case of Unauthorized Maintenance Work at Calabar Wood Company Limited. Noteworthy is the fact that the query earlier served on the appellant also charged him of "Coordinating and Supervising the Unauthorized Extensive Electrical Maintenance hob at the Calabar Wood Company."

The Ad-Hoc Disciplinary Committee duly discharged their assignment, the appellant duly appeared before the Committee and answered questions touching and relating to the Unauthorized maintenance Works aforesaid. Witnesses including officers who the appellant used to execute the works, who were by his schedule of works directly under his control, testified before the Committee in the presence of the appellant. The Committee promptly called one witness Mr. B. O. Ukeh, which the appellant mentioned for purposes of supporting his evidence in defence, that Mr. Oyira J. Oyira was not on duty between 12 and 24 September 1995, and he testified before the appellant and contradicted appellant's testimony.

The Ad-Hoc Disciplinary Committee, took evidence on the issue of the unauthorized works and unlawful use of the authority's workers and equipment for the private work by bringing all the sectional heads working under the appellant, and other co-accused persons, Mr. Oyira J, Oyira and Mr. Akioyemen to testify before each other and in the presence of each other and the appellant was afforded opportunity to put questions to them which he did.

The Committee in their recommendation found him guilty and following the submission of the report, the respondent on or about 19th November, 1996, terminated the appointment of the appellant. The appellant's appeal against the termination was rejected after a careful consideration by the respondent's management report.

On the 27th day of March, 1997 the appellant filed a motion ex-parte seeking the following reliefs:-
1. An order granting leave to the Applicant (Appellant) to bring up to this Honourable Court for the propose of being quashed the proceedings and findings of the Ad-Hoc Disciplinary committee set up by the respondent and headed by Engineer J. I. Ahamioje and the decision of the appellant terminating the appointment of the Applicant (Appellant) based on the said findings and recommendations the same being unconstitutional, null and void and being in excess of the powers and jurisdiction of the committee and the appellant and also a violation of the respondents' right to fair hearing.
2. An order of injunction to restrain the respondent by itself or through its servant or any other person(S) otherwise howsoever described from enforcing or otherwise acting on the proceedings of the Ad-Hoc Disciplinary Committee and on the decision of the Management of the respondent terminating the appellants' appointment.
3. Such further order or orders as this Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.

The trial Court delivered ruling on the 6th of October, 1998 and granted the prayers of the appellant declaring the entire trial, proceedings, findings and recommendation of the Ad-Hoc Disciplinary committee upon which the appointment of the appellant was terminated, unconstitutional, illegal, null and void and quashed same. It also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondent as claimed in the application.

Against that judgment, the respondent appealed to the Court of Appeal by Leave of that Court granted on 6/7/99. The Court of Appeal, heard the appeal, and on the 23rd day of May 2005, delivered unanimously their judgment wherein they upheld the appeal, set aside the decision of the Federal High Court and dismissed the appellants' application before the Federal High Court. It is against the decision of the Court of Appeal that the Appellant filed this appeal to the apex Court.



ISSUES:
The appeal was determined on a sole issue viz:
"Whether on a fair, balanced and proper evaluation of the evidence before the trial Court, the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were right in holding that the Ad-hoc Disciplinary Committee did not violate the rules of natural justice while considering the appellant's disciplinary case and consequently in proceeding to set aside the decision of the trial Court. "

DECISION/HELD:
The appeal was unanimously dismissed for lack of merit. The judgment of the Court of Appeal which set aside that of the trial Court was affirmed.


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