By Felix Ajide: Editor-in-Chief
After three years of gruelling legal fireworks, the National Industrial Court sitting in Abuja has slammed the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola and the Correctional Service for wrongfully dismissing a Deputy Controller of Prisons (DCP), Mr. Kayode Odeyemi for alleged misconduct.
The judge has therefore ordered his recall and promotion to the rank of Assistant Comptroller General (ACG).
According to the court, the senior officer was unfairly treated by now retired Comptroller General, Jaafaru Ahmed and the Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prisons Services Board (CDFIPSB), which was headed by Malam Al-Hassan S. Yakmut, now retired.
Justice O.O. Oyewumi of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria while delivering the judgment on November 10, 2021 in Suit No. NICN NICN/ABJ/02/2019 filed by Mr. Kayode Odeyemi against Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prisons Services Board (CDFIPSB) Abuja & 3 Others, ruled that the senior officer’s dismissal, conveyed in two successive letters dated 7 September 2018 and 27 November 2018 from the CDFIPB and the Controller General, Nigeria Correctional Services, was null and void, of no effect, wrongful and in breach of his contract of employment.
The court ordered the defendants to reinstate and promote Mr. Kayode Odeyemi to the rank of Assistant Controller General of Prisons from 2010 to April 2019 which he was due for and pay all his entitlement in accordance with his due date of retirement on 23 April 2019.
It further ruled that the defendants should:
Pay Mr. Odeyemi a total sum of N904, 000 (at the rate of N226, 000 per month) being his unpaid four months salaries up to 23 April, 2019 when he was due for retirement
The defendants should pay Mr. Odeyemi’s monthly pension and gratuity contributions from 1 November 2018 till 23 April 2019
The defendants should fulfill their obligation under the Pension Reforms Act by informing Mr. Odeyemi’s nominated Pension Funds Administrator of his lawful disengagement.
The defendants should pay Mr. Odeyemi a sum of N1, 000, 000. 00 (One million Naira) as the cost of the proceedings.
In its statement of defence before the court, the CDFIPB stated that Odeyemi was dismissed on the allegation of gross misconduct and act unbecoming of a public officer in the escape of inmates from lawful custody under his watch as officer in charge of prison (but no particular prison, year or number of jailbreaks were mentioned in the said letter of dismissal to Mr. Odeyemi).
Mr. Odeyemi’s counsel, Olusoji Toki Esq leading Joshua Afolabi, has made a specific written demand on 8 December 2021 for immediate execution of the judgment to the Minister of Interior and Chairman, Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration & Prisons Services Board (CDFIPSB), Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN.
In the document, which this newspaper obtained, he relied on Section 243 (2) (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to state that the judgement of National Industrial Court is final (except in matter of fundamental right which he argued was not the case here.
Joined as defendants in the suit were the CCDFIPSB) Abuja & 3 others (1st defendant), Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola (2nd defendant), Controller General, Nigerian Prison Service (2rd defendant) and Attorney General of the Federation (4th defendant).
Counsels to the defendants were L. M. Makama with Chinelo N. Eze and Madesola Olatunde for CDFIPSB, Geraldine Okafor for the Interior Minister, Laurat Ajima Elayo, mni and Abiola Olowoniyi for Jaafara Ahmed and Maimuna Shiru and Feyisara Titiloye for the Attorney General of the Federation.
The claimant, according to the records of proceeding of the court, contended in his plea of wrongful and vindictive dismissal that he had never been accused of any act of gross misconduct, never suspended, interdicted, neither had his salary been reduced/stopped before the dismissal and that he was not invited and did not attend any Prisons Disciplinary Committee meeting and that he was not given fair hearing contrary to procedures of Public Service Rules (PSR).
He had also averred that the provision of Part V (A) (i) of the Guidelines and Rules 030307 (xiii) provide that all disciplinary procedure must commence and be completed within 60 days was not followed in his case, a position which the judge supported in the ruling saying,
‘’I found nothing to show that the claimant was suspended or interdicted. In fact, what the defendants did was to indict the claimant after which he was issued a query in 2016 and was dismissed in 2018 after two years of the alleged indictment in flagrant breach of the PSR.
‘’It is equally unconscionable and an unfair labour practice for an employer as in this instant to wait till just about five months to the date of retirement of an employee to dismiss him from service for unproven allegations (See Ekeoma Ajah v. Fidelity Bank (Unreported) Suit No. NICN/LA/588/2017, judgement was delivered on 14 May, 2019).
‘’It is in view of the foregoing that I find that failure to comply strictly with the provisions of the Guidelines which is impair material with the provisions of the PSR is fatal to the defendants’ case.
“I so find and hold’’, the presiding judge ruled, maintaining that the claimant has proved his case far above the lawful threshold that he was wrongfully dismissed from service.
In his statement of defence, Mr. Odeyemi who holds the service record as the first and longest-serving National Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Prisons Service, said that following a prison riot that occurred on 10/10/2014, he professionally quelled it as a result of which no inmate escaped nor was there a jail break.
He said he got a clean bill of health on 18 October 2014 by an 11-man Presidential Panel headed by former Executive Secretary of National Human Rights Commission, Professor Ben Angwe.
According to him, ‘’the Ministerial Committee that investigated the riot headed by former Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro (now Senator) addressed the media after the investigation and said:
‘DCP Odeyemi was fighting corruption in the prison by doing the right thing, but it is unfortunate that corruption was fighting back, and Odeyemi deserved promotion for fighting corruption in the Prison’ (media reports in Vanguard Newspaper of 21/10/2014 and Channels TV Sunrise Daily programme of 14 and 15 October 2014)’’.
Lamenting that his mates and juniors are now Deputy Comptrollers General (DCGs) and ACGs of Prisons, he said that he was unjustifiably stagnated for more than 12 years while his juniors in the service were promoted ahead of him even after attending and completing necessary command courses and promotion examinations.
It was gathered that his dismissal became a subject of intense interest in top government, religious, traditional and political quarters who pressed for the need to redress his case.
It was also claimed that former Lt. Gen Abdulrahman Dambazzau turned deaf ears to pleas and entreaties for redress, a hard stance that was allegedly sustained by the incumbent Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola thereby leaving the embattled officer with no option than to run to the court to plead his case for justice.
Efforts to reach Mr. Odeyemi to react failed but his counsel, Olusoji Toki told reporters in Abuja yesterday that the judgement has further increased his client’s trust and confidence in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man, expressing hope that the defendants would give expeditious attention to the ruling of the National Industrial Court.
‘’Let me register our appreciation to Her Lordship for displaying rare courage to deliver this judgement thereby delivering truth to power in accordance with the law. The ruling is another major triumph and victory for the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.
‘’It is a victory for all lovers of fairness, rule of law and natural justice. It marks an end to three years of our client’s dogged pursuit of justice. It is also another lesson for tyrants who forget that power is transient’’, he said.