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Zenith Bank ordered to re-absorb staff wrongfully terminated

*Pay N1million damages in addition

National Industrial Court has ordered Zenith Bank to re-absorb one of its staff who is now a journalist with Daily Times Newspaper, Tom Oko Okpe, whose appointment was wrongfully terminated since 2009, even as the court ordered the bank to pay him the sum of N1 Million as damage.

Hon. Justice Peter O. Lifu who presided over the judgement held that the termination of Tom Oko Okpe, who was employed as an Assistant Clearing Executive, representing the bank at the Central Bank Of Nigeria (CBN) Clearing House then known as the Nigeria Automated Clearing System (NACS) was null and void and of no effect whatsoever.

In a suit number NICN/ABJ/180/2013 filed against the three defendants by the claimant’s solicitors Barrister Lillian Ojimma of O’J Law consults, prayed the court for an order declaring that the purported termination of the claimant’s employment by the third defendant, People’s plus Ltd is null and void and of no effect.

Others include, an order of court declaring that the employment of the claimant is still subsisting; because it had not been properly terminated by the claimants employers.

A declaration of Court that the failure of the defendants to give the claimant opportunity to make representation before the panel of inquiry set up by the 1st defendant, Zenith Bank to investigate the incidents of dud cheques is an infringement of the claimants fundamental right to fair hearing as enshrined under chapter IV of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended).

In the report written against the claimant, the author who is an Auditor of the 1st defendant, Zenith Bank, had recommended that “the appointment of Tom Oko Okpe (Clearing Maitama) should be summarily terminated with reason  “Services no longer required”.

But Justice Lifu in his judgement declared that “It must be stated that the era of hire and fire, with or without reason at all are all gone in our labor jurisprudence” adding  that “That represents archaic, primitive and oppressive unfair labor practice of the previous dispensations.”

According to him “I have combed the entire evidence of the defence.  There is nothing to indicate or show any evidence of cloning of Cheques as alleged by the defendant. The defendant has tried to shift the burden of termination of employment of the claimant to the 3rd defendant through exhibit T005A but has failed woefully like a pack of cards in view of the content of exhibit T0018 which shows clearly that the employment, management, control and discipline of the claimant rest squarely on the first defendant.

“I hold therefore that the defendant did not observe any principle relating to fair hearing in their dealing with the claimant”.

Hon. Justice Lifu maintained that, “In view of my reasoning and conclusion as highlighted in this judgment, the claimant’s case succeed in part and judgment is hereby entered in his favor as follows;

“It is hereby declared that the purported termination of the claimant’s employment by the 3rd defendant in this case is null, void and of no effect whatsoever”.

The presiding Judge continued, “The claimant’s employment with the defendant still subsist and as such any purported indictment as shown in exhibit T0018 without granting him fair hearing is a breach of his fundamental human right as enshrine in the organic law of the land the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended”.

The Judge cited the principle in Chigozie Eze and 1470 Ors Vs Governor of Abia State &2 Ors 2014NWLR (Pt 1426) 192, on ground of equity which look at then done which ought to be done, “The defendants  are hereby ordered to calculate the entire emolument of the claimant from July 2009 until the employment is properly determined.

“I award the sum of 1m (One million) Naira only as general damages for breach of the fundamental right of the claimant and for meddling with his employment.

“I award a cost of N60, 000.00 (Sixty thousand) Naira only against the defendant but in favour of the claimant saying the judgment in this suit shall be satisfied within 30 days from the day of this judgment or else it shall attract 10% interest per annum.”

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