The National Industrial Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State has ordered the reinstatement of seven demoted lecturers of the Federal University, Otuoke in Ogbia Local Government Area of the state.
Justice Bashiru Alkali, who gave the order on Tuesday, also awarded the sum of N20 million as damages against the institution, in favour of the lecturers.
He ruled that the claimants be reinstated to their full status while their privileges and entitlements should be paid by the institution.
The presiding judge directed the university to pay each claimant N5 million for defamation and N200,000 for the cost of litigation.
All the litigants were from the diaspora who returned to serve in the University.
They include Leonard Shilgba – Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Professor Steve Nwabuzor – Department of Civil, Electrical and Electronics Engineering, and Dr Sepribo Lawson-Jack – Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering.
Others are Dr Obalade Falade – Department of Banking and Finance, Dr Marcellina Offoha – Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Dr Evans Eze – Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and Dr Felina Nwadike – Department of English and Communication Studies.
The Governing Council of the university had made key decisions involving appointments and discipline which led to the re-classification of some academic appointments.
It downgraded seven teaching staff appointments to lower ranks for lack of requisite scholarship, including that of Professor Nwabuzor.
Displeased with the development, Professor Nwabuzor and the others dragged the Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Professor Seth Jaja, and the university management before the Industrial Court of Nigeria.
In the suit marked NICN/YEN01/2019, Nwabuzor sought an order of the Court declaring that the regularisation of his appointment as a professor to a pensionable appointment by the institution’s letter of the appointment dated September 1, 2015, and the confirmation of his appointment vide the letter of February 21, 2017, cannot be tampered with except in accordance with the Federal University, Otuoke (Establishment) Act 2015.
He also sought a “declaration that the purported conversion of the claimant’s pensionable appointment to a contract appointment is ultra vires the defendants having regard to the Federal University, Otuoke (Establishment) Act, 2015, the 1999 constitution (as amended) and all known labour practice.”
The don urged the court to declare that the purported reclassification of his appointment from Professor to Lecturer 1 on the grounds that he does not have the requisite scholarship at the point of entry without hearing him was unconstitutional, null and void, and of no effect.
He asked the court to set aside the defendants’ letter of July 5, 2018, converting his statutory appointment to a mere contract of employment.