The National Industrial Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, on Friday, declared that the sacking of 14 Permanent Secretaries in 2015 by the Rivers State Governor, Mr Nyesom Wike, was unconstitutional.The court, therefore, reinstated the affected senior civil servants, newsmen reports.
Delivering judgement on the case filed by the aggrieved permanent secretries, the presiding judge, Bashir Alkali, said the action of the governor was ultra vires and null and void.
Wike had removed the senior civil servants in November 2015 via a statement issued by his administration.
Irked by the governor's action, the permanent secretaries dragged the state government to the INC, praying the court to declare their removal from office as illegal and unconstitutional.
The claimants also prayed the court to make orders setting aside their compulsory retirements, reinstating their salaries and other entitlements as well as awarding them N600m as damages.
In granting their prayers, Alkali held that the governor overstepped his constitutional bounds by treating the civil servants as if they were his political appointees.
Alkali while determining the case, first dismissed the submission of the lawyer to the defendants that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter and that the matter should be dismissed following the decision of the claimants, who were not employed on the same day, to join the case.
He ruled that the court had jurisdiction to adjudicate over the case, adding that the matter was rightly instituted despite their different dates of employment.
HE said the permanent secretaries had shown the existence of common grievances.
He said, "This suit is rightly instituted and the court has jurisdiction to adjudicate over this matter. It is crystal clear that all the claimants have shown existence of a common grievance so that the judgement will be given jointly and severely."
On whether the governor had the right to compulsorily retire the permanent secretaries, Alkali, who cited many judicial precedents, said the claimants were civil servants under industry rules and not under the mercy of the governor.
He said as civil servants, the permanent secretaries were employed under the civil service regulations to work for 35 years before retirement or quit after attaining 60 years of age.
He said the case of compulsory retirement only applies when a public servant is indicted of wrongdoing, which must be handled by the civil service commission through an established procedure.
The judge said though the governor had powers based on Section 281 of the 1999 Constitution to appoint a permanent secretary, he lacked the power to remove and retire such public servant without recourse to the established procedure in the civil service.
Alkali said, "The power of the governor to remove does not include retirement. The Government of Rivers State having appointed them must adhere to the civil service guidelines. Only the civil service commission is vested with the powers to discipline the civil servants.
"The power of the governor to appoint is not absolute. Civil servants do not hold their offices at the mercy of the governor. Even if they are removed, they should be returned to the civil service. They are not like commissioners or special advisers, whose tenures are tied to the governor.
"Civil servants cannot be removed at will without compliance to the rules. If the governor doesn't want them as permanent secretaries, they should be returned to the service as directors.
"The security of tenure and rights of the civil servants are determined by the civil service Commission. The claimants are not political appointees and cannot be retired by the governor".
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