A Director and Former Commander of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Academy, Mr. Ayo Peter Olowonihi, has dragged the commission before the National Industrial Court in Abuja for wrongful suspension and demotion.
In the suit filed by Professor JO Amupitan, pursuant to Order 3 Rule 16 of the NIC Rules, 2016, Olowonihi wants the court to determine whether the commission’s staff regulation handbook titled: ‘EFCC Staff Regulation Handbook’ 2007 under which he was allegedly suspended and reinstated conditionally was valid same having not been approved by the commission as required by section 8(2) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004?
In the affidavit in support of his origination summons, the plaintiff who had worked in various capacities and under all the chairmen of the commission without blemish narrated his ordeal in the hands of the incumbent Acting Chairman of Commission, Ibrahim Magu.
The plaintiff stated that as soon as Magu was appointed in November 2015 he was summoned and accused of being behind some online publications in respect of the activities of the commission and Magu.
He added that on the directive of Magu, he was taken to the Statement Room where he was made to write a 10-page statement under caution like a suspect and in the absence of his lawyer despite being a management staff on Grade Level 17 in the commission.
The plaintiff alleged that in the course of taking his statement, the lead investigator, Mr. Yahaya Bello, told him that he was being questioned because those online publications were in furtherance of his ambition to be appointed as the chairman of the commission and that the publications were to run down the acting executive chairman.
He further averred that on the order of Magu, his official table top computer was taken away, his two phones MTN (08033485511) and GLO (08055066583) were seized and his office was thoroughly searched by a team of detectives and policemen and sealed up, adding that the search conducted showed that there was nothing linking him with the publications.
He added that his official car was also withdrawn on the directive of the acting chairman who also ordered a forensic investigation on all his electronic devises including his bank account and email addresses and nothing incriminating was found against him.
The plaintiff said while interrogation was going on, Magu demoted him as commandant and ordered for his redeployment from EFCC Academy to his office.
“On November 20, 2015, I also received a letter dated November 20, 2015 from the defendant signed by one Aliyu Nadada intimating me of my redeployment as commandant of the defendant’s Training Institute to the office of the acting Executive Chairman with immediate effect with a directive that I should handover to the next most senior officer.
“That although the letter of deployment was purported to have been issued by the management of the defendant, I am not aware of such management meeting as a management staff as the redeployment was based purely on the directive of the acting Executive Chairman.
“On December 22, 2015, I also received a query titled ‘Offence Against Discipline’ for contravening certain sections of the Defendant’s Staff Regulation Handbook. On December 23, 2015, I promptly responded to the query wherein I denied the allegations of any ‘Offence Against Discipline’ and even stated that when I saw some of the online publications, I reported it at one of the management meetings of the defendant and the matter was dismissed as inconsequential.
“On December 29, 2015 when my response was submitted, I got a letter of indefinite suspension from work without pay with immediate effect. I was allegedly queried under the EFCC Staff Regulation Handbook, my suspension was made in furtherance of Article 030406 of the Public Service Rules. The suspension was made pending the outcome of the matter.
“It is over two years now that I was suspended without salary and I have found it difficult to meet up my responsibilities including payment of school fees of my children, my house mortgage and other responsibilities. Since I was placed on suspension, I was not invited to appear before any panel nor was there any communication to me until November 16, 2017 when I was served with a Letter of Reinstatement dated November 15, 2017 demoting me and forfeiting my salaries and emoluments.
“In the said Letter of Reinstatement, I was alleged to have been found guilty of a case of “Breach of Confidence” by the Senior Staff, Promotions and Disciplinary Committee of the defendant on September 28, 2017. I was not at any time confronted by the defendant of any allegation of ‘Breach of Confidence’. I was not invited by the Senior Staff, Promotions and Disciplinary Committee of the defendant to defend myself against any allegation of ‘Breach of Confidence’ or of any other misconduct for that matter.
“Even the Senior Staff, Promotions and Disciplinary Committee only has power to try officer below Level 13 and below and not my cadre Level 17 which is the bar and the prerogative of the commission. The power to discipline me is vested on the Commission which has not been constituted and not the acting Executive Chairman of the defendant or the Senior Staff, Promotions and Disciplinary Committee.
“The acting Executive Chairman of the defendant in this case is the accuser, investigator and judge because even in the course of investigation, he had ordered my removal as the commandant of the defendant’s Training Academy and posted to his office without any designation and schedule of duty.
“I know as a fact that under the Public Service Rules, a staff who is suspended and even indicted is placed on half salary and if reinstated is paid the other half of the salary withheld. There is no provision under the Public Service Rule or under any other Rule that governs my condition of service where a staff’s salary is withheld in full during a period of suspension.
“My suspension without pay was meant to punish me and an act of vendetta. Since 2005 when I was employed by the Defendant as the Head of Training, I had worked with four different Chairmen: Mr Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer Chairman, Mrs Farida Waziri, Mr Ibrahim Lamorde and the current Chairman, Mr Ibrahim Magu. I have not had any problem with any of the chairman except the present chairman who has greatly humiliated me and my family.”
Among other consideration, the plaintiff wants the court to determine whether the whole process of exercising disciplinary procedure over him by the EFCC acting executive chairman beginning with the letter of query dated December 22, 2015, the notification of suspension dated December 29, 2015 and the letter of reinstatement dated November 15, 2017 were not a gross violation of his right to fair hearing under section 36 of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 as amended?
The plaintiff therefore wants the court to set aside the letter of reinstatement dated November 15, 2017 conditionally reinstating him to his job on the ground that it is invalid, null and void.
He equally wants the court to set aside the letter of query dated December 22, 2015 and the notification of suspension dated December 29, 2015; and unconditionally restoring him to his position and office as the commandant of the EFCC Academy or his Grade Level 17 and to all rights and privileges attaching thereto.
Finally the plaintiff wants the court to order the payment of all his salaries and entitlements from December 29, 2015 until the case is determined.
In response, the Commission through its lawyer, Yusuf Musa requested for time to file its response