In a dramatic turn of event, the Federal Ministry of Information under the supervision of Lai Mohammed has rejected a judgement for reinstatement of the former spokesperson of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Yushau Shuaib, into the civil service.
Justice David Isele of the National Industrial Court, NIC, had on November 22, 2017, ordered the immediate reinstatement and payment of compensation to Mr. Shuaib who was forcefully retired in 2013 over an opinion article he wrote on former finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The court had declared that the letter retiring Mr. Shuaib from service has no force of law and is therefore illegal, unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect whatsoever being in flagrant violation of the civil service rules.
But in appealing against the judgement, the Federal Ministry of Information urged the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgement of NIC and to dismiss the suit. Joined as a defendant is the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) which was eager to recall Mr. Shuaib back into the service after the judgement last year.
In the Notice of Appeal, the Ministry of Information rejected the whole decisions by the trial court on the grounds that the learned judge erred in law when he held that the ministry violated the provisions of the Public Service Rules by not first interdicting or suspending the officer before he was retired and that he was also denied fair hearing guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, in 2013 when Mr. Mohammed was the spokesperson of the then opposition party before becoming a minister, he had issued an official statement eulogizing the courage of Mr. Shuaib for his constructive criticisms and berated the previous government for harassing and penalising the writer.
In the statement issued on Sunday, May 5, 2013, Mr. Mohammed had written thus: “The fate that befell NEMA spokesman Yushau Shuaib for daring to criticize the lopsided appointments in parastatals under the Ministry of Finance, are glaring actions of an administration (Goodluck Jonathan) that is bent on stifling Freedom of Expression.
‘’These anti-democratic measures will worsen as the 2015 elections approach. Therefore, all lovers of democracy must join us in speaking out against the Jonathan administration’s descent into despotism. This is the only way to prevent a president’s desperation for power from torpedoing our country’s democracy. After all, a critical benchmark of a democratic society is the existence of a vibrant, free and independent media that will give the citizenry a platform to freely and vigorously debate current issues,’’ he concluded.
When contacted on the appeal by the Ministry of Information, Mr Shuaib expressed surprise that Mr. Mohammed the supervisory minister could approve the rejection of the judgement just a few years after condemning his sack and praising him (Shuaib) for his courage and candour in his writings for justice.
Mr. Shuaib said: “I didn’t believe Mr. Lai Mohammed as an opposition leader was lying when he was defending my right to freedom of expression in 2013. I, therefore, doubt if the minister is aware of the appeal rejecting the entire judgement of a competent court for my reinstatement and compensations on that basis. I still don’t believe Mr. Lai could be lying with his public support for the freedom of expression by tolerating the unfathomable decision of his ministry in 2018.”
Mr. Shuaib urged the minister to be wary of fraudulent antics of some civil servants who could mislead him. Narrating his ordeal before the purported retirement, Mr. Shuaib disclosed that “In a deliberate effort to nail me at all cost after my article on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in 2013, the directors in the Ministry of Information ignored my various initiatives and efforts in promoting the image of the government while in the service. I had issued countless press releases and articles as well as received awards and commendations even from government agencies in about 20 years’ career in the service.
“The directors met and insisted on my dismissal over the same article ignoring my written defence. They even made a mockery of the Automatic Employment the government offered me as a recipient of Presidential National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Award for meritorious service in 1994.
“In page 6 of the minutes of their meeting of June 11, 2013, the directors of the ministry indicated their disdain for merit and demonstrated their jealousy when they stated that ‘the officer (Yushau Shuaib) came into the service by accident and it was advisable that he should go the same way.’”
When he was eventually retired, Mr. Shuaib sued the government for the unlawful retirement over his opinion article. In his statement of defence before the court, Mr. Shuaib had stated that he was not giving fair hearing by the ministry and that the Public Service Rule 030421 gave him the right to write an article. The section states that “Nothing in this rule shall be deemed to prevent an officer from publishing in his own name, by writing, speech or broadcast matters relating to a subject of general interest which does not contain a critic of any officer.”
He also cited Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution which states that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
Mr. Shuaib, an award-winning writer, was offered automatic employment by Delta State and the federal government after winning state and presidential awards of NYSC scheme in the 90s.
He had served at various organizations as Public Relations Officer and Press Secretary including Delta State Government House, Asaba, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health, Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), National Press Centre, and National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA.
After his purported compulsory retirement, Mr. Shuaib activated PRNigeria, a press release platform for critical institutions in Nigeria serving the military, security, intelligence and response agencies among others.
No date has yet been fixed for the hearing of the appeal.