The National Industrial Court in Abuja has ordered the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to reinstate its two top directors sacked last year for initiating investigations against Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu.
Faulting their dismissal in her judgement delivered on March 3, 2022, a copy of which PREMIUM TIMES saw on Thursday, the judge, Rakiya Haastrup, described it as arbitrary and unlawful.
The judge pointed out series of breach of due process and a violation of the two officials’ right to fair hearing in the process leading to their dismissal in June last year.
After declaring the dismissal unlawful, null and void, the judge ordered the NFIU and its executive director Moddibo Mamman-Tukur to “issue a letter recalling and re-instating them into the service of NFIU and restoring all the privileges, entitlements and positions held by the claimants before their purported dismissal by the defendants.”
Ms Haastrup, the judge, also ordered them to pay “the claimants’ salaries, allowances and all their entitlements from the period of their purported dismissal to the period of re-instatement.”
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the financial intelligence agency earlier suspended Mohammed Mustapha, its associate director, Intelligence and Investigation, and Fehintola Salisu, associate director, Compliance and Analysis, in August 2020.
The agency’s executive director, Mr Hamman-Tukur, had accused the duo of various forms breaches, principal among which was that they wrote memos without authorisation to local and foreign authorities in an effort to initiate investigations against Messrs Abubakar (Atiku) and Tinubu.
Both Mr Abubakar, a former Nigeria’s vice president and top member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Mr Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State and national leader of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), are known to be aspiring to contest the 2023 presidential election.
This newspaper reported in June last year how the NFIU dismissed Mr Mustapha and Ms Salisu following a recommendation by the Appointments, Promotions, and Discipline Committee (APDC) constituted by the executive director of the agency to investigate the various allegations levelled against them.
The two officials subsequently sued the agency and its executive director at the National Industrial Court in Abuja, to challenge their dismissal. They defended their actions in their suit filed on December 7, 2021, saying they only responded to foreign partner’s request when Mr Hamman-Tukur was absent.
They argued that their dismissal was single-handedly carried out by Mr Hamman-Tukur in contravention of the law.
In their defence, the defendants urged the court to dismiss the suit for being allegedly academic and hypothetical, premature and for failing to disclose reasonable cause of action against them.
They also added that the claimants, having allegedly not been duly employed by the NFIU after they were inherited from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which used to oversee the agency, they lacked the legal right to institute the suit.
In her judgement, the judge upheld the claimants’ case and granted all their seven prayers, including ordering their reinstatement. This was after the judge identified a gamut of violations in the NFIU’s disciplinary process against them.
‘Punishment for offences not contained in query’
Among NFIU’s procedural violations, the judge said, included the NFIU’s disciplinary committee (APDC) finding the claimants guilty of breaches not contained in the queries issued to them.
The disciplinary committee, according to the judge, found the claimants guilty of negligence, dereliction of duty, and insubordination “different” from the allegations levelled against them in the queries issued to them.
She added that the queries failed to specify which provisions of the NFIU Act or the Public Service Rules (PSR) of the federal government were allegedly breached by the claimants.
“The action of the defendants (NFIU and its executive director) in this regard is, to say the least, unconscionable, unlawful an does not accord with the principles of natural justice and I so hold,” the judge ruled.
‘Punishment not commensurate with punishment’
She also ruled that the punishment of dismissal meted out to the claimants was not commensurate with the allegations of negligence, dereliction of duty and insubordination they were said to be guilty of.
Such offences, the judge said, “fall under conducts amounting to misconduct and not serious or gross misconduct as put by the defendants”.
“This is in addition to the fact that the punishment for same is termination or even retirement and not dismissal as meted out to the claimants,” the judge also held.
‘Failure to refer disciplinary complaints to FCSC’
The judge also held that since NFIU did not have any condition of service in existence, “then it is the provision of the Public Service Rules (PSR) that is applicable in the discipline of the claimants.”
She noted that under the PSR it was the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) that could take a disciplinary action against claimants, while the executive director of the agency only had the power to initiate the process.
She ruled that “it was the FCSC that should have constituted the APDC”. “This will forestall a situation of bias in any disciplinary proceedings against any employee.”
‘Unlawful 10 months investigation’
Also faulting the length of time it took the APDC to complete its investigation, the judge said: “it is thus my finding that the exercise of the disciplinary action by the defendants which took 10 months which is well over the 60 days’ timeline stipulated was done in flagrant disregard of the guiding law and I so hold”.
But the judge dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that their right to fair hearing was breached because the disciplinary committee’s letter of invitation failed to specify the reasons for a meeting scheduled with them.
The judge said it was needless for the invitation letters to specify the reason for the scheduled meeting since they had been earlier queried and they had sent their responses.
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