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    Alleged Wrongful Dismissal: Industrial Court Assumes Jurisdiction To Hear Suit As Preliminary Objection Succeeds In Part


    PortharcourtHon. Justice Polycarp I. Hamman of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Sitting in Portharcourt, Rivers State on Friday 14th December 2018 in a ruling assumed jurisdiction to hear the matter filed by MISS VICTORIA BASOENE HARRY (claimant/Respondent) against Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency and Anor (Defendants/Applicants). The court held that the suit was filed within the limited period of five (5) years in line with the provision of the Limitation Law Cap. 80, Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria 1999, and struck out Mrs. Pakama Horsfal- 2nd defendant for wrongly and improperly joined in the Suit.


    On the 2nd of May, 2014, the Claimant filed this Complaint against the Defendants for the following reliefs: A DECLARATION that the claimant who was employed by the 1st Defendant sometime in the month of June 2010 as Farm Manager, is still a bona-fide staff of the 1st Defendant and as such, entitled to be paid her withheld salaries from the month of January, 2012 till the month judgment is delivered in this suit or whenever the Claimant is expressly disengaged by the 1st Defendant. A DECLARATION that the 2nd Defendant’s act of unlawfully terminating the Claimant’s lawful contract of service with the 1st Defendant is not only illicit at law but also of no effect whatsoever.


    Defendants’ Notice of Preliminary Objection dated 17th April 2015 and filed on 27th April 2015. The Objection which is brought pursuant to Section 2(a) of Public Officers Protection Act and under the inherent jurisdiction of the court praying for An order dismissing or striking out this suit for lack of jurisdiction and An order striking out the name of the Defendants/Applicants which were wrongly and improperly joined in this Suit on the following grounds That the action is statute barred having been caught by section 2 of the Public Officers’ Protection Act. And that the 1st Defendant/Applicant is not a juristic personality. That the 2nd Defendant/Applicant is an agent of the 1st Defendant thus cannot be sued personally.


    Counsel argued further that this suit was instituted on the 30th day of April 2014, that is a period of more than two (2) years after the accrual of the cause of action. That this suit is, therefore, statute barred.


    Defendant finally submitted that the matter is premature, pre-emptive, speculative, frivolous, and vexatious and hearing it constitutes an abuse of the due process of the court.


    That the Claimant’s pleadings before the court do not reveal any wrongful act of the Defendants and the court should therefore dismiss this suit for being incompetent.


    In opposition, learned counsel to the claimant submitted that the subject matter of this suit is the withholding of the Claimant’s emolument, amounting to a breach of contract by the 1st Defendant and the provisions of the Public Officers Protection Act and other such enactments similarly worded like it do not apply to actions for breaches of contract and claims for work and labour done.


    The court was therefore urged to hold that the suit is one for breach of contract and that the Public Officers Protection Act is inapplicable to this suit.


    That this suit was not brought beyond the limitation time limit of 5 years, as prescribed by the Limitation Law of Rivers State, the suit cannot be said to be statute barred. The court is therefore urged to hold that the suit is not statute barred.


    After careful analysis of all the processes filed, the evidence led and the submissions of the learned Counsel from both sides. The Court presided by Hon. Justice P. I. Hamman expressed thus;


    “...since the Defendants are not agents of the Federal Government of Nigeria, it is my humble view that the applicable law to the instant application is the Limitation Law of Rivers State Chapter 80, Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria 1999. I so find and hold.


    “I have looked at the Claimant’s originating processes in this matter and it is clear that this suit was filed or commenced on 2nd May 2014. Comparing the date of accrual of the cause of action (January, 2012) and the date this suit was instituted (2nd May 2014), it will appear that the Claimant filed the suit within the limited period of five (5) years in line with the provision of section 16 of the Limitation Law Cap. 80, Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria 1999, and same is therefore not statute barred. I so find and hold.


    I, therefore, see no basis for the inclusion of the 2nd Defendant in this suit. I am therefore not convinced that the Claimant’s case has disclosed any cause of action against the 2nd Defendant to make the 2nd Defendant a necessary party to this suit.


    It is, therefore, the considered decision of this court that the 2nd Defendant was improperly joined in this suit. Consequently, the 2nd Defendant’s name is hereby struck out of this suit.


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