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The court has exclusive jurisdiction in civil causes and matters relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety, welfare of labour, employee, worker and matter incidental thereto or connected therewith.

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Industrial Court restrains PTAD from deducting, withholding Retiree Geoffrey Ogbonna's pension, awards N1m damages


490 Thursday 27th October 2022

Hon. Justice Nelson Ogbuanya of the Portharcourt Judicial division of the National Industrial Court has granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate from unilaterally deducting or withholding Mr. Geoffrey Ogbonna verified monthly payment of the federal share of his pension benefits without prior notification and justification. 


The Court further mandated the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate to ensure prompt payment of Mr. Geoffrey's current verified monthly pension and any upwardly reviewed by the Federal Government.


Justicce Ogbuanya awarded the sum of N1,000,000.00 (One Million Naira) in Mr. Geoffrey's favour, being a senior citizen who has rendered his services to the nation at federal and state levels, and retired meritoriously but was treated with dis-courtesy and subtle intimidation, contrary to the SERVICOM policy of the Federal Government, which amount to unfair labour practice.


From facts, the Claimant- Mr. Geoffrey Ogbonna an old pensioner had submitted that he served in Federal Civil Service and later transferred his services to the Rivers State Civil Service, where he finally retired meritoriously in 1979, and challenged the alleged unauthorized re-computation and unlawful deduction of his monthly pension, constituting the federal share of his pension, contrary to the verified computation document from the Rivers State Ministry of Establishment, prior to the establishment of both the National Pension Commission and Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (1st and 2nd Defendants), who are extant Pension Regulators in Nigeria.


The Claimant’s counsel submitted that the unilateral re-computation done by the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate which resulted in such a drastic shortfall in his client's pension benefits is ultra vires the powers of the agency and cannot be done retroactively, urged the Court to grant the reliefs sought.


In his submission, the learned counsel to the 1st defendant- National Pension Commission prayed the court to invoke the principle of estoppel and undo the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate’s offensive act against Mr. Geoffrey after it has been checked and fixed by a State Government authority charged with that duty before their existence. 


Counsel further contended that the suit did not disclose any cause of action against the Commission and that the agency cannot be vicariously liable for any wrongdoing of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate. 


In defense, the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate counsel averred that the agency acted within its statutory duties in correcting the error identified in the monthly pension being paid to the Claimant as per the verification done and not in any way call to question the statutory acts of the Rivers State Agency and urged the court to dismiss the suit as lacking merit.


In opposition, counsel contended that the National Pension Commission carried out verification of the Claimant as a pensioner and should be a necessary and proper party in a claim involving issue of the pension payment and the re-computation.


Delivering the judgment after careful analysis of the submission of both parties, the presiding Judge, Justice Nelson Ogbuanya overruled the objection, and held that the National Pension Commission is a nominal party with a supervisory role over the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate, and therefore a proper party in the suit. 


The Court held that the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate shrouded its activities in secrecy and dis-information by failure to effectively communicate to Mr. George the basis of the surprising and worrisome withholding and radical deduction of his monthly pension payment. 


Justice Ogbuanya held that given the 2nd Defendant’s poor handling of the Claimant’s complaints and failure to notify the Claimant of the verification exercise and its outcome resulting in the observation of the over-payment with the attendant measure of withholding and reduction of his monthly pension, which he was already accustomed to, without his fault or any fraud imputed to him, and for the 2nd Defendant not carrying out its official duties in tandem with the SERVICOM policy of the Federal Government for Ministerial Agencies and Inter-Ministerial Departments (MDAs) constitute   an unfair labour practice


“I find no evidence that the 2nd Defendant communicated to the Claimant that it has taken over the pension category under which the Claimant belongs and that it would carry out verification exercise. 


“And even when the verification was carried out without communication/prior notification of the Claimant, it did not communicate to the Claimant the outcome and the measure it has decided to take to rectify the anomaly of the observed over-payment of the monthly pension to him. It just carried out the measure without more and refused to reply to the Claimant when he sought for explanations. 


“This is the height of official arrogance and subtle intimidation of a senior citizen, who served his Nation and State and retired meritoriously almost two decades before the 2nd Defendant was established.” Court ruled

 

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