Sea Trucks Nigeria Limited V Panya Anigboro (2001)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
M. E. OGUNDARE JSC.
This is an appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal (Benin Division) wherein the appeal of the applicant (now Respondent before us) was allowed and judgment was entered in his favour in terms of his prayers before the trial High Court which had earlier refused those prayers.
The respondent, as applicant, had in a motion filed on 26/2/87 in the High Court of the now defunct Bendel State in the Warri Judicial Division prayed the court pursuant to section 42 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 and Order 1 rule 2 of Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 1979, for leave to bring an application-
‘for redress of the breach of the rights of assembly and association of the Plaintiff/Applicant when he was unlawfully and summarily dismissed from work by the Defendants on the 28th of February 1986 by locking him out and by notice at the gate of Defendants’ premises at Enerhen…………. For his declaring to belong to a particular trade union, NUPENG…….'(Italics is mine for emphasis)
In the statement in support of the application the respondent sought the following reliefs from the court, to wit:
2 Relief sought
The Plaintiff claims (a) that his purported summary dismissal from the said employment of Sea Trucks Nigeria Limited (the Defendant) on the 28th February 1986 is a breach of his fundamental rights under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 when the Defendant locked the Plaintiff out of the premises of the Defendant and thereby preventing the Plaintiff from entering the premises and carrying out the duties of his employment for the Defendant and when the Defendant pasted the notice of the summary dismissal of the Plaintiff written on the notice board at the gate of the premises of the Defendant at Enerhen within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court on the ground that the Plaintiff declared along with the other workers of the Defendant for NUPENG (b) order of this Honourable Court to reinstate the Plaintiff to his said employment and benefits and entitlements as from the 28th of February 1986; and/or in the alternative N20,000.00 compensation for the said breach of the fundamental rights of the Plaintiff under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979’.
And the grounds for the reliefs were stated in paragraph 3 of the statement as follows:-
‘3. Ground on which Reliefs are sought:
(a) The summary dismissal is a breach of the fundamental rights of the Plaintiff to belong to an association of his own which is NUPENG – National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers – as entrenched in section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(b) The summary dismissal is a further breach of the fundamental right of the Plaintiff to a fair hearing (or to be heard) before any punitive action can be taken against him under section 33(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(c) The summary dismissal is contrary to the current Sea Trucks (Nig.) Ltd conditions of service as at the 28th of February 1986 applied to a confirmed employee of the Defendant in Articles 13 and 14 thereof.’
There was an affidavit filed in support of the application and in which the respondent deposed, inter alia, as follows:
‘2. That the causes of action are for a declaration that a summary dismissal by the Sea Trucks (Nig) Ltd. (the Defendant) on the 28th of February 1986 is unconstitutional; reinstatement to my employment as from 28th of February 1986 and / or N20,000.00 compensation for the breach of my said fundamental rights under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- That on the 28th of February 1986 the Defendant summarily dismissed my employment under the Defendant without any reasonable cause by simply locking me along with other employees of the Defendant out of the premises of the Defendant and by a notice written at the Notice Board at the gate of the premises announcing that all workers of the company were sacked en mass and thereby prevented me to enter into the premises of the Defendant to carry out my work and without any notice and without any querry or granting me audience for any allegation against me.
- That since that time the Defendant had not allowed me to perform my duties nor earn my salaries, and other entitlements, increment, leave and leave bonus and medical treatment.
- That I was employed by the Defendant on the 15th of August 1984 as Marine Engineering Assistant on probation.
- That I was confirmed on the 15th of February 1985 on satisfactory performance vide copy of the letter of confirmation of employment dated 8th May 1985 reference No. STW/CA/9/12/85 annexed hereto and marked Exhibit A.
- That I was granted my annual leave due on the 15th of August 1985 which was deferred till 23rd October, 1985 for 18 days with leave allowance (bonus) of N60.00 – vide copy of the leave certificate annexed hereto marked Exhibit B.
- That since my employment with the Defendant I had no querry and had been performing very well and making steady progress.
- That the Defendant and its workers had been on disagreement as to which Trade Union, the workers would belong. The Defendant wanted its workers to belong to the Nigerian Union of Seamen and Water Transport Workers but the Workers declared for the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) vide copies of the declaration dated…. November, 1985 and the letter of the NUPENG dated 13th January 1986 and the letter of the Defendant’s worker at Port- Harcourt of 1/1/86 marked Exhibit C, C1 and C2 respectively annexed hereto.
- That the Defendant on the 27th of January 1986 terminated the appointment of the leaders of the workers in their declaration for the NUPENG namely Philip Agageche, John Odu, Williams Ogriyan and Ayo Pony for leading the workers to declare for the NUPENG.
- That NUPENG protested and gave the Defendant ultimatum to reinstate the 4 leaders but heretofore the Defendant had not done so.
- That on the 28th of February 1986 when I reported for duties at the gate of the premises of the Defendant I saw on a notice board threat a written notice saying that all workers were sacked and they should report for their pay-off on the 4th of March 1986; but I do not accept this action of the Defendant.
- That since the date the security men at the gate became hostile and drove me and other workers affected by the notice from the gate; and I thereupon ceased to go there.
- That I was never given any notice of termination or dismissal of any appointment as required by the conditions of service of the Defendant.
- That by the said condition of service I am entitled to one month’s salary in lieu of notice.
- That my basic salary was N270.00 a month as at 27th October, 1985 and I am due for increment in my salary.
- That I had been without employment since 28th of February, 1986 though I am very much eager to continue with my work with the Defendant.
- That I am entitled to end of service benefit of one month salary every completed year of service payable to an employee who has served for a minimum continuous period of 5 years and wished to leave the company.
- That I am young and hope to work for a longer period; I was born in 1958.
- That the sudden dismissal of my appointment by the Defendant brought untold hardship to me.
- That I did nothing to disrupt the work of the Defendant nor to cause any danger to the life and property of the Defendant.
Exhibit A annexed to the affidavit reads thus:
‘Mr. Anigboro Panya,
(Marine Eng. Assistant).
CONFIRMATION OF APPOINTMENT
We are pleased to confirm your appointment as Marine Engineer Assistant based in Warri Base with effect from 15th February, 1985 with this your confirmation of appointment, either party is bound to give a month’s notice or a month’s salary in lieu of notice, before such appointment can be terminated.
You are however, entitled to two weeks paid leave on completion of 12 months unbroken service, and all other terms and conditions remain unchanged.
This letter is to be signed by the employee and employer as evidence that these terms are understood, and agreed upon by both parties.’
There are other documentary exhibits annexed to the Respondent’s affidavit but as these are not relevant to the issues posed in this appeal, I say no more on them. Leave was granted as prayed. The Respondent then put the Defendants on notice. They are now appellants in this appeal and shall henceforth be referred to as appellants. On being served with the motion papers, the Appellants filed a counter-affidavit sworn to by their Senior Security Officer, Christopher Pibowei and had annexed to it a number of documentary exhibits.
Annexure 1 reads:
‘The Chief Labour Officer,Federal Ministry of Employment,
Labour and Productivity,
Mass Withdrawal from the Nigerian Union of Seamen and Water Transport Workers by the Junior Workers of Niger Benue Transport Company (NBTC) and Sea Trucks Nigeria Limited Warri.
I am directed to refer to your letter reference No. IB/288/1/291 of 15th January, 1986 and to inform you that the Junior Workers of Niger Benue Transport Company Warri and Sea Trucks Nig. Ltd. Port-Harcourt and Warri cannot opt for National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) because the economic activities of the company under reference are not oil prospecting. (sic)
J. A. Banjo
For: Permanent Secretary’
In the counter-affidavit, Pibowei deposed, inter alia, as hereunder:
‘4. Save that the Plaintiff/Applicant was never summarily dismissed on 28/2/86 paragraphs 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 19, 20, 21 of the Plaintiffs affidavit are hereby admitted and that was on 23/2/86 and not 28/2/86 that Plaintiff lost his job.
- The following paragraphs are however denied and same have been traversed seriatim by me hereunder: to wit:- paragraphs 3, 4, 8,9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and 33.
- In reply particularly to paragraphs 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 and 12 of the said Affidavit, I depose hereto that the true facts of the matter as that:-
(a) The Plaintiff and other workers of the Defendants who were recognized and classified as members of the Nigerian Union of Seaman and Water Transport Workers and duly so recognized by the Defendants, of Petroleum and National Gas Workers (NUPENG) and accordingly resorted to lawless acts and agitation aimed at disrupting the business or work of the Defendants herein.
(a) That I am advised by counsel S. A. J. Emessiri Esq., and I verily believe same to be true that such action was contrary to Law and in breach of the Trade Union Amendment Decree 1978 Schedule I and also Federal Military Government Notice No. 92 of 8th February, 1978.
(b) That the Plaintiff and his group were told by the Defendants that the Company merely acted as carriers of supplies to Oil Company without being in any way involved in Oil exploration activities and as such they were not in position to recognize the Plaintiffs chosen new trade union; the Plaintiff and others refused to come to work.
(c) That at no time was the Plaintiff locked out.
(d) That prior to that the Defendants had received directives from the permanent secretary Federal Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity in a letter dated 5/2/85; reference No. ML.IB/14/111/577 to the effect that:
“The Niger Benue Transport Company Warri and Sea Trucks Nigeria Limited Port-Harcourt and Warri cannot opt for National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) because the economic activities of the companies under reference are not oil prospecting”
That a copy of the said letter is annexed hereto and marked Annexure ‘1’.
(e) That when the Plaintiff and others refused to return to work at the invitation for the Defendants but chose to be roaming about the premises of the Defendants threatening workers and destroying property securing the gates of their yard from these marauders and by reporting to the Police.