The purported cancellation of the recent recruitment exercise of 5000 secondary school teachers in Akwa Ibom State who were employed by the erstwhile administration of Senator Godswill Akpabio is unconstitutional, ultra vires, illegal, insensitive and indefensible.
Governor Udom Emmanuel’s unilateral decision to send back 5000 youths back to the labour market in this period of economic recession and mass unemployment is unacceptable. If the governor truly believed that there were irregularities in the manner his predecessor conducted the exercise, regularization of same would have been the sensible and logical action to take.
The Akwa Ibom State Government cannot use illegality and impunity to correct alleged irregularities in the manner the recruitment exercise was conducted.
It is not in dispute that the 5000 newly recruited teachers were invited like other residents of the State by the government to apply for the available vacancies after which they underwent mandatory screening exercises. It is equally not in dispute that they were subsequently issued employment letters by the State Government which they duly accepted. In the process, the 5000 persons spent money and time to meet the requirements prescribed by their employer, the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Furthermore, the current government should note that the moment the teachers accepted the offer(s) of employment, a contract of employment (with statutory flavour) was created with terms and conditions, including the manner of disengagement, clearly regulated by statute. The law is firmly established that contracts of employment with statutory flavour cannot be terminated arbitrarily without strict compliance with the relevant statute, rules and regulations governing the contract.
Where the provisions specified by the law were not adhered to, such termination (whether termed as cancellation or termination) is liable to be reviewed and set aside. See Olaniyan v. Unversity of Lagos, supra; Ogunke v. National Steel Development Authority (1974) NWLR 128; Fakuade v. O. A. U. T. H (1993) 5 NWLR (Pt. 291) 47; Ideh v. University of Ilorin (1994) 3 NWLR (Pt. 330) 81; Shitta-Bay v. Public Service Commission (1981) 1 S.C. 40; Imoloame v. WAEC (1992) 9 NWLR (Pt. 265) 303; and Udo v Cross River State Newspaper Corporation (2001) 14 NWLR (Pt. 732) 116.
The law is trite that where an employment protected by statute is terminated unlawfully, the remedy is to declare such termination null and void and to reinstate the employee(s) to his former position. See Iderima v. R.S.C.S.C (2005) 16 NWLR (Pt. 951) 378 (SC).
Supposing without conceding that the government has the right in law to terminate the contract because of alleged irregularities in the recruitment exercise, the manner in which it was done renders the purported cancellation unconstitutional owing to the failure of the government to accord the affected persons fair hearing as mandatorily required by Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). The failure to accord fair hearing to the affected teachers has rendered the purported cancellation a nullity and is liable to be set-aside. See. Garba vs. University of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt. 18) 550 and the Supreme Court decision in Federal Civil Service Commission & 2 Ors. vs. Laoye (1989) 2 NWLR (Pt. 106) 652.
It is highly reprehensible for the Akwa Ibom State Government to trivialize the fate of 5000 citizens whose dreams of exiting the labour market had been actualized. Governor Udom Emmanuel downplayed the gravity of the psychological torture that the employed teachers went through while patiently waiting for the government to post/assign them to various secondary schools across the State for them to commence work like other civil servants in the state.
In the light of the above, I condemn unequivocally, the unconstitutional, arbitrary and unlawful purported cancellation of the recruitment/termination of the employment of the 5000 affected teachers by the Akwa Ibom State Government.
The government should immediately reverse the decision, regularise whatever irregularities that may have trailed the recruitment exercise in line with the principles of fair hearing and due process. In the event that the government fails, refuses or neglects to act as advised, the affected teachers have a cause of action to pursue at the National Industrial Court.
Inibehe Effiong, ESQ.
November 2, 2016.