Court quashes indefinite suspension of FADAMA III Coordinator by Ebonyi Govt

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Court quashes indefinite suspension of FADAMA III Coordinator by Ebonyi Govt

The National Industrial Court has quashed the indefinite suspension slammed on the Ebonyi State Coordinator of the World Bank Assisted FADAMA III project, Dr Cletus Nwakpu by the state government.

Mr Nwakpu, an experienced Civil Servant, had overseen the implementation of the world bank sponsored FADAMA projects in the state.

But on 14th July 2020, the state government under former David Umahi suspended him indefinitely on unproven allegations of funds misappropriation and embezzlement.

Background

Mr Nwakpu, as State Coordinator had started the implementation of the Subsidiary Credit Agreement between the World Bank and Ebony State Government on Fadama III Project Implementation.

But in 2019 he discovered that one Augustine Njoku, an agric input supplier of Kudos Ventures and Mr. Iziogo Cyprian, an Ebonyi State Fadama Procurement Officer had allegedly conspired with one Anthony Nwankwo, the then Fadama project Accountant, forged Fadama documents, Fadama staff signature to allegedly defraud Ebonyi State Fadama III Project of the sum of N2,750,000 at a time the Project had the sum of only N3 million in her account.

In a bid to protect the integrity of both Ebonyi State Government and the World Bank, Mr Nwakpu reported to the police who after investigation charged both Augustine Njoku and Iziogo Cyprian to court on four criminal counts.

This action of the State Fadama Coordinator triggered high level gang-up, blackmail and conspiracy, false and trumped up allegations against him by some big wig political actors and conspirators who worked at all cost to malign him.

They succeeded in influencing the previous administration of Governor David Umahi which on 14th July 2020 unlawfully suspended Dr. Cletus Nwakpu indefinitely as the Ebonyi State Project Coordinator of the World Bank Assisted Ebonyi State Fadama III Project.

After Mr Nwakpu’s indefinite suspension, Ebonyi State Government on 3rd December, 2020 posted one Barr. Ndubisi Ogbuinya who was prosecuting Augustine Njoku and Iziogo Cyprian from Ebony State Ministry of Justice Abakaliki to Ohaozara Judicial Division.

Also, on 10th December, 2020 the case against the two defendants at Abakaliki Magistrate Court II was struck out on grounds that Barr. Ogbuniaya was not in Court.

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Responding to interventions from notable stakeholders, organizations and groups, who saw the action as a terrible injustice to the one that had creditably managed Ebonyi State Fadama from inception in 2007 to Project closure on 20th June 2020, the former governor Dave Umahi publicly pronounced on three different occasion that the indefinite suspension would be lifted.

Suit

As this did not happen, Mr Cletus Nwakpu, who felt most unjustifiably victimized and disgraced out of office through unlawful politically motivated machinations by the government he served with due diligence, sincerity of purpose and utmost loyalty, winning several awards for outstanding performance, went to court to seek redress.

Thus, on 11th January, 2022, he sued Ebonyi State Government and six others involved in the conspiracy.

These include Ebonyi state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ebonyi State Fiscal Responsibility Commission, Mrs. Ijeoma Orji-Uzo, the then secretary of the Commission, Barr. Emeka Nwode, the then chairman of the Ebonyi State EXCO investigative Committee and his Secretary Barr. Samuel Okoronkwo as well as Mr. Augustine Njoku of Kudos Ventures, the input suppler at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria Abakaliki.

Dr. Nwakpu prayed the court to grant him 14 reliefs including the lifting of the indefinite suspension illegally imposed on him, reinstating him to his job as Fadama COrdinator, payment of his salary arrears from July 2020 to July 2023.

He also prayed for the payment to him by the defendants the sum of N500 million being damages in aggravated terms for the flagrant violation of his rights as a senior and confirmed Public/Civil servant who was subjected to malicious and unlawful suspension.

He said the sack and reportage of same in the media caused him enormous psychological and financial torture, character defamation, loss of employment opportunities, harassment and public embarrassment.

Ruling

Ruling on the matter with suit no NICN/ABK/08/2022 on Friday in Enugu, the Judge, Justice Oluwakayode Arowosegbe declared that the State Government violated the rights of fair hearing of the Claimant.

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He further held that the defendants failed to justify the said indefinite suspension slammed on Mr Nwakpu.

He held that there was no reasonable and justifiable reason to suspend the claimant without pay describing the indefinite suspension as constructive dismissal.

The Judge further blasted the state government for suspending the claimant for over three years on an alleged criminal offence without prosecuting him in a court of law.

He noted that the state government ought not to have suspended or sacked the claimant without pay without first charging him to court to prove the allegations against him.

Justice Arowosegbe further averred that it is not the duty of the state government or its agencies to trial or pass judgement on an employee over an alleged criminal offence.

The court therefore declared the suspension of Mr Nwakpu as unlawful, null, void and of no consequence.

It declared all actions purporting to have suspended or sacked Mr Nwakpu as carried out by the State Governor, Ebonyi State Executive Council, the Ebonyi State Fiscal Responsibility Commission and the State Head of Service as null, void, unlawful and of no effect.

The Judge directed the state government to pay the Claimant all his withheld salaries till date.

He further awarded N5m in damages and compensations and N500,000 for legal expenses to the claimant.

Counsel to the Claimant, Jeremiah Ezenyi said the judgement will help to enhance Government and Labour Relations in the country.

“This judgement is a very good one in the sense that both the government and employees will know that there is a procedure for dismissal, you don’t just wake up and technically sack your employee”, he said.

The Claimant, Dr Cletus Nwakpu thanked the Court for quashing the judgement and by so doing vindicating him.

” I thank God that the court has given me justice today. Instead of the government to commend me for doing te right thing and prosecuting people who tried to steal from it, they conspired with them to suspend me”, he lamented. Ends

By Famous Reporters

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