As Ngozi descended the stairs into the mall hall at the first floor, she just knew she hadn’t been treated right. Tears welled up in her eyes and her knees were still trembling. How come she was not given a chance to defend herself? Each time she attempted to speak before her supervisor and the HR, they shouted her down.

Earlier in the morning, at about 8.00 hours, she was at her post as a cashier in a popular and busy mall. She had resumed at about 7.20 which was 10 minutes away from the red time of 7.30. As she was dressing her stands and fixing up the machine to get ready for the day’s job, Mr. Anale called up to her, instructing that she go see the top boss upstairs. It was at the boss’s office she was handed a note that spelled she was no longer needed at her place of work.

Before being given the letter, the boss had told her the management got a report on her that she fought a customer on her way home the previous day. According to them, the said customer had raised some issues concerning a transaction Ngozi handled for her during the day and instead of showing ‘a good customer relationship’, Ngozi engaged her in a public fight.

“That is unacceptable from any of our staff. You’re hereby fired”.

The story above presents us an interesting scenario that is very much related to article 10 of UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The article provides for rights to “fair and public hearing”and is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution under Chapter 4, section 36. Ngozi case is chosen because it mirrors what often happens at homes, public instructions (e.g. church, schools, and hospitals) and private institutions when people are summarily judged of having committed offense. Whenever people are condemned without an opportunity to present their defense, they are left grieved. Fundamentally, such incident negates natural justice which provides that anyone accused should have,Fair hearing,that is, such an individual is given an opportunity to present evidence to support this or her case and to discover what evidence exists against him or her. Fair hearing must not be only in a criminal or civil trial as in a court. It also applies to administrative procedures to entertain complaint as provided for in section 36, subsection 1 of the Nigerian Constitution (1999 as amended):

“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a FAIR HEARING within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality”.

Criminal case deserves special attention as often times, extra-judicial killings/corporal punishment take place in many communities within our country. African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) provides Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa (2003). A(1) provides in clear terms that “in the determination of any criminal charge against a person, or of a person’s rights and obligations, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a legally constituted competent, independent and impartial judicial body”. In other words, it is not in the place of a mob or group of persons other than CONSTITUTED authorities to hear, convict and met out punishment to anyone SUSPECTED to have committed a crime or an offence. And section 36(4) of the Nigerian Constitution grants that “whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence, he shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, be entitled to a FAIR HEARING in public within a reasonable time by a COURT or TRIBUNAL”. Under these instruments, ‘jungle justice’ or mob killing/punishment is criminalised. This is because, in whatever form they come, summary judgement takes away element of justice, fair hearing, by which an accused is supposed to have a chance for reasonable defence. In the case of ‘jungle justice’, section 36(5) of the Nigerian Constitution which provides that a suspect of any crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty is blatantly violated. Note that where the accused is to be ‘proven guilty’ is not at the market square, the police post or at the field. It is at a hearing that is constituted by “competent, independent and impartial judicial body” (e.g., the court, tribunal or administrative authority vested to entertain specific complaint).

Back to Ngozi, what can she do given the circumstances surrounding her dismal from job? If the company where she was fired from has higher authority than that which effected her dismal, she can appeal to it for redress. Another option is to institute legal action in the interest of her fundamental rights. Caution however, is needed. The action needs to take into cognisance terms of engagement between the employer and Ngpzi, and Nigeria Labour Laws. Michael Dugeri, a Regulatory Compliance and Commercial Law Advisor, offers insights on the difference between termination of a contract of employment and a dismissal under Nigeria’s legal system. According to him, “In Nigeria, an employer can terminate the contract of employment with his worker at any time and for any reason or for no reason at all provided that the terms of the contract of service between them are complied with”. See Olaniyan v. University of Lagos (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt. 9) 599 – 685 and Opuo v. NNPC (2001) 14 NWLR (Pt. 734) 552. With dismissal however, the employer is required to give reason for the action. See Union Bank of Nigeria Plc v. Soares (2012) 11 NWLR (Pt. 3112) 550.

Our take is that whether termination or dismissal, there are procedures (could be internal or external, e.g. labour laws), and the principle of fair hearing is central to the integrity of that procedure. Ramatu Umar-Bako (2012) cited a case which highlights this point:

“On 20 May 2011, a Federal High Court sitting in lagos, nullified the dismissal of the former Director – General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), Professor Ndi Okereke – Onyuike and awarded her N500 million naira in damages for exemplary and aggravated damages for recklessness. It held that Okereke – Onyuike’s RIGHT TO FAIR HEARING was breached, the letters removing her were reckless, hasty and done in bad faith. The Judge maintained that it was ridiculous for the NSE to remove her within 24 hours based on bad and unverified allegations’ and that the NSE did not comply with the condition precedent in removing the plaintiff.”

This landmark judgement should serve to encourage other employees who have been unfairly dismissed like Ngozi in Nigeria. Equally, organisations can learn from it to avoid facing legal actions by ensuring employees are fairly treated before dismissal.

For a detailed account of principles and guidelines on fair trial, see ACHPR’s Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa (2003).


Contributors: C. O. IkegbunamEsq.
C. A. Nwankwo Esq.
D. A. Okoliko

{image, defendernetwork.com}


This is a free educational material and not a source of legal advice. If you need any, please consult your lawyer.


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