Court Voids UBA’s unlawful sack of manager, orders Bank to pay damages
The National Industrial Court of Nigeria, (NICN) sitting at Awka, Anambra State, has has declared as illegal and unconstitutional the sacking of Agbor, Delta State branch manager, of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, Mrs. Ebere Okoroafor Okeakpu.
Justice (Dr.) John I. Targema stated this in his judgement delivered in the suit filed by Ebere against her former employer, UBA Plc.
Consequently, the judge declared the termination of her employment by the United Bank for Africa as null and void.
Reprimanding UBA for the unlawful acts, Justice Targema held that the termination of the appointment of the employment of the claimant as Branch Operations Manager of SOL 0066 (Agbor Branch) of the defendant vide the letter dated 7th January 2019 is wrongful as the termination was made contrary to Section 15.4.7 of HR Disciplinary Process and Sanction Policy that stipulated Resignation.
Therefore, the court ordered UBA to pay the claimant within 30 days of the judgment the sum of ₦1, 572, 501, being her terminal entitlement of annual basic salary having attained ten (10) years of service before the termination (resignation).
The court also held “It is hereby declared that the defendant in forcing, compelling and unduly directing and/or ordering the claimant to pay the sum of ₦88, 470 into the defendant’s account by the Area Control Manager of the defendant is unlawful and therefore void.
“It is hereby ordered that the defendant pay the claimant the sum of ₦88, 470 being the claimant’s money she was forcefully compelled, coerced and unduly influenced to pay into the defendant’s account by the Control Manager of the defendant within 30 days of this judgment.”
The Cliamant had through his lawyer, Dr A. A. Orunkoya, dragged the Bank before the court in suit numbered NICN/AWK/18/2020, and sought the followings reliefs “a declaration that the termination of the claimant’s employment by the defendant via letter dated 7th January, 2019 is vindictive and therefore wrongful, unlawful, null of no effect whatsoever.
“An order setting aside the termination of the claimant’s employment by the defendant for being vindictive, wrongful and unlawful.
“An order directing the immediate reinstatement of the claimant to her position and office and payment of her salaries, benefits and other perquisites of office from 7th January, 2019 till judgment in this suit.
Alternatively, the Cliamant asked the court for “an order for the payment of all salaries, benefits, perquisites of office from 7th January, 2019 till determination of this suit namely; “Payment of ₦1, 572, 501.94, as her terminal entitlement of annual basic salary having attained ten (10) years of service before the termination.
“Payment of ₦429, 286.83, as her monthly basic salary inclusive of all allowances namely rent, transport, furniture, utility, entertainment, education, dressing, lunch, telephone, HSE maintenance, car maintenance, etc. from January 7, 2019 till judgment is delivered.
“Payment of 13th month allowance of ₦131, 041, 83, for 13th month recognized by the defendant at the end of every year commencing from 2019 till determination of this case.
During trial, the claimant told the court that on October 3, 2018, while she was the Branch Operations Manager (BOM) of UBA Plc, Agbor branch, the cash officer called her attention that a Teller, one Mr. Ichipih Bestman was not balancing with about ₦90, 000; and that she then directed that re-check of the said teller’s posting should be done; that Mr Ichipih Bestman had earlier in the day informed her he would need about ₦100, 000 from the her to solve his private problems which she promised to make available to him.
She stated that that she however obliged Mr. Ichipih Bestman ₦90, 000, and that the next day being October 4, 2018, the said Teller Mr Ichipih Bestman approached her and explained that the short fall was not discovered and pleaded for time till Friday, October 5, 2018 to further trace the short fall; that when she requested Teller to report to the cash officer via mail about the shortfall, he pleaded for time to do so; that she also requested Mr Bestman to repay the ₦90, 000 she gave him for assistance but he (Teller) pleaded for little time to do so.
The claimant also told the court on that she did not want to put the Teller under pressure so that he does not go pilfering the bank’s money; that on October 9, 2018, a customer by name Eze Blessing threatened to transfer all the money in her account and close her account because the bank has fraudster working in the Bank as cashiers. That on further enquire from the customer why she suspected Mr. Ichipih Bestman (Teller), the said customer confirmed to her that the Teller sent her a text message requesting for ₦300, 000 loan from her to be paid back in two months with interest and further called her that morning of October 9, 2018 to remind her of his request.
Claimant stated that upon interrogate the Teller about the shortfall of ₦90, 000 which made it impossible for him to balance his account on October 5, 2018, he confessed that he actually took the shortfall to pay some debts; and that she was surprised at this revelation taking into consideration that she was deceived in believing that the shortfall must have been due to wrong entry and not an act of fraud by the Teller (Bestman) or anybody whatsoever.
The claimant further told the court that premised on the disappointment, she asked the Teller to refund to her the money she advance him from her personal purse since it was taken from her under false pretence; and that the refund done by the Teller in settlement of his indebtedness to the impression created by the Area Control Manager, Esther Awai who threatened and compelled her to refund the money paid to her by the Teller if she does not want to lose her job; that claimant transferred the ₦88, 470 to the Bank Account of the UBA on October 10, 2018.
The claimant contented that the said sum of ₦88, 470 is hers and not the UBA. She further contented that she does not deserve the termination of her employment by the defendant; that she entitled to interest on the said sum of ₦88, 470 at the rate of 25% being the lending interest rate of the defendant from October 10, 2018 when she was compelled, forced and unduly influenced to pay in the money into the defendant’s account, till the said sum is liquidated.
She told the court that she is entitled to reliefs sought, if the Court confirms that her termination was inactive, wrongful and unlawful, but not minded in granting her relief for reinstatement.
UBA Plc in its defence avers that on October 3, 2018, a teller, Mr. Bestman Ichipih and a cash officer under the supervision of the claimant reported a cash shortage of ₦90, 000 to the claimant; and that the claimant failed to report the cash shortage the same day to the Area Operation Manager and copy the Resident Control Officer as she is bound to do under the Bank’s Policy on cash management and particularly the policy on treatment of difference; and that the claimant also failed to issue a query to Mr. Ichipih. That contrary to best banking practice and in contravention of HR Disciplinary Process and Sanctions Policy of the Bank, but the claimant advanced a loan of ₦90, 000 from her personal funds to the teller Mr. Ichipih to enable him reconcile the cash shortage and concealed this cash shortage from the defendant.
The bank also stated that on October 5, 2018, another teller, Ejiro Orugbo also under the supervision of the claimant had a shortfall of ₦1, 000, 000, and that the claimant again in flagrant breach of the cash management policy of the Bank authorized the teller to post the said sum to the ATM till; and that the claimant also failed to escalate this development to the Area Operations Manager or the President Control Officer.
In defending the suit, UBA Plc through its Resident Control Officer, one Makinde Emmanuel, stated that the anomalies led the bank to set up a Regional Disciplinary Committee (RDC) to investigate the cash shortages; that the RDC in the course of their investigation held meetings via video conferencing on October 30, 2018 and November 13, 2018; that the claimant alongside the staff under her supervision with the cash shortages and the cash officer appeared before the Committee and they were given ample opportunity to explain their involvement and action with respect to the cash shortages.
UBA Plc through its lawyer, Tochukwu Odo, urged the Court to dismiss the claimant’s suit for lacking in merit.