By Amos Aar
THE Makurdi Division of the National Industrial Court presided over by the Honourable Justice I. J. Essien on Thursday further adjourned until June 7, 2023, a suit filed by four former staff of Government House, Makurdi, against the Benue State Government over their alleged illegal dismissal.
The suit, No NKN/MKD/59/2017, in which the Benue State Government, Governor Samuel Ortom and the Benue State Ministry of Justice, are standing as 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants respectively, was filed by four sacked civil servants serving at Government House, Makurdi, challenging what they alleged was the unlawful termination of their appointments in 2017 by the Benue State Government under Governor Ortom over alleged theft of a plasma television set and two generator batteries from Government House, Makurdi.
The plaintiffs, Agbo Lucky, Yaasa Simon Igbalagh, Godwin Gbande and Terver Gbakaan, filed the suit on August 30, 2017 and the matter had continued to linger through what the plaintiffs had come to describe as frivolous adjournments as a result of wilful lack of interest by the defendants.
When the matter was called on Thursday, May 4, 2023, counsel to the plaintiffs, D. D. Aboshi, Esq., appeared for his clients while counsel to the defendants, Mike Assoh, Esq., was again not in court.
The presiding judge, Justice Essien, again adjourned the suit till June 7, 2023 for adoption of written addresses without any proceeding on the ground that the court did not sit on Thursday, May 4, 2023.
According to Justice Essien, the reason for the adjournment is because the matter was scheduled for May 3, 2023 and not 4th.
However, Mr Aboshi argued that it was the same court that had served him hearing notice for the change from 3rd to 4th May, even when the judge knew that the court was not going to sit on the rescheduled date.
“Today’s sitting was for the adoption of written address and unfortunately, the court didn’t sit and what was the reason? They said the court sat yesterday [May 3, 2023] but today the court didn’t sit.
“They adjourned the matter to November, 2023. But I said no, November is too far, it’s just for adoption. So, I met the registrar and the registrar adjusted it to June 7, 2023. That day, we will come and take the date for judgement”, the plaintiffs’ counsel told National Record.
Asked why the court shifted the date from May 3, 2023 to May 4 when the court actually sat on Wednesday and had no plan to sit on Thursday, Aboshi replied: “I don’t know; the court has the power. I’m smelling a rat in the whole matter because yesterday, the court actually sat. I was in the office here when they gave me the hearing notice against today [May 4th] while my case was yesterday. Why did they shift the case to today that the court didn’t sit?” he pondered.
Aboshi however expressed commitment to pursue the case to the end to give justice to his clients, saying it gives him joy when he stands for the poor who are oppressed simply because they don’t have money.
On whether any meaningful progress has been made on the suit since it was filed in 2017, the counsel to the plaintiffs said: “We have gone far, where we are going to is closer than where we came from. We have taken evidence, we have closed our case, we have addressed the court. So, once we adopt the written address, the next thing is judgement and you know that judgement is not more than 90 days. You must deliver the judgement within 90 days. So, whether you are going to adjourn the matter, you will not adjourn outside 90 days or else, the judgement will become invalid. So, we are very close to our destination”.
Giving legal interpretation of the adjournment after May 29, 2023 and the judgement that will be passed after Governor Ortom will already exit office, Aboshi said even if judgement is passed, it will not be against Ortom but the Benue State Government. So, according to him, the next administration will inherit the case since government is a continuum.
“Government, you know, is a continuous process. If you come, whatever you meet on ground, you take it.
“The next government will inherit the problem because it’s a big problem. You cannot wake up one morning and sack people”.
Barr Aboshi told his clients who were fuming in the court over what they described as injustice against them to calm down, assuring that justice will be given them at the end of the prolonged litigation.
Aboshi who noted however that the case which was “about eight years old” was taking too much time wondered why the Benue State Government was refusing to either justify the sack or reinstate or pay off his clients who were sacked as civil servants even as there are procedures and laid down rules in sacking workers in the civil service.
Expressing his displeasure, one of the plaintiffs, Simon Yaasa, said even if the court perverts justice against them, God watches over everybody.
“If you think you are a Judge, Governor, president or whoever you are, you will leave that position one day. Then, you will see what God will do to you”
“The law is the last hope of the common man. But as it stands now, I don’t have confidence in the judiciary again”, Yaasa insisted to be quoted.