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SERVANT WRONGFULLY TERMINATED HAS HIS REMEDY IN DAMAGES

Dictum

In any event even where a servant is wrongfully terminated, the contract comes to an end. He has his remedy in damages.

– Karibe-Whyte, JSC. Chukwumah v. SPDC (1993)

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SERVICE OF EMPLOYMENT GOVERNED BY CONTRACT

The second class of cases will cover the ordinary master and servant relationship governed by a written contract not subject to any statutory restrictions or limitations. Here the duty of the court will be to construe and apply the terms, conditions and provisions of the contract.

— A. Oputa, JSC. Olaniyan & Ors. v. University of Lagos (1985) – SC.53/1985

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NATURE OF EMPLOYMENT BY STATUTE – WRONGFUL DISMISSAL – DAMAGES

In this respect the observation of the Supreme Court per Belgore JSC (as he then was) in Union Bank of Nigeria Ltd v Ogboh (1995) 2 NWLR (Pt.380) 467 at 664 is apt. It merits my respective quotation in extenso. Said the learned justice of the Supreme Court:- “Except in employment governed by statute wherein the procedure for employment and discipline (including dismissal) of an employee are clearly spelt out, any other employment outside the statute is governed by the terms under which the parties agreed to be master and servant. Employment with statutory backing must be terminated in the way and manner prescribed by the statute and any other termination inconsistent with the relevant statute is null and void and of no effect examples are many especially with modern constitutional and statutory trends. (University of Lagos Act, 1962; Section 13 (2), 18 (e) and 61 under cases governed only by agreement of parties and not by statute, removal by way of termination of appointment or dismissal will be in the form agreed to; any other form connotes only wrongful termination or dismissal but not to declare such dismissal null and void. The only remedy is a claim for wrongful dismissal. This is based on the notion that no servant can be imposed by Court on an unwilling master even where the mater’s behaviour is wrong. For his wrongful act, he is only liable in damages and nothing more. Union Beverages Ltd v Owolabi (1988) 1 NWLR (Pt.68) 128.”

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NO STATUTORY FLAVOUR; WHERE CONTRACT DETERMINED BY AGREEMENT BETWEEN PARTIES

Fakuade v. O.A.U.T.H.C.M.B. (1993) 5 NWLR (Pt. 291) 47 where Karibi-Whyte JSC stated at page 63: “The character of an appointment and status of the employer in respect thereof is determined by the legal character and the contract of the employee. Hence where the contract of appointment is determinable by the agreement of the parties, simpliciter, there is no question of the contract having a statutory flavour. The fact that the other contracting party is the creation of a statute did not make any difference.”

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TERMINATION OF SERVICE – MASTER & SERVANT

The law regarding master and servant is not in doubt. There is also no doubt that the contract of master and servant is subject to both statutory and common law rules. By and large, the master can terminate the contract with his servant at any time and for any reason or for no reason at all. But if he does so in a manner not warranted by the particular contract under review, he must pay damages for breach.

— A. Oputa, JSC. Olaniyan & Ors. v. University of Lagos (1985) – SC.53/1985

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ESTOPPED WHEN SALARY PAYMENT IS IN CONTINUANCE

Ondo State University v. Folayan (1994) 7 NWLR (Pt. 667) page 34 at page 61, the university had appointed Dr. Folayan for a probationary period of three years. Without extending the tenure of Dr. Folayan, they continued to use his services and pay him his salaries for three years. The Supreme Court held that the university was estopped from contending that the employment had come to an end at the end of the three years probationary period.

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APPOINTED TO A POST BY A TERM OF STATUTE

Obeta v. Okpe (1996) 9 NWLR (Pt. 473) page 401 at pages 433 – 434, it was held thus:- “The proposition of law that a person appointed to a post for a term by statute has right to serve out his statutory term of his appointment is correct. He cannot be removed from the office by any person during the period except for a misconduct or when the, master body or institution he is appointed to serve dies or ceases to exist.”

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