The Story

Mr. Akwaji Henry Omang (Omang) and Mr. Sylvester Effefiom Nsa (Nsa) are both employees of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Nsa was employed and attached as Special Assistant to Omang in his capacity as the Cross River State representative on the Governing Board of NDDC.

Nsa alleged that upon being employed, Omang informed him that he would be required to relinquish part of his earnings monthly. Omang explained that Nsa had no say as that was the practice over time. Nsa was threatened to play ball or he should be prepared to lose his employment or face unbearable working atmosphere. Nsa, in fear, complied. But he wasn’t going to be a coward for too long. He eventually took a bold step.

Nsa proceeds to Court

In the suit filed by Nsa at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) challenging the conduct of Omang, Nsa articulated all the monies he paid over as directed by Omang mostly to Omang’s agents, privies or cronies. Nsa sought declarations that the various sums unlawfully demanded and collected by Omang from Nsa’s basic salaries, medical allowance, rent/furniture allowance, education subsidy and other allowances, were unlawful, abuse of powers, corrupt, amounted to a violent assault on his employment rights, prejudicial to his rights, highly reprehensible, a gross violation of the Public Service Rules, contrary to government policy and breach of his rights as employee. Nsa also sought recovery of all the monies.

Omang was not eager to defend the suit. He was however more interested in challenging the jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court mainly on the ground that there was no employer-employee relationship existing between him and Nsa. Put simply, Omang contended that he is not Nsa’s employer. He also argued that Nsa’s suit failed to disclose any reasonable cause of action against him.

The 1999 Constitution created the NICN, clothing it with extensive jurisdiction to deal with matters relating to or connected with employment and labour as seen under Section 254C. On the surface of it, one might be tempted to fall for the argument of Omang on the basis that the NICN should not be bothered to entertain a dispute between two employees, meaning that Nsa can only drag his employers to NICN but not Omang, a co-employee.

But this contention does not appear to have any leg to stand on in view of the provisions of Section 254C of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Section 7(1)(a) of the National Industrial Court Act 2006. The trial Court had no difficulty overruling Omang’s objections and assumed jurisdiction over the suit.

Aggrieved, Omang appealed to the Court of Appeal. After a careful consideration, the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal on 19 May 2020 for lacking in merit. Owoade, JCA held (at pages 85-86):

The jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court relates to the ramifications of labour and labour relations in its length and breadth and does not make any distinctions between employer-employer relations, employer-employee relations, and as in the instant case, employee-employee relations as far as it concerns labour… In the instant case, it is clear that the Respondent (Nsa) who was employed for the Appellant (Omang) and attached to the Appellant as his Special Assistant is entitled to reliefs as to the interpretation of his conditions of employment when the Appellant started making demands as of right and actually collecting part of the Respondent’s salaries and allowances.

What this means in essence is that the facts of every particular case has a lot to do with determining whether or not the NICN will have jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal has done justice in this regard.

Beyond being a civil action commenced by Nsa, the NICN should treat this matter as a case of public interest. The allegations are too weighty. No one can truly fathom the true depth of corrupt practices within the NDDC. As alleged by Nsa, Omang had noted that the practice of troubling the legitimate earnings of Nsa is an ancient practice which has come to stay like a tradition. It is left for the Court to show that any unholy tradition which runs foul of the law must be struck down with heavy consequences.

*The above story was reliably reported by the Nigerian Weekly Law Report – Omang v. Nsa [2021] 10 NWLR (Pt. 1783) 55.

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.

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