NIGERIA: Supreme court reinstates sacked academics

The Supreme Court of Nigeria has ruled the dismissal of five lecturers of the Federal University of Ilorin was invalid. The court will decide next month on a similar case affecting a further 44 academics who were also sacked eight years ago for taking part in a national strike organised by the Academic Staff Union. The verdict was hailed by lawyers and civil society organisations as a triumph of the rule of law and due process.

Chief Justice Ibrahim Kutigi read the unanimous decision of his peers regarding the dismissal of the four lecturers. The court - the highest in Nigeria's justice system - ordered the University of Ilorin to immediately reinstate the academics to their previous positions. The university must also pay the lecturers arrears in salaries, allowances and other perquisites denied them eight years ago, without delay.

Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, President of Nigeria and himself a former academic, ordered the Ilorin University council to implement the Supreme Court verdict immediately. The council has since complied.

One of the academics, Taiwo Oloruntoba-oju, was chair of the local branch of the Academic Staff Union which led the strike for more funding and university autonomy eight years ago. He has returned to his post as a lecturer in the department of European languages.

"I am happy that the court has restored our rights and dignity," Oloruntoba-oju said. "I don't regret my actions as the local chairman of my union."

He is optimistic the court will also overturn the dismissal of his other sacked colleagues, including his wife.

The failure of the university management to apply the principle of due process in dismissing the lecturers was a major factor influencing the court's decision. The lecturers were not given an opportunity to appear before the university disciplinary committee to respond to charges levelled against them and were summarily dismissed because they took part in the strike action.

The case dragged on for eight years because three levels of the courts were involved. The union took the case to the High Court for alleged wrongful dismissal and it ruled in favour of the lecturers, stating that they should all be reinstated.

The university went to the Court of Appeal and won, but last month's Supreme Court decision overturned the Appeal Court ruling.

In this country where the poverty level is high and there is no social security, one wonders how the sacked lecturers and their families survived while it lasted. It must have been tough on them, especially Olanrewaju-oju who said his wife too was sacked. I salute their courage and resilience.

Do not let us give up on Nigeria. Keep hope alive. To hope is to live. Hopelessness leads to death.

Bankole Akinwumi