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Business News of Monday, 25 April 2022


NCC, institute, defy directives to reinstate sacked workers

Executive vice-chairman of the NCC, Umaru Danbatta Executive vice-chairman of the NCC, Umaru Danbatta

An affiliate of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), has refused to restore the employment of 17 workers it sacked in March 2019, despite presidential and parliamentary directives.

Similarly, the National Industrial Court in Abuja, in 2018, ordered DBI to pay all financial entitlements to the affected workers. But the institute has not complied with the court decision, the workers say.

NCC established DBI in May 2004 to train personnel in the wake of the phenomenal worldwide growth of telecommunications and Information Communications Technology (ICT).

The staff of the new organisation enjoyed the same conditions of service with the NCC from the outset.

But trouble started in 2006 when an upward review of the conditions of service was done to the exclusion of DBI staff members.

Ahamefuna Agbo and 16 of his colleagues protested the exclusion and demanded equal conditions of service with their counterparts at the NCC.

But both NCC and DBI were unable to resolve the crisis. This led Mr Agbo and his colleagues to file a suit at the National Industrial Court in 2014.

After hearing all parties in the suit, the judge, Z.M. Bashir, held that the 17 claimants were entitled to “all rights, privileges, emoluments, salaries and perquisites of office” pertaining to the conditions of service of the DBI.

Delivering judgement on July 11, 2018, the judge ordered the institute to “compute and pay to the claimants all outstanding entitlements including salaries, allowances and all other employment benefits accruing to the claimants.”

Aggrieved employees petition presidency, SGFIn response to the judgement, however, the board of DBI dismissed the 17 workers on March 6, 2019.

The workers protested the decision. They petitioned the residency through the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), calling for their intervention.

They quoted the DBI board as justifying sacking them for their failure to “accept the 50% increase in salaries and allowances” offered to them “in order to placate” them, and their failure to withdraw their suit from the court.

But after considering the issues, the SGF in two separate letters to the executive vice-chairman of the NCC, Umaru Danbatta, and the acting administrator of the DBI, directed them to “immediately reverse the termination of the employment of the affected staff.”

According to the letters dated September 13, 2019, Emmanuel Akissa, the legal adviser to the SGF, said, “no staff should lose his job or be victimised as a result of this case.”

“The Nigerian Communications Commission and the Digital Bridge Institute should immediately reverse the termination of the employment of the affected staff.”

Copies of the letters obtained by PREMIUM TIMES showed the DBI was directed to “report compliance with the above directives” to the SGF.

Nearly three years after the directives, the DBI has yet to comply with the affected workers decrying the “socioeconomic hardships” occasioned by their dismissal.

Senate’s intervention ignoredDetermined to have their plight addressed, Olaniyan Muhib, on behalf of his colleagues, wrote the Senate, drawing its attention to the refusal of the NCC and DBI to implement the SGF’s directives.

The Senate read Mr Muhib’s petition on the floor of the parliament, and they referred the matter to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions.

During the committee’s investigation of the petition, Ayo Akinyelure, who chaired the Senate committee on petitions, invited all the parties.

In his testimony before the committee, Mr Muhib, urged the Senate to direct the NCC and the DBI to “regularise issues pertaining to proper placement, upgrading and promotion of the affected staff of DBI in according with the terms of engagement with the NCC.”

He recalled that NCC established the DBI in 2004 and recruited the affected workers whose employment ranged from 15 to 10 years.

“The staff of the institute and those of the commission used to have the same salary structure, but later, the commission (NCC) increased the salary of its staff, but the same increment was not extended to DBI staff,” Mr Muhib’s petition disclosed.

In its recommendations, the Senate “urged the Digital Bridge Institute to reinstate Mr Olaniyan Muhib and the other affected staff (members) of Digital Bridge Institute and pay all their outstanding salaries and allowances up to 2019 in according with the NCC staff conditions of service 2003.”

The parliament also advised the protesting workers to “accept and sign the staff conditions of service of the DBI if they desire to continue their service” with the institute.

In the Senate’s February 2021 report, the parliament directed the DBI to revert to its conditions of service, after it must have cleared all the arrears of salaries and allowances of the affected workers.

A year after the parliament’s directives, the institute has yet to comply.

Workers write MalamiThe sacked workers also detailed their plight in another letter of appeal to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.

“We have been badly oppressed and cheated by the management of the Nigerian Communications Commission and the Digital Bridge Institute,” the disengaged staff lamented.

“For the reason that we dared asked (sic) for our rights,” the workers said they had suffered “extreme hardships.”

In their petition dated June 29, 2021, the dismissed staff members, appealed to the AGF to direct the two organisations to enforce the SGF and Senate’s directives reinstating them.

They attached copies of the judgement of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria and the directives from the SGF and the Senate, urging the NCC and the DBI to re-absorb them.

Institute reactsThe DBI says it is considering the Senate’s recommendation, “urging” it to re-absorb the sacked workers.

In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, DBI’s head of legal services, Tonia Ansa-Otudor, said the institute’s board was working on reinstating the workers.

Mrs Ansa-Otudor, however, denied any knowledge of a presidential directive for the dismissed workers to be reinstated.

“Well, I don’t know of any (presidential) directive in respect of that issue. What I know is that there was an urging by the Senate to reinstate the people, and the board is still working on it,” she said.

Speaking on Mr Malami’s directive to reabsorb the staffers, the head of legal services said, “We are law-abiding here and if there was any express directive from the (Justice) Minister, I’m sure we would have implemented it.

“The court judgement has been implemented; the workers were not owed salaries,” Mrs Ansa-Otudor explained.

On the SGF office’s directive for the reinstatement of the workers, the official said, “The board of the DBI is looking at the directives to reinstate workers.

“We are not in breach of any directives; there is a process for everything.”

Confronted with Mrs Ansa-Otudor’s claim that the court judgement had been implemented, Fyin Afolayan, one of the dismissed staff members, said it was false.

“It’s a lie, sir. Let her (Mrs Ansa-Otudor) provide the computation as ordered and the date the payments were made. They have not complied (with the court judgement),” Mr Afolayan said.

Our reporter called Mrs Ansa-Otudor on the phone, again, on Monday, to seek further clarification, but she declined to comment.

The spokesperson for the NCC, Ikechukwu Adinde, was contacted on the phone by our reporter, but he declined to comment on the matter.