The National Industrial Court sitting in Lagos has ordered that the state government pay a former staff of Lagos State University of Science and Technology (formerly Lagos State Polytechnic), Peter Ibitoye, N12 million outstanding pension and gratuity within 60 days after its ruling.
It also placed a perpetual injunction, restraining the state government, the state’s varsity and Lagos State Pension Commission from further withholding, or otherwise tampering with Ibitoye’s pension and gratuity.
A breakdown of the N12 million showed that over N6 million was for outstanding gratuity based on the new salary scale announced by the government in 2010, over N1 million for pension balance from December 2010 to January 2012, and over N3 million withheld pension from June 2016 to August 2017 and the sum of N248,178 from October 2017 until judgment day.
In a judgement delivered on Friday, Justice Elizabeth Oji declared the stoppage of Ibitoye’s pension in June 2016 after his retirement by the state government as illegal and wrongful.
After after careful evaluation of the submission of both counsel, the presiding Judge, Oji, dismissed objection and held that pension or gratuity shall not be withheld under any circumstance, and the permission of section 2 (a) of the Public Officers Protection Act will not be applicable to the claims of the Appellants.
The judge ruled that the assertion that collective agreements are enforceable only where expressly incorporated in the individual employment contract of an employee does not apply where there is evidence that both parties have relied on the collective agreement; applying the terms of the collective agreement to its employees.
“How can the 1st Defendant be permitted to argue, as it does, that the Claimant was not originally qualified for the exemption the 1st Defendant itself called the Claimant to apply for; or that his date of retirement fell short of that provided by the Pension Reform Law, when it was the 1st Defendant that directly led the Claimant, to take all the actions, he took. I agree with the Claimant that the 1st Defendant is estopped from proffering any interpretation different from what it had made the Claimant act on.
“I have already considered the application of the Lagos State Pension Law in the circumstances of this case and found that by the 1st Defendants’ interpretation and application of the Resolution to the Claimant, the Claimant’s pension is subject to the old pension regime of Pay As You Go.” The Court ruled.
From facts, the claimant-Ibitoye had submitted that he retired from the University in 2009 after he gave notice of his intention to retire in order to fall under the old pension scheme pursuant to his employer’s directive dated July 2007.
Immediately after his retirement, there was a salary increase, which was approved in December 2010 but backdated to take effect from July 2009, that since he was in service as of July 2009, he’s entitled to the same and all its enduring benefits.
Ibitoye averred that the arrears of his gratuity is yet to be paid and his pension was withheld for a period of 15 months, and after several agitations, sometime in September 2017, the Defendants resumed payments of his pension and was shocked to discover that the Defendants were only making part of his pension payment, which was less than 25% of the money paid prior to May 2016.
In defence, the 1st Defendant- Lagos State University of Science and Technology stated that the retiree could no longer be at liberty to enjoy any salary reviews coming into effect after the date it was passed, even if backdated to 1st July 2009, because Ibitoye’s employment with the University had ended.
The University submitted that the Lagos State Government is statutorily empowered to deduct from future payments of retirees and that it is the overpayments made to Ibitoye based on the new salary structure that was responsible for the deductions and temporary suspension of pension payments to the Claimant.
The University filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection on the ground that the action was statute barred having been brought over ten years after the action accrued and outside the stipulated period of Limitation.
The Counsel to the Lagos State Pension Commission and Lagos State Government submitted that Ibitoye’s pension was rightly withheld and subsequently deducted in order for the State to recoup the overpayments made to the Claimant on the old pension scheme, and insisted that the reliefs sought by Mr. Ibitoye disclose no reasonable cause of action against them, and since the collective agreement was not expressly incorporated into the conditions of service, that it is unenforceable.
In opposition, the learned counsel to Mr. Ibitoye opined that since the injury complained of by his client is still subsisting, the suit cannot be said to be statute barred, and urged the court to dismiss the objection and grant the reliefs sought.