Supreme Court affirms staff’s retirement for failure to comply with company’s rules

By Ibe Uwaleke.

If a baby bites its mother’s nipples while being fed with the breast milk, the mother may either beat the baby and temporarily stop it from sucking her breast or pull her nipples from its mouth to force the child to cry. If the baby continues to do this often and the mother continues to feel the pains, she may decide to squeeze the breast milk into a feeding bottle to feed the child in order to free herself from these excruciating pains which are now becoming unbearable for her, that is assuming the child is still under the breast sucking age. Otherwise the mother may consider outright weening of the child since it has grown enough teeth to eat solid food.

Similarly, where a child bites a mother’s fingers that feed it, the mother may either feed the child with a spoon or allow it to feed itself. This is because no one should bite the fingers that feeds him/her.

This was the clear message handed down by the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1985 when it refused to stop the immediate retirement of Mr. Teliat Sule, a senior civil servant with the Nigerian Cotton Board (NCB), Funtua, Katsina State, who was promoted and transferred from Lagos to Funtua, but who refused to vacate the staff quarters he was given while he was in Lagos for his colleague who replaced him in the Lagos office to move in with his own family. A case you may be tempted to say, one cannot eat his cake and still have it back.

According to the company’s rule and the agreement Sule reached with the management of the Board he was expected to move to Funtua with his household including his wife and children where a comfortable accommodation has been made available for him and his family.

But Mr. Sule disregarded this company rule and the agreement he entered into with the Board and decided to procced on transfer to Funtua alone, leaving his family behind in Lagos to continue to occupy the staff quarters meant for his colleague who was also on transfer to Lagos to replace him.

The excuse he gave to the company’s Board was that his children were still in school and that they should be allowed to finish school before they could come to join him in Funtua.

When his children eventually finished their school, Sule did not relocate his family against clear instructions from his company.

The Board became anxious and concerned when Sule refused to obey the managent’s instructions, in flagrant way of telling the company that he was an important and indispensable staff the Board could not do without, but unknown to him he was only displaying that raw attitude of a typical Nigerian politician who can step on toes of other fellows and also bite the fingers that feed him and get away with it.

But Sule’s case was different as the company was determined to recover the property in Lagos and make it available to the right staff in question.

Due to the company’s cordial relationship with Sule, the Board sent letters to him kindly informing him to vacate the premises as he was holding the other person to ransome and causing the Board to spend

money on hotel bills for the person who was to take over the house in Lagos.

In addition, the Board even offered to house his family in the boy’s quarters pending the time the household would move, but Sule continued to keep his family there showing total disrespect to the board.

There is this popular adage in Igboland that says that when you are advising the ear to take heed and hear the voice of reason, and it refuses, when the head is cut, the ear goes with it.

And so, when the Board got fed up with his disobedience and basically occupying two premises apparently in Lagos and Funtua, they sent him a query as to his constant bad behaviour, and instead of Sule to apologise, he boasted that he was an asset to the company and that he would keep his family in Lagos as far as it was convenient for the family.

This arrogance displayed by Sule was like the last struck that broke the Camel’s back and triggered the bottled-up anger towards him over his unruly behaviour to the Board.

When Sule had stretched the board’s will power to the breaking point, the board like a sleeping lion whose tail was marched by an intruder who can only tell his experience in the next incanation if he has to return to the earth again.

The board in like manner took a hard-line decision to retire Taliat Sule, so that he could leave the company premises completely, both in Lagos and Funtua. But the company was however lenient to him as he was retired with full benefits.

But Sule, who thought his ego has been bruised, decided like a stubborn brute to continue to stay put at the two premises in Lagos and Funtua, and then took the board to court.

Like an average Lagos tenant who when his rent is in several years of areas will go to the Rent Tribunal to sue his landlord and stop the landlord from evicting him from his apartment while the case lasts in court without paying a dime to him.

Sule took the same stance. But he was disappointed when at the High Court his retirement was approved. He did not stop there. He decided to appeal at the Court of Appeal which confirmed the judgment that the Board was right to have retired him.

Sule’s complaint at the court was that his retirement was wrong because he was not up to the age of 60 which is the compulsory retirement age in accordance with the law. He went further to argue that the Board did not give him the opportunity to hear his own side of the story but the board stated through its lawyer that they sent several letters to him informing him that it was time for him to leave the premises and he replied with several letters telling them the reason why he couldn’t leave.

The Board also argued that from the moment Sule refused to leave the house he was entitled to pay them mesne profit for staying in the house after he was told to leave.

At the High court judgment was given in favour of the Board. Sule went to the Court of Appeal where it was held that the Board cannot collect mesne profit from Sule because they did not give him a proper notice of owners intention to recover the property but judgment was still given in favour of the Board as to his retirement not being wrongful. Sule decided again to approach Supreme Court for retiring him wrongly and depriving him over six months salary he would have earned if he was still working.

At the Supreme Court, the apex court berated Sule for coming there to complain when the same company was lenient enough to him by retiring him with benefits and being so accommodating. Therefore he should not be an ingrate who bit the fingers that fed him. That was the judgment as delivered by Justice Andrew Otutu Obaseki, as he then was.

Lesson: It is not always good sometimes to rush to the court to lay complaints especially when one is at fault in matters one can apply common sense to settle.