Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Court fines PRODA DG N20 million for issuing defamatory sack letter to staff 

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The National Industrial Court (NIC), Enugu, has awarded N20 million cost against Dr Fabian Okonkwo, Director-General of Projects Development Institute (PRODA), for issuing a defamatory dismissal letter to Engr. Chibuzor Agulana. 

The Presiding Judge, Justice Olukayode Arowosegbe, affirmed the jurisdiction of the court to entertain claims of workplace defamation. 

He held that the content of the dismissal letter, which purportedly found the top staff(claimant) guilty of crimes, was without proof and defamatory. 

The judgment delivered by Justice Arowosegbe was published on the NIC official website on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. 

What transpired at  proceedings 

The claimant argued that Dr. Fabian wrote a dismissal letter addressed to him, which contained defamatory statements while having it published to diverse third parties within his workplace, including business associates and the general public. 

He noted that the same was pasted on conspicuous places in the workplace. 

His legal team further contended that all the accusations bordering on crimes and dishonesty were borne out of falsehood, adding that no court had ever convicted him and PRODA’s panel never queried him on allegations raised in the dismissal letter. 

Earlier,  Dr. Okonkwo’s legal team had maintained that the staff member failed to appear before the board after he replied to the query and was dismissed. 

The defense urged the court to decline jurisdiction on the matter because the ground of alleged defamation at the workplace was not within the jurisdiction of the court. 

The defense team also stated that since the PRODA members were not joined as defendants in the matter, the court would not effectively determine the case as the defendant merely carried out the directives of the PRODA board at the time. 

But the claimant further submitted that the PRODA Board “could not have been brought into the legal action because the Board was not in existence at the time the DG purportedly acted for it hence, the PRODA and its Board had no hand in the defamation.” 

The court agrees with the dismissed staff 

Delivering the judgement, the judge awarded the sum of N20m as aggravated damages in favour of Agulana. 

The court ruled “that the exhibits tendered corroborated Dr. Fabian’s illegalities and that the DG was on a frolic of his own and was not acting for the PRODA Board when he wrote the libellous dismissal letter, and, therefore, destroyed the defences of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege.” 

“Justice Arowosegbe ordered Dr. Fabian to retract the libel contained in the dismissal letter by publishing his apologies in two daily newspapers: The Vanguard and The Daily Sun within 30 days.” 

The judge said, 

“To defame an employee with the potentiality of negatively impacting his employment prospects is an unfair labour practice that demands the best international practices around the world to remedy because labour rights have been elevated to fundamental human rights, especially the right to work.” 

The court also granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant from making further defamatory statements and publications against the claimant. 

More insights  

The National Industrial Court has exclusive jurisdiction in civil causes and matters relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from the workplace.  

It also looks Into cases bordering on the conditions of service, including health, safety, and welfare of labour unions and employees. 


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