John ODHE, Yenagoa
Over 350 secondary school teachers that were unlawfully sacked in Bayelsa state by a former governor of the state, Senator Seriake Dickson in 2012 have cried out to the state governor, Senator Douye Diri to obey the National Industrial Court ruling which had ordered immediate reinstatement of the affected teachers and payment of their backlog of salaries.
Dickson, upon assumption of office in 2012, had embarked on civil servants biometrics verification exercise which led to the sacking, demotion and suspension of many civil servants in Bayelsa state, especially those employed by his predecessor, Chief Timipre Sylva.
Not satisfied with their sack, the aggrieved teachers went to the industrial court sitting in Yenagoa, praying the court to order the state government to reinstate them, a prayer the court obliged to and ruled that the teachers were unlawfully sacked and therefore ordered the state government to reinstate and pay them all their benefits.
Another set of the aggrieved teachers also approached the Port Harcourt division of the industrial court to seek redress, which the court also ruled in their favour with an order that they should be reinstated and the arrears paid to them.
Despite obtaining a twin ruling from the industrial courts, the affected teachers had continued to wait in vain to be reabsorbed into the state civil service.
Having explored all avenues available to them to no avail, the frustrated sacked teachers were left with no other option than to re-approach the court, seeking a garnishee order to compel all banks being used by the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in paying civil servants’ salaries to release the funds owed the litigants to them, a prayer which the court had also answered but yet to be implemented by the state government.
On Thursday, during a sitting at the industrial court in Yenagoa where the court had ordered the banks to produce statements of accounts for the teachers’ payments, counsel to SUBEB which represents the state government in the case filed a fresh application for a stay of proceedings.
Consequently, the presiding judge, Justice Bashar A. Akali adjourned the case to 13th of October for hearing on the application.
Speaking to newsmen after the adjournment, counsel to the judgement creditors, (the teachers), Martin Nwabali said “today, the court ordered the banks, which the judgement creditors are planning to garnishee to produce the statement and inflow of the accounts, which one of the banks has produced which is the third garnishee but the second judgement creditor, which is SUBEB, brought an application for stay of proceedings, which the judgement creditors had already responded to.
“But previously, the court had already dealt with all these issues of stays and delays in an attempt to frustrate the judgement creditors which are the teachers. The court in their wisdom has ordered that in the next adjourned date, both parties should exchange their processes so that the court can determine on the garnishee which is a huge amount of money accruing to the teachers,” he said.
Nwabali emphasized that there was no defence on the part of the judgement debtors, noting that what they were doing was a delay strategy aimed at tying up the case in appeal, maintaining that there was no appeal for the court to stay proceedings other that what he described as mere notice of appeal on which the court had previously given judgement in favour of the plaintiffs.
Council to SUBEB, Derry Eric, said the only way to the end of the case was for both parties to come together and resolve the issues amicably, adding that ”both parties have been meeting and I believe that the government is a listening one.”
One of the victims, Mr. Steven Vianana described their ordeal as an administrative error on the side of government, appealing to governor Diri, whom he described as a beneficiary of the rule of law, to consider their plights and do the needful.
“We have had two judgments from the industrial courts both in Yenagoa and Port Harcourt and all of them are in our favour. Ironically, several letters of notice have been written to the government through SUBEB, but it is appalling that to this day, the government has not done anything to obey the court order,” he said.
Vianana explained that when the verification exercise was carried out, they were all verified and paid four months backlog of salaries before the appointment of Dr. Walton Liverpool as the Executive Secretary of SUBEB, who then asked them to reapply for their positions which they did only to hear that their appointments had been suspended.
Another victim, Sunday Rachael, who spoke emotionally with tears profusely running down her cheek said ”are we not Byelsans? Why this suffering? We are calling on the governor to see us as his own brothers, sisters and children. We are suffering. Even in the school system, we heard there are not enough teachers. So, why are they trying to frustrate us all these years? Our children can no longer go to school. Many marriages have been broken. We are begging the government to listen to us.”