Mr. Mohammed Oluwaseyi Gambo, an employee of the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) in Lagos Cluster 1, has dragged the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, PEF and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to court over an allegedly underserved disciplinary action meted out to him.
Among the reliefs being sought by Mr. Gambo is the payment of N50 million by his employers as exemplary damages.
The suit filed on his behalf by his lawyers, Jiti Ogunye Chambers, before the Lagos division of the Industrial Court of Nigeria lists the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, NNPC and PEF as first, second and third respondents respectively.
Events preceding the suit, according to court documents in possession of SaharaReporters, began on 24 October 2016, when one Mrs. Mary Agabi, PEF Cluster Manager, sent an e-mail to Mr. Gambo requesting him to make an amendment to the meter tickets for a truck.
Mr. Gambo responded with an explanation that he had completed his own job of notifying the Information Technology (IT) Department in writing and that he had used all the authorized templates to effect correction on the meter tickets to no avail. Having done so, explained Mr. Gambo, it fell on the IT Department to step in and effect the corrections.
In addition, Mr. Gambo appealed to his boss that since she was in Abuja for training at the time, where PEF’s IT Department is at the headquarters, she should take advantage of her presence there to engage the IT Department directly to have the matter resolved. Mrs. Agabi’s response was that because of her participation at the training program, Mr. Gambo should continue the interaction with the IT Department with a view to resolving the issue.
What followed, said Mr. Gambo, came as a shock. His Cluster Manager, who had instructed that he should continue interacting with the IT Department for possible resolution sent a memo on the same subject a few minutes later, copying the General Manager (GM), Operations. In the memo, she stated that she believed the problem of such cases of unconcluded amendments was because of the manner Mr. Gambo was handling assignments. Remarkably, her memo was sent when she had already received Mr. Gambo’s mail copied to the IT Department in which he had stated that the problem of patchy network connectivity made the correction of the meter tickets difficult.
Sensing bad faith on Mrs. Agabi’s part, he felt a need to defend his character against apparent calumniation. He reminded the Cluster Manager of a time she accused him wrongly, but took no action in the interest of workplace harmony.
He similarly reminded Mrs. Agabi of a time he was in Abuja for the General Operations Meeting, during which he introduced her to one Mr. Joe Utulu of the IT Department at the head office in a bid to create a smooth working relationship between them for the purpose of finding a lasting solution to the lingering difficulties in the digital and electronic meter tickets amendments.
Following the introduction, Mrs. Agabi phoned Mr. Gambo from the IT Department to speak to one Mr. Fatai Oseni of the IT Department in order to recapture the issue of the meter tickets amendment difficulties. The said Mr. Fatai Oseni promised to find lasting solutions to the problem, a promise which the IT Department was not able to fulfill until the October 242016 incident recurred.
Suspecting that he was about to be scapegoated for a problem he did not create Mr. Gambo decided to send memo to his Cluster Manager, stating his previous attempts to make things work and have the meter ticket amendment difficulties resolved permanently. He also lamented the way in which his character was being tainted by his Cluster Manager.
The memo, however, set the Cluster Manager off like a bomb. She issued a query to Mr. Gambo to which he responded. His response provoked no other correspondence between them until a query from the Human Resources Department of the PEF on 28 November 2016 to which Mr. Gambo responded the next day.
After the queries were responded to, there was no communication between Mr. Gambo and his Cluster Manager or the PEF Management.
However, in January, while Mr. Gambo’s colleagues were being paid their upfront allowances, he was not paid. Also, while his colleagues were duly promoted for the year 2016, he was not promoted. This moved him to make a complaint in a letter and an email to the PEF Management that he was yet to receive his 2016 Performance Incentive Bonus (PIB) and 2017 Upfront Allowance and requested that he be paid. His request elicited no response. He was not paid the Performance Incentive Bonus (PIB) and Upfront Allowance and was promoted to the Chief Officer Salary Grade Level of SS1, which was due in 2016.
On 10 January, Mr. Gambo applied for a two working-day casual leave out of his usual annual leave of 32 working days to attend to an urgent family matter, having met all the conditions and secured the endorsement of his line-manager. The application was, however, rejected without an explanation. He, therefore demanded to know why it was denied by writing to the Manager, Administration and Personnel; General Manager, Corporate Services; General Manager, Finance; and the Executive Secretary.
He was replied by the Human Resources Department via an email dated 17 January. The email stated that he was denied because of an ongoing disciplinary action on his file, making his request impossible to process. Mr. Gambo reminded the Human Resources Department of the public service norm of opening a temporary file when the main file is not accessible, but got no response.
Similarly, on the 18 January, the Human Resources Department sent a letter to him stating that the non-payment of his 2016 performance bonus and 2017 upfront allowance was because of the decision of the management to suspend both payments because of an ongoing disciplinary process in which he was involved. Mr. Gambo responded to these mails, requesting that the details and particulars of the pending disciplinary process be made available to him as he was not aware of them.
But rather than address his request, the Human Resources Department of PEF, on 9 February, sent him a mail assuring that it would give him a proper response soon. There was no response. Instead, what he got was a piece of communication titled: “Last Warning Letter” on the 10th February. The letter was dated 9 February.
Mr. Gambo said the administrative punishment contained in the “Warning Letter” amounted to a violation of his right to fair hearing, as he was never specifically confronted with the allegations relating to acts of misconduct or insubordination and was never served any letter given from Human Resources Department informing him that he had failed to exculpate himself in his response to the query of 28 November 2016.
In addition, he stated that the action of his employers was contrary to Chapter 3, Section 3 of the Public Service Rules, which provides for various types of misconduct and the provisions of Section18.10.2 of the Corporate Policy & Procedure Guide of the NNPC.
He further stated that when the provisions of Chapter 3, Section 3 of the Public Service Rules, 2008 Edition and specifically the provisions of Rule 030301, Rule 030302, Rule 030304, Rule 030305 and Rule 030307 are applied to the his case, it would clearly show that the PEF management failed to follow the dictates of the Public Service Rules, thereby rendering the disciplinary action taken against him illegal. In addition, he claimed that the respondents failed to follow the administrative disciplinary steps of interdiction, investigation and disciplinary hearing, in accordance with the due process of law, the principles of natural justice and the right to fair hearing.
Mr. Gambo noted that he wrote letters of complaints and appeals to the PEF management through his Cluster Manager. On discovery that his Cluster Manager refused to endorse the letter he wrote to the Board Chairman of the NNPC stating that the chain of events leading to his appeal originated from the query she gave him, Mr. Gambo said he decided to send his letter to the Board Chairman through the Executive Secretary.
For the claimed infraction of his rights, Mr. Gambo is seeking an order quashing the validity of the “Warning Letter” punishing him for an alleged act of insubordination resulting in the forfeiture of his Performance Incentive Bonus for the year 2016 and promotion to the Salary Grade Level of SS1. In addition, he is seeking an order prohibiting the respondents from punishing him by being denied his entitlements as well as an order compelling his employers to pay his entitlements and promote him to the next grade level in addition to the N50 million in exemplary damages.