Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
The Supreme Court on Friday voided the sacking of about 860 employees by Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited.
The 860 Nigerians were employed as security officers by Mobil in 2000.
The company had named the employees Supernumerary Police officers, otherwise called SPY.
In 2000, Mobil had claimed to have transferred their employment to the Nigeria Police Force, saying it engaged the workers to train them. Mobil had claimed that it engaged them as spy police personnel and not as staff.
But the affected workers disputed the claim, with some of them refusing to be transferred out of their stations.
Laying the dispute to rest on Friday, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment of five justices, held that it was illogical and without legal backing for Mobil to have employed the Nigerians and sought to transfer them to the Nigeria Police through the back door.
The judgment was on an appeal marked SC/33/2010 and filed by Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited against the 2009 Court of Appeal judgment which upheld the Nigerian workers’ claim to be employees of the oil company.
The five-man panel of the apex court was headed by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour.
The court’s lead judgment, delivered by Justice John Okoro, upheld the Court of Appeal’s earlier decision.
The apex court also agreed with the Court of Appeal’s decision ordering Mobil to pay the staff members all outstanding allowances and salaries from when they were purportedly variously disengaged.
Summarising the apex court’s judgment on Friday, Justice Okoro said, “The summary of the facts is that the 1st to 15th respondents were employed by the appellants as Supernumerary Police Officers and issued with appointment letters.
“Thereafter, it (appellants) tried to offload them (the 1st to 15th respondents) to the Nigeria Police, a decision the Nigerian employees rejected. The lower court upheld their argument that they are not police officers, but the staff members of Mobil Nigeria Unlimited. So Mobil appealed to this court.
“After we have painstakingly looked at all the exhibits before us, including the appointment letters and we have also looked at the Police Act as it relates to the mode of appointment of SPYs. We agree with the lower court that the respondents were employed by Mobil Nigeria Unlimited as their security staff.
“So, this appeal lacks merit and is hereby dismissed. The judgment of the lower court is upheld.”
The apex court also dismissed a similar appeal by the IGP, on the ground that it was unnecessary and a waste of public funds.
The workers were variously employed by Mobil in the 1990s for its security unit, but the workers alleged that they were victimised, with some sacked for insisting on their right to be treated as other Mobil employees.
They alleged that apart from the harsh working condition they were subjected to, they were compelled to sign a document. The matter was later taken to court by the aggrieved workers.
When the Federal High Court Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, ruled in favour of Mobil in 2006, the workers appealed the case and the Court of Appeal, Calabar, Cross River State, nullified the judgment of the High Court in 2009.
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