The National Industrial Court, Lagos Division, has resolved a 33-year dispute between The Guardian newspaper and its one-time foreign correspondent in the United States, Dr Ode Okore.
The court, in a judgement by Justice Nelson Ogbuanya, awarded a total of $99,599 and a separate N3m against The Guardian in favour of Okore.
Okore, who was in charge of The Guardian North American Bureau in New York, had in August 1986 sued the newspaper before the Lagos State High Court for wrongful termination of his employment.
After spending 26 years in its docket, the state high court on November 2012 struck out Okore’s case for lack of jurisdiction.
The court based its decision on the amendment to the 1999 Constitution (Third Alteration Act 2010), which took effect on March 4, 2011.
The amendment to the constitution stripped the high court of jurisdiction to hear employment-related disputes and gave jurisdiction over such cases to the National Industrial Court.
Following the striking out of his suit by the high court, Okore filed a fresh one before the National Industrial Court, Lagos Division in August 2013, which was struck out in March 2017, after which, the unrelenting journalist filed a third one in November 2017.
Eventually, giving judgement in the 33-year dispute, Justice Ogbuanya last week upheld Okorie’s case against the newspaper.
In arriving at his judgement, the judge dismissed the preliminary objection of the newspaper that the case was statute-barred, misconceived, frivolous, vexatious and constituted an abuse of court processes.
Dismissing the preliminary objection, the judge held that it was not Okore’s fault that the state high court struck out his case, which had lasted 26 years in court, before the constitution was amended to strip the high court of jurisdiction.
“I find that the interval between the striking out and re-filing of each of the successive two suits has not been up to or more than six years prescribed by the extant limitation law. In fact, each occasion has been for a period not more than one year. I so find and hold.
“In the circumstance, I find no merit in the preliminary objection challenging the competence of this suit on the grounds of its being affected by limitation statute. Accordingly, same is hereby dismissed, I so hold,” the judge held.
In his suit, Okore challenged the termination of his employment and demanded payment of his outstanding entitlements.
Granting his prayers, Justice Ogbuanya held, “The defendant is liable and shall pay to the claimant the United States Dollars in the sum of $34,200 (outstanding unpaid allowances); $15,399 (Special damages – unreimbursed costs and expenses in the course of duty); and $50,000 (general damages); totaling $99,599.
“Defendant is liable and shall pay to the claimant in naira, the sum of N2m being damages for the wrongful termination of his employment.
“Cost of this action in the sum of N1m shall be payable by the defendant to the claimant.
“Monetary payments in this judgment shall be paid within two months of this judgment.
“Otherwise, 10 per cent interest per annum shall accrue on the sums due until finally liquidated. Judgment is entered accordingly.”