ATHANASIUS KALADA HART V. THE MILITARY GOVERNOR OF THE RIVERS STATE
In the Supreme Court of Nigeria
Friday, November 19, 1976
Case Number: SC. 196/1973
WHETHER NATURAL JUSTICE REQUIRES A HEARING TO BE ORAL
In these circumstances, it was open to the Commission to accept or reject these explanations which we ourselves consider inept and untenable. We are, therefore, not surprised that they were rejected by the Commission. Since the appellant has admitted the allegations, it was unnecessary for the Commission to invoke the provision of General Order 04108)(ii) and “appoint a Committee to enquire into the matter”. What is therefore important in the instant case is whether, considering the procedure adopted by the Commission, the inquiry into the allegations made against the appellant had been conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice. In this connection, we would like to point out that it is now well settled that natural justice does not require that the hearing should be oral. (See Local Government Board v. Arlidge (1915) AC 120; Adedeji v. Police Service Commission (1968) NLR 102). This is all the more so in a case such as the one now under consideration where the allegations were admitted with explanation which are patently sterile. PER FATAYI-WILLIAMS, JSC.
FATAYI-WILLIAMS, JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
IDIGBE, JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
NASIR, JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
ATHANASIUS KALADA HART
THE MILITARY GOVERNOR OF THE RIVERS STATE THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION OF THE RIVERS STATE THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE RIVERS STATE
(In the matter of the application of Athanasius Kalada Hart for an order of Certiorari)
FATAYI-WILLIAMS, JSC. (Delivering the judgment of the Court): The applicant, now appellant, was at all material times, a civil servant and permanent secretary, in the Ministry of Works, Lands and Transport of the Rivers State Government. He first joined the public service in Nigeria in the then Eastern Region in 1955 and was later absorbed into the public service of the Rivers State six months after the end of the civil war on 12th January, 1970. Sometime in August, 1971, following certain allegations of abuse of office made against him, the Rivers State Public Service Commission, wrote a letter dated 26th August, 1971, to the applicant informing him that he had been interdicted from duty with effect from the date of the said letter. Paragraph 3 of the letter which deals with the allegation made against the applicant reads – “3.
The allegations of abuse of office for which your specific answers are sought within 7 days of the receipt by you of this letter are that through the instrumentality of your duty post of Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works, Lands and Transport in the Rivers State Government, you had (i) misled the Rivers State Government into accepting an incomplete list of undeveloped and partly developed plots shown in the Schedule to the Resumption of State Lands Edict (Reversion of Undeveloped Plots) Edict, 1971, Edict No. 5 of 1971, from which list you had spared for your personal use the undeveloped plot situate at No.20 Ogbunabali West Layout; (ii) effected a bargain with Messrs. Odigbo Akhigbe and Sons for the bulk supply of 25,000 bags of cement @ 16/9d per bag, without formal clearance with the Interim Tenders Board of the Rivers State Government; (iii) directed payment of £600 on Invoice No.16 of 6/7/71 from Rivers State Government funds to Mr. A.D.V. Jumbo for the supply of cement on a letter – dated LPO No.008330 of 8/7/71 without formal clearance with the Interim Tenders Board of the Rivers State; (iv) given by letter AD/G/995/91 of 21st July, 1971, an irrevocable undertaking on behalf of the Rivers State Government that all payments due to Mr. Somiari in respect of his cement delivery would be made direct to the Pan African Bank Limited, Port Harcourt, in credit to the account of Messrs. Goldyson and Sons; (v) accepted by letter AD/G/995/91A of 22nd July, 1971, and without formal clearance with the Interim Tenders Board a price increase on cement being supplied to the Rivers State Government by Goldyson and Sons. (vi) ordered 200 units each of air-conditioners and refrigerators on LPOs Nos.028675 and 028676 of 3rd May, 1971, and to the tune of £40,000 made out to a single supplier, namely, Radio Vision Centre, Port Harcourt, without formal tender; (vii) confirmed by letter No. RS/WA/633/82 of 5th June, 1971, to the Pan African Bank Ltd., Port Harcourt, in respect of the supply of air-conditioners and refrigerators that the Ministry of Works and Transport would make payments to their bank as requested by the customer (Radio Vision Centre) to the tune of the amount issued as advance.” The applicant replied to the allegations in a letter dated 28th August, 1971, addressed to the Commission. The reply is very detailed and is contained in ten pages of foolscap paper. On 10th September, 1971, the applicant wrote another letter to the Commission. Enclosed with this letter are some documents which he referred to as Appendix E. The letter is quite short and the contents read – “Interdiction from Duty Further to my submission on the above subject, I forward herewith Appendix E which explains the circumstances of the cement purchased from Messrs. Odigbo Akhigbe. Note page 2 of the attachment particularly. (Sgd.) A.K. Hart.” He wrote another letter to the Commission on 14th September, 1971, giving them further explanation on the queries and complaining that the Commission was withholding relevant files which they should have made available to him for reference. To these he received the following reply dated 15th September, 1971, from the Commission. “Interdiction from Duty I am directed to refer to your letters of 10th September, 1971, and 14th September, 1971, respectively, on the subject of your interdiction from duty, and to inform you that the Commission acknowledge their receipt as advance copies, hoping that you will be routing formal copies through the Secretary to the Military Government. 2. As regards your earlier submission, reference AD/CON/99/106 of 28th August, 1971, the Commission has taken note of the mention in your paragraphs 2 and 6 of the fact that certain files now with the Commission are not made available to you for reference. The Commission assures you of the fullest cooperation if you apply in formal manner for permission to refer to these material files. (Sgd.) D.I. Dambo, Ag. Secretary.”
To this letter, the applicant replied on 17th September, 1971, as follows:- “I refer to your letter No.CPSC/PP/1044/58 of 15th September, 1971. I have forwarded extra copies of my 10th and 17th September letters to the Secretary to the Military Government for necessary action and onward transmission. 2. As regards your paragraph 2, it was necessary to call for the files when I made my first main submission of 28th August to refresh my mind on the circumstances of the purchase PAGE| 4 of cement from Mr. Odigbo Akhigbe. But with the subsequent forwarding of my letter of 10th September with Appendix E, reference to files does not appear necessary at the moment as all the grounds have been covered by Appendices A-E establishing, in the case of purchases, the consent of either the Ministry of Finance or the Tenders Board. (Sgd.) A.K. Hart.” After giving all the submissions of the applicant due consideration, the Commission reported the matter to His Excellency the Military Governor of the Rivers State by letter 27th September, 1971. Two days later, they made their recommendations about the disciplinary action to be taken against the applicant to the Governor. The letter containing the recommendation is dated 29th September, 1971. It was written by the Chairman of the Commission and it reads – “Your Excellency, Report on Abuse of Office: Mr. A. K. Hart Further to my report reference CPSC/PP/1044/72 of 27th September, 1971, I am writing to inform you on the re-thinking of the Commission on the matter of the punishment ordered against Mr. A.K. Hart. The Commission has come to realise that the earlier order of reduction in rank and pay cannot go far enough to rescue the public service from the corruption which has flourished among the highly placed staff for so long. 2. Mr. Hart was actually promoting dishonest business by – (1) his acceptance of his cement prices in disregard of the lower prices fixed by the Price Control Board; (2) his use of unlimited authority in the issue of irrevocable bank undertakings to businessmen who were, in actual fact, seeking bank loans for their trades; (3) his untendered selection of the Radio Vision Centre for the purchase of air-conditioners and refrigerators even at a time when lower prices were being quoted for these items; (4) his failure to refer the cement purchases from Mr. A. D.W. Jumbo to the Interim Tenders Board for retrospective clearance. 3. On the land issue, he falsified the document containing the list of houses and successfully used it in misleading the Rivers State Government to accept an incomplete list of plots which are subject to reversion under the State Lands (Reversion of Undeveloped Plots) Edict, Edict No.5 of 1971. 4. The Commission holds it is high time public officers, guilty of abuse of office are shaken with outright dismissal. 5. From this resume, the Commission now recommends, subject to your approval, that Mr. Hart be dismissed forthwith from the public service. I have the honour to be, Your Excellency’s obedient Servant, (Sgd.) Professor I. S. Dema, CHAIRMAN.” After reading this recommendation, the Governor minuted as follows:- “Your recommendation in paragraph 5 of your letter of the 29th September is approved with the following modifications: That Mr. A.K. Hart be retired with effect from today, 30th September, 1971. Benefits may be paid. (Sgd.) A.P. Diete-Spiff, Lt. Commander. 30th September, 1971.”
On receiving this directive from the Military Governor, the Commission wrote to the applicant on 7th October, 1971. The letter which meticulously dealt with each of the representations made to them in the app