Special Assistants are not Political, Public Office Holders – Court rules

The Presiding Judge, Makurdi Judicial division of the National Industrial Court, Hon. Justice Isaac Essien has dismissed the entitlement claim filed by Hon. Simon Tarhemba, Hon. Catherine Ommiche and Hon. Yachiga Cyprian representing themselves, 155 other Senior Special Assistants, 153 other Senior Special Assistants and 53 other Personal Assistants respectively against the Governor of Benue State for not disclosing any reasonable cause of action.

The Court held that Hon. Simon Tarhemba, Hon. Catherine Ommiche, Hon. Yachiga Cyprian and any Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants and Personal Assistants are neither Political office holders nor Public office holders and cannot claim any remuneration, allowance or any benefit howsoever called under the Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Remuneration) Law 2008 of Benue State, enacted pursuant to the provisions of Section 196 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

Justice Essien ruled that the action of Hon. Simon Tarhemba, Hon. Catherine Ommiche, Hon. Yachiga Cyprian having been instituted under a repealed law has no legal fulcrum upon which the action can rest; awarded the sum of N500,000 as cost of action in favour of the defendants.

From facts, the claimants- Hon. Simon Tarhemba, Hon. Catherine Ommiche, Hon. Yachiga Cyprian had averred that they were appointed as Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants and Personal Assistants to the Executive Governor of Benue State and dutifully served from 2011 till the 29th day of May 2015 when the administration ended its tenure.

They sought furniture allowances and other fringe benefits payable pro rata, including but not limited to severance packages and terminal benefits under the Political, Public and Judicial Office Holder (Remuneration) Laws, 2007 of Benue State.

The defendants- Government of Benue State filed a notice of preliminary objection, sought an order of the court to strike out the matter for want of jurisdiction, on the grounds that the action is based on a repealed legislation, and the allowances claimed by the Claimants are not provided for under the Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Remuneration) Law of Benue State, 2008 among others.

The counsel to the Benue Government argued that the foundation of the former aides’ claim is faulty because the law relied upon has been repealed. Counsel argued further that S.2 of the Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Remuneration) Law 2008 of Benue State does not list the claimants as being among the class of persons who can take any benefit under that law.

In opposition, the claimants’ counsel, Ucha Ulegede Esq with D. Awuru Awuru Esq. and N.O. Talbot Esq argued that the government’s argument is misleading, that their clients being political appointees of the Governor are Public office holders and thus entitled to the fringe benefits and other allowances provided in the Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Remuneration) Law 2008.

In a well-considered judgment, the presiding Judge, Justice Isaac Essien held that Hon. Simon Tarhemba, Hon. Catherine Ommiche, Hon. Yachiga Cyprian’s action was commenced under a repealed law and a repealed legislation is to be treated as if never existed.

The Court added that the argument by the former aides’ counsel that the existence of the Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Remuneration) Law 2008 makes the claim grantable cannot be valid.

Justice Essien stated that Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants and Personal Assistants are not listed amongst the class of persons who are entitled to take benefit under the First Schedule to the Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Remuneration) Law 2008 of Benue State.

“The positions of Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants and Personal Assistants no matter the nomenclature used in describing persons appointed into that position are not recognised under the 1999 Constitution or under the Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Remuneration) Law 2008 as Political Office Holders or Public Office Holders. They cannot, therefore, take any benefit created under these enactments.

“This Preliminary Objection succeeds. It is the order of this court that the statement of claim in this action is hereby struck out and this suit is hereby dismissed.” The Court ruled.

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