[Legal Opinion] Which Court has Jurisdiction to entertain Gratuity, Wages in Financial Institution?

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by Denis Ogunbowale Esq.

In order to fully address the issue, salient provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (particularly Section 251 and 254C, Labour Act, Pension Reform Act and relevant case law have to be analysed holistically in order to come to a resolution of this issue.

Section 251 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 [as amended] states as follows;

“Notwithstanding anything to the contained in this Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the Federal High Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters-

(d) connected with or pertaining to banking, banks, other financial institutions, including any action between one bank and another, any action by or against the Central Bank of Nigeria arising from banking, foreign exchange, coinage, legal tender, bills of exchange, letters of credit, promissory notes and other fiscal measures:

Provided that this paragraph shall not apply to any dispute between an individual customer and his bank in respect of transactions between the individual customer and the bank.”

Section 254C of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 [as amended] states as follows;

“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 251, 257, 272 and anything contained in this Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the National Industrial Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters—

  1. relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety, welfare of labour, employee, worker and matters incidental thereto or connected therewith;
  2. relating to, connected with or arising from Factories Act, Trade Disputes Act, Trade Unions Act, Labour Act, Employees’ Compensation Act or any other Act or Law relating to labour, employment, industrial relations, workplace or any other enactment replacing the Acts or Laws;
  3. relating to or connected with any dispute over the interpretation and application of the provisions of Chapter IV of this Constitution as it relates to any employment, labour, industrial relations, trade unionism, employer’s association or any other matter which the
  4. relating to or connected with unfair labour practice or international best practices in labour, employment and industrial relation matters;
  5. relating to, connected with or pertaining to the application or interpretation of international labour standards;
  6. relating to or connected with disputes arising from payment or non-payment of salaries, wages, pensions, gratuities, allowances, benefits and any other entitlement of any employee, worker, political or public office holder, judicial officer or any civil or public servant in any part of the Federation and matters incidental thereto.”

Section 5 (2) of the Labour Act CAP L1 LFN 2004 provides as follows;

“An employer may with the consent of a worker make deductions from the wages of the worker and pay to the appropriate person any contributions to provident or pension funds or other schemes agreed to by the worker and approved by the State Authority.”

Part II of the Pension Reform Act, 2014 covers contributory pension schemes generally which includes Establishment of Contributory Pension Schemes, rate of contribution to the scheme, exemption scheme and also supervision of retirement benefits of employees exempted from the schemes.

There is an axiomatic expression in law (which a Latin maxim) that states thus; “generalibus specialia derogant.” The literal interpretation is that “special things derogate from general things.” This means that where a special provision is made on a certain matter, the matter is excluded from the general provisions.

From a comparative analysis of the provision of Section 251 and 254C of the CFRN 1999 (as amended), it is clear that although Section 251(d) of the CFRN 1999 (as amended) gives the Federal High Court exclusive jurisdiction in matters connected with or pertaining to banking, banks, other financial institutions this does not in any way invalidate the provision of Sec 254C (k) of the CFRN 1999 (as amended) which gives the National Industrial Court exclusive jurisdiction in matters pertaining to relating to or connected with disputes arising from payment or non-payment of salaries, wages, pensions, gratuities, allowances, benefits and any other entitlement of any employee, worker, political or public office holder, judicial officer or any civil or public servant in any part of the Federation and matters incidental thereto. This is so for any number of reasons.

Firstly, in line with the principle of generalibus specialia derogant, section 251 of the CFRN 1999 (as amended) seems to be more of general provision pertaining institution of civil actions related to the Banks and other financial institutions subject to the proviso as contained in the section.

Secondly, the preamble to Section 254C of the CFRN 1999 (as amended) states as follows;

“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 251, 257, 272 and anything contained in this Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the National Industrial Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters.”

This means that this Section 254C of the CFRN 1999 (as amended) will take precedence over the sections of the constitution expressly mentioned including Section 251.

The Court in interpreting Section 254C of the CFRN 1999 (as amended) in the case of Coca-cola Nig Ltd v Akinsanya (2017) 17 NWLR (Part 1593) 129-130 (paras. F-F) 132 (para. D) held as follows;

“By virtue of section 254C(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the National Industrial Court has jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil cases and matters relating to or connected to any labour, employment, the conditions of service of labour, employee, worker and matters incidental thereto or connected therewith. Under the sub-section, the jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court covers all employment-related matters, including those arising from private contracts of employment. And the sub-section does not demarcate between private and public employment status.”

Conclusively, in line with the above arguments and authorities; in disputes arising from payment or non-payment of salaries, wages, pensions, gratuities, allowances, benefits and any other entitlement of any employee, worker, political or public office holder, judicial officer or any civil or public servant in any part of the Federation and matters incidental thereto, the National Industrial Court is the right court with the jurisdiction to try the matter irrespective of the provisions of Section 251 of the CFRN 1999 (as amended) and other such provisions.

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