It is a well-known fact, that families of deceased staff in Nigeria, go through so much hardship in order to get the benefits of their loved ones who are no more.
Though some of the reasons for the delayed payment of death gratuities to next of kin of civil servants who die in active service include poor documentation and lack of understanding of procedures. Most times, the next of kin do not know where to start from.
Because even when valid claims are made, it is sometimes difficult for insurance companies to pay death benefits to family members.
Facts of the case
- The claimants in this suit are children of late Emmanuel Akpoke who died on December 15, 1992, due to a cerebrovascular accident, while in active service.
- He was an officer of the Nigerian Police Force with the rank of a superintendent of police before his death. He was enlisted on December 1, 1959, and his last place of National assignment was at the office of Provost, Nigerian Police Force, Calabar, Cross River State.
- After his death, his children began to process the payment of his death benefits. On December 23, 1992, a police wireless message was sent to Calabar, Cross River State, directing that his benefits/relief packages be paid to the deceased’s next of kin.
- On April 6, 1993, the Director of Finance and Admin, Police Headquarters Calabar, sent a letter with the particulars of the claimant’s late father to the Director of Police Pensions recommending that the death gratuity due to the deceased’s estate be paid to the 2nd claimant who is the registered next of kin.
- The claimants submitted that in 1993, their father’s file alongside all documents needed for the preparation of pension/gratuity was sent to the Police Pension Office, Lagos, of which they were told to await a response from the defendants.
- The 2nd claimant who is the registered next of kin travelled to the Police Pension Office in Lagos and discovered that the file earlier sent was torn and most of the documents were missing.
- A fresh file was prepared by the NPF office in Calabar and forwarded to the Police Pension Office of which the claimants were always in contact with the pension office, Calabar, for any information from the defendants.
- On February 9, 2009, a team of police pension officers visited Calabar to see the deceased’s next of kin requesting other documents saying they are yet to receive a response from the defendants and they cannot find the claimant’s late father’s file.
- He furnished them with all the documents they demanded. The claimants averred that on January 8, 2009, their father’s particulars were sent to the Director, Police Pension Office, Ikeja, Lagos.
- They alleged that despite all the efforts they made, the defendants failed, refused and neglected to pay the death benefits due to their deceased father.
- Their lawyer sent several letters to the defendants demanding the payment of their late father’s benefits but to no avail.
- They submitted that the entire family of the deceased suffered untold hardship, mental and psychological trauma and have been left completely destitute, after the death of their father due to the failure and/or refusal of the defendants to pay their father’s death benefits.
In 2013, they approached the court seeking the following reliefs after all efforts made to get their father’s benefits yielded no fruits.
- Payment of pension and gratuity due to the deceased Emmanuel Akpoke, to the claimants as his death benefits and special damages.
- Payment of N100 million only for the mental and psychological trauma suffered by claimants and the bereaved family of late Emmanuel Akpoke, as general damage.
- Payment of N10 million (Ten Million Naira) as cost of litigation.
- The 1st, 2nd and 5th defendants did not enter an appearance or defend the action.
- The 4th defendant entered an appearance and filed a notice of preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit which was struck out for want of diligent prosecution.
- The 3rd defendant, who is the Director, police pension office, told the court that in September 2013, the Police Pension Office was incorporated as a Department under Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) with the establishment of PTAD.
- He averred that it consequently inherited numerous files and records from the former Police Pension Office with questionable, fictitious and manifestly unreliable records and that a number of the records inherited were also missing.
- He submitted that attempts were made to sanitise and return integrity to the Pension records and in July 2014, a mini-verification exercise was organised of which they notified the claimant’s lawyer and told him to pass the information to his clients.
- He averred that the claimants came for the verification but could not produce some of the relevant documents required for the verification exercise and were told by the verifying officer to make available all relevant documents that will enable them to include the name in the payroll.
- However, the claimants never showed up with the said documents. subsequently, a 3 stage nationwide verification exercise was conducted for Police Pensioners/ Next of Kin of Deceased Officers but the claimants did not also show up.
- He said the verification commenced in January 2015 for Police Pensioners and Next-of-Kin who may have missed the verification for their zones.
- The 3rd defendant averred that PTAD cannot include the name of a beneficiary on the payroll without verifying the claim of the Pensioner or Next of Kin of a deceased officer.
- He alleged that paying the pensioners/Next of Kin without following due process will cause unnecessary financial loss to the government as people without genuine claims may come up with claims that cannot be substantiated.
What the judge ruled
On November 6, 2015, Justice O.A.Obaseki-Osaghae after listening to submissions from counsels ruled as follows;
She held that the claimants have placed before the court their deceased father’s appointment documents into the Nigeria Police Force and other required component pieces of evidence relating to his appointment, status, service details and death certificate.
She said “I am satisfied that the claimants have adduced credible evidence worthy of belief in support of their claims and have discharged the legal burden of proof placed on them by law.
“I find that the defendants have refused to pay to the claimants their late father’s death benefits since his death on 15 December 1992 in spite of all the efforts made by them.
“I believe that the defendants have no defence to this action. The defendants are to pay the claimants the gratuity and other death benefits of late SP Emmanuel Akpoke.”
The judge noted that “ It is most unfortunate that the family of late SP Emmanuel Akpoke who died in the service of his country 23 years ago will be treated in this dreadful manner by the Force their late father worked for.
She said the family of any deceased policeman in this country should not be put through such harrowing experiences as the claimants have gone through just to be paid the death benefits that they are entitled to.
“That they have had to approach the Court for succour and assistance to collect their father’s death benefits after all the effort they have made is a shame and disgrace to the Force,” she said.
“I make an award of general damages in favour of the claimants in the sum of Five Million Naira (N5 Million). For all the reasons given above, I make the following orders:
“The defendants are to pay the gratuity and other death benefits of the late SP Emmanuel Akpoke to the claimants as special damages.
“The defendants are to pay general damages in the sum of Five Million (N5 Million) for mental and psychological trauma suffered by the claimants and entire family members of the deceased.
“The defendants are to pay costs of N150,000.00 to the claimants.
“All payments are to be made within 90 days from the date of this judgement.”
Basis for judgement
The judge said the 3rd defendant did not lead any evidence supporting their case and the law is trite that if a party fails to lead evidence in support of his pleadings, the averments will be taken as having been abandoned.
- The judge said, the action is therefore undefended by all the defendants.
- On the issue of whether the claimants have adduced credible evidence in proof of their claims, the judge said “I find that the claimants have established that they are the children of the late Emmanuel Akpoke (SP) and the 2nd and 3rd claimants are his registered next of kin.”
- On the issue of damages demanded by the claimants, she said “The claimants have asked for an award of general damages. They have suffered untold hardship, trauma and financial hardship by the actions of the defendants.
- “I believe that an award of general damages which the claimants are entitled to will meet the justice of this case. Consequently, and on the authority of Section 19 (d) of the National Industrial Court Act, 2006.”
What you should know
- The claimants include; Mrs Jenny Edem, Akpoke Asikong,Eja Akpoke, Ekebi Akpoke and Ebei Akpoke.
- Defendants include: The Nigerian Police Force, The Inspector General of Police, The Director, Police Pension Office, The Federal Ministry of Police Affairs and the Commissioner of police, cross river state.