Over the years, the Federal Government of Nigeria put policies in place to encourage home ownership by Nigerian workers. One of such policies was the Staff Housing Scheme, through which the Federal Government built low cost houses for occupation by its staff and allocated the houses to them on an owner-occupier basis. The Federal Government sought to extend this gesture to companies that had a minimum staff strength of 500, by giving the companies land at no cost, subject only to the Federal Government’s Guidelines. The Guidelines prescribed, among other things, that the houses constructed by the companies on the land should be allocated to their workers exclusively on owner-occupier basis. Rent for the houses were to be deducted from the workers’ salaries and applied as deposit towards the purchase of the houses by the workers. Furthermore, title to the land was to remain in the Federal Government and would only be transferred to the companies after they had utilized the land for workers welfare.
The implementation of this policy was however fraught with serious issues as many employers were unwilling to permanently divest themselves of the houses they had constructed on the land and instead retained the houses as staff quarters, which were to be vacated by the workers at the end of their employment. Several disputes arose from these issues and eventually led to litigations. The National Industrial Court in NICN/LA/350/2012: MRS. MODUPE AINA KUTI V. NIGERIA SOCIAL INSURANCE TRUST FUND recently decided some of these issues.
In that case, the National Provident Fund (NPF) which later became the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) was a beneficiary of the Federal Government Housing policy and had been allocated land at no cost by the Federal Government. It constructed houses on the land and allocated them to its staff.
Mrs. Kuti had been employed by the NPF and was allocated a house in the NPF Estate. Upon her occupation of the House, the NPF began to make monthly deductions from her salary as rent and also withheld her yearly housing allowance. While still in its employment, the NSITF demanded via a quit notice that Mrs. Kuti vacate the apartment. She refused, relying on the Federal Government policy. The NSITF therefore suspended and subsequently dismissed her.
Mrs. Kuti instituted an action in the Federal High Court (which was subsequently transferred to the National Industrial Court) challenging her dismissal and seeking among other reliefs, a declaration that she was lawfully entitled to the house on owner-occupier basis. It was however one of the NSITF’s contentions that its own letter of allocation from the Federal Government did not state that it should allocate the houses constructed to its staff on owner-occupier basis.
In resolving this issue, the court considered the various circulars issued by the Minister of Labour containing the Federal Government’s guidelines on the houses and letters written to the NSITF by the Ministry of Labour directing the NSITF to transfer the houses in its Estate to its staff in accordance with the Federal Government’s guidelines. The court decided that the circular and letters constituted clear documentary evidence of the existence of the guidelines and the fact that the NSITF was subject to them. The Court therefore declared Mrs. Kuti to be entitled to ownership of the house.
This decision is significant as it gives judicial recognition to the government’s policy on home ownership by workers and highlights the need for strict compliance by employers of labour.