Court awards N50m to unpaid workers of transport firm

Court Symbol
Court Symbol

A National Industrial Court sitting in Lagos has awarded N50 million to 57 workers of a popular transport company, Ekene Dili Chukwu, who sued the company for owing them three years’ worth of salary totalling N74.2 million.

Ekene Dili Chukwu transport company is one of Nigeria’s pioneer transport companies.

In its heydays, the company transported passengers and goods nationwide. The company was founded in 1955 by Augustine Ilodibe. The founder of the company died in 2007 and his son, Chukwunonso Ilodibe, took over as CEO.

But no sooner had he taken over the running of the company than the company’s fortune started nosediving.

The suit, which was filed against the company in July 2017 accused Mr Ilodibe of deliberately bankrupting the company by diverting funds and assets of the company to his own personal companies therefore making it impossible for them (workers) to get paid for work done.

Judgement

In the judgment, the court said the award should be considered ”as one and final payment by the workers from the company”.

This agreement was reached after both parties closed its case and agreed to an out of court settlement.

Part of the judgment read, “The first defendant shall pay the claimants the sum of N50 million as full and final settlement of the claimants claim in the suit.

“The first defendant shall pay the sum in two equal instalments The first instalment shall be paid on or before 30th of June 2019, and the 2nd and final instalments shall be paid on or before 31st of August 2019.

“The agreed full and final settlement of N50million naira shall be issued in favour of Chidozie Kennedy Ojoro, the counsel to the claimants in the agreed instalment payments. ”

“That all parties shall bear the respective costs. That this settlement shall be considered the final judgment of the court.”

Background

In the suit filed in 2017, the workers alleged that Mr Ilodibe, since taking over in 2007, had ”systematically diverted funds and assets meant for the company to his personal business and for his personal use therefore purposely rendering the transport company incapable of paying his workers”.

They also accused Mr Ilodibe of refusing to retire them or lay off unpaid workers because he did not want to pay their substantial severance entitlement ”as some of them had been working with the company almost 40 years”.

The workers claimed that “on the 17th of November 2009, the 2nd defendant moved N37.7 million from the 1st defendant account to his own UBA Prestige account.

“(The) 2nd defendant by a GTB letter dated 28th March 2011, have (had) started funding his personal company ‘Ekene Dili Chukwu logistics Limited’ from the proceeds of the 1st defendant and without any financial returns to the 1st defendant.

“(The) 2nd defendant took money from the 1st defendant to fund his mortgage at Marimpex Imperial Garden estate, GRA, Ikeja to the tune of N24.5 million from Intercontinental homes immediately upon assumption of the office in 2007 and which mortgage was completely paid off by the 1st defendant after the bank, by a letter dated September 3rd 2012 made the demand for the final balance in the expiration on the said mortgage.”

They also accused him of “unilaterally selling 44 trucks belonging to the 1st defendant bought using a N450 million bank loan in 2004 and kept proceeds from the sale.”

The plaintiffs claimed that while refusing to pay them, Mr Ilodibe paid external staffs during the same period.

More accusations

Charles Obiora, the general manager of the company who also doubles as its accountant, told PREMIUM TIMES, he has been with the company since 1991. He accused the CEO of systematically liquidating the company.

“The money that would have been used to had already been diverted to his own personal companies. He had to form about three companies and then form a company competing with your own company. We have a courier company competing with his transport company, all these things will make it impossible for staffs to be paid. There won’t be funds to pay them,” Mr Obiora said.

“Loads come to transport companies, and when you move, you make money but if you now form a company within a company competing with the transport company. So, when loads come, instead of going to the transport company, it goes to the logistics company and the income that would have come to the company will be moved to your company, it makes it impossible for the company to pay.

“Last week we lost one of the workers that retired due to inability to pay medical bills. The man joined the father way back in the 1980s, he retired last two years, he had outstanding salaries, no retirement benefits, nothing,” he said.

Forty-four of the workers in the suit were employed in the company’s Lagos offices, eight at Enugu, four at the Nnewi and one at the Onitsha office of the company.

Firm’s counsel

PREMIUM TIMES asked the defence counsel, Oluseye Demuren, if his client would obey the ruling of the court, as some staff have complained that Mr Ilodibe ”was in the habit of not fulfilling agreements reached with workers”.

“You should not be asking me if my client will honor the agreement. You should be asking people who are making the accusation to explain why they said so. I mean if you have the belief that he won’t honor such agreement, why go through the pains of securing it in the first place?” Mr Demuren said.

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