A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Aderibigbe Adedeji, operators of Adedeji Owotomo & Associate, has been ordered to pay his former staff, Pius Ohimai Ovbiose, the sum of N1,746,942.00 to cover his unpaid entitlements.
Justice Elizabeth A.Oji of a National Industrial Court, sitting in Lagos, gave the order in a judgement delivered in favour of the Claimant, Pius Ohimai Ovbiose, in a case he filed before the Court.
The case filed by the Claimant showed that:
Mr. Pius Ohimai Ovbiose was employed by Mr Aderibigbe Adedeji, SAN, operators of Adedeji Owotomo & Associate vide a letter of employment dated 11th February, 2016, as a Counsel in his firm.
In line with his letter of employment, the Claimant was entitled to statutory contributory pension, thirteenth month salary being one month’s gross salary without deductions, and bonuses amongst other entitlements, which include:
Transport Allowance – 10% of salary
13th Month – Gross Monthly Salary
Bonus – Payable as determined by the Partner
The Claimant’s 13th months’ gross salaries in years 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 were N220,000.00; N251,000.00; N251,000.00; and N317,000.00 respectively.
The total sum for the four-year period amounted to N1,039,000.00K, (One Million and Thirty Nine Thousand Naira only), which the Defendant failed or neglected to pay.
The Claimant had served the Defendant a Resignation Notice on 18 August, 2020 and remained at work until Tuesday, 29 September, 2020.
The Defendant again failed or neglected to pay the Claimant’s salary for the month of September 2020.
Prior to the Claimant’s resignation, the Defendant deducted pension sums for the months of January to August 2020 from source, but never remitted same to the Pension Managers and upon several demands, the Claimant received notification from Crusader Sterling Pensions Ltd, the Pension Managers the Defendant quickly remitted the Claimant’s contributory pension for January to June, 2020, into without the statutory accrued interest.
The Claimant stated that he was entitled to 2% interest on his contributory pension for January to June 2020 and for July to September 2020, which was not remitted into his RSA by the Defendant.
The Claimant conceded through a letter dated 28 September, 2020 that the sum of N100,000.00 (One Hundred Thousand Naira Only), representing one-quarter of N400,000.00 (Four Hundred Thousand Naira Only) be set off from the Claimant’s arrears of 13th months’ salaries of N1,039,000.00 (One Million, Thirty Nine Thousand Naira Only)
The case of the Defendant:
The Defendant, on the other hand, stated that the Claimant was paid his salaries, accommodation allowances and the 13th month salaries for the year 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively along with his December salaries, during the period, into his Guaranty Trust Bank Account (0215113756).
The 13th month was only paid in December and bonuses only as and when determined or declared by the Defendant’s firm.
The Defendant also stated that the Claimant never complained, during his employment. That on the 18th of December, 2017, the Defendant advanced the sum of N1,500,000.00 to the Claimant to buy an official car (not a private car) for transportation to the office and official assignments, under the firm’s staff support policy, which was not part of the Claimant’s terms of employment.
After the Claimant’s resignation, the Defendant demanded for a refund of 50% of the N1,500,000.00 advanced used in buying the official car in December 2017, but the Claimant failed to return same.
The sum of N500,000.00 was also allocated to the Claimant for renewal of his rent for the period of May 2020 to April 2021 and upon his resignation, he failed to refund the portion of the amount of rent, covering the period from October 2020 to April 2021. The Defendant stated that he is therefore entitled to the sum of N291,666.667 being the amount representing the rent for seven months.
The Defendant also claimed that the following travel expenses was disbursed into the Claimant’s account and he did not account for them:
– On 6th of March 2020 – the sum of N100,000.00
– On 13th of July 2020 – the sum of N200,000.00
– On 30th of August 2020 – the sum of N100,000.00
The following payments were also magnanimously made by the Defendant’s firm to the Claimant, as bonus payments:
– On 12th of March, 2020 – the sum of N50,000 was paid to the Claimant.
– On 28th of July 2020 – the sum of N250,000.00 was paid (during Covid-19 pandemic period when no work was done by the Claimant for about four months), as Bonus.
– On 6th of August 2020 – the sum of N150,000.00 was paid to the Claimant.
– On 4th of September 2020 – the sum of N78.000.00 was paid.
The Defendant’s firm was always generous to the claimant every time he needed the Defendant’s assistance, to the extent that the Defendant expended over $7,500, to ensure the Claimant attended the International Bar Association Conference 2018 in Rome.
The Defendant also made a case that he was entitled to the sum of N5,000,000,00 (Five Million Naira Only) as cost of prosecuting the case and that a deposit of N500,000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira Only) has been paid into the Solicitor’s account.
The Claimant reply to the position of the defence was as follows:
The Claimant replied that he has always demanded for his 13th month salaries from the Defendant, adding that the Defendant did not operate any staff support policy.
He stated that the Defendant did not give him any money to buy a car in 2018 for the purpose of his employment.
He noted that rather sometime in November 2016 to December 2017, it emerged that urgent steps needed to be taken to vacate or set aside various restriction orders obtained by EFCC and ICPC against the Defendant’s clients’ bank accounts, the Claimant single-handedly prepared all Court processes and/or applications filed at different Courts to set aside the restriction orders.
The Defendant was very impressed with the hard work, which led to favourable results. When the Defendant was paid NGN65,000,000.00 and USD$250,000 on or about 15 December, 2017 by some of the Clients, the Defendant paid the sum of NGN1,500.000.00 into the Claimant’s account on 18 December, 2017. When the Claimant inquired the purpose for the money, the Defendant confirmed in unequivocal terms that the money was an out-and-out gift, with no condition attached, from the Defendant to the Claimant in appreciation of the Claimant’s yeoman’s job in the cases.
The Claimant bought a Toyota Corolla 2005 model for the sum of N1,750, 000.00 on 13 January, 2018 for his personal use, and single handedly maintained the Car without the interference of the Defendant.
When the Claimant verbally complained about the Defendant’s continued breach of the contract of employment by not paying the Claimant’s 13th month salaries for years 2016 and 2017 and none remittance of contributory pension for March to December, 2017, the Defendant sent the Claimant an Internal Memo dated 29 January, 2018 wherein he purported to have re-denominated the NGN1,500,000.00 (an out-and-out gift) on 18 December, 2017, as follows:
– N200,000 towards the Claimant’s approved entitlement, as in paragraph 2 of the memo
– N400,000 towards the Claimant’s accommodation allowance for 2018 N400,000, as gift/bonus
– N500,000 as car loan deductible from the Claimant’s salary in 10 monthly installments beginning from March 2018.
In the Internal Memo dated 29 January, 2018, the Defendant also acknowledged the Claimant’s earlier complaint in January 2017, and admitted the Claimant’s entitlement to 13th month salaries for years 2016 and 2017, which have not been paid, but purported that he discontinued payment of 13th month salary to employees in 2015.
The Claimant stated that he was not in the Defendant’s employment in 2015, and the his terms of engagement were discussed, agreed to by both parties and reduced into writing by the Defendant in February, 2016 and signed by both parties.
When the Defendant realized that his double standing and volta face in re-designating the gift of N1,500,000 would lead to the Claimant’s resignation at the time, the defendant later called the Claimant to his office on 7 February 2018, apologize to the Claimant and reaffirmed his earlier representation that the sum N1,5000,000 remitted into the claimant’s account on the 18 December, 2017 was an out- and-out gift and promised that going forward he would adhere strictly to the terms of engagement.
The Claimant noted that no deduction on account of loan repayment was made from his salary in March to October 2018 or at any other time, during his employment.The defendant also paid the Claimant’s accommodation allowance for the year, 2018, and remitted the Claimant’s contributory pension for March to December, 2017 deduction into the designated account.
The Claimant stated that he verbally protested non-payment of his 13th month salaries for years 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 at the Defendant’s office in January 2019 and January 2020 respectfully and urged the Defendant to pay up.
He noted that the insinuation the money was given to him to purchase a car under the Defendant’s staff policy to ease the Claimant’s transportation to Court and office only emerged for the first time at the paragraph 3 of the Defendant’s letter of September 2020 – that’s 36 days after the Claimant’s resignation notice was served on the Defendant and well over two years and nine months, after the money was given.
The Claimant further replied that in compliance with the terms of his engagement, the Defendant remitted N400,000.00 into his bank account, as accommodation allowance for the year 2020, and N100,000.00 as bonus, on Monday, 15 June 2020. That since he worked for the Defendant from January to September 2020, the Defendant was only entitled to refund the sum for the fourth quarter of that year.
In specific response to paragraphs 18 and 19 of the Statement of Defence and Counter Claim, the Claimant said at no time did he not render accounts or retire any difference of funds received from the Defendant, during his employment.
He proceeded to give details of the expenditure of the funds, adding that all details of expenditures in relation to funds disbursed by the Defendant to him, as travel and other expenses, during the his employment were typed, printed and delivered to the Defendant; and that every penny paid to him, during the employment was well earned and more than deserved.
In her judgement, Presiding Judge, Professor Oji said; “For the avoidance of doubt, the Claimant’s action succeeds in its entirety; except for the relief for pre- judgment interest. Relief two of the counterclaim succeeds only in part, to the extent of the sum of N100,000.00, which is already set off by the Claimant’s first relief.
“The Defendant is therefore immediately ordered to pay to the Claimant the sum of N939,000.00 being the outstanding arrears of the Claimant’s 13th months’ salaries for years 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
“The Defendant is also ordered to immediately pay the Claimant the sum of N307,942.00 being the Claimant’s unpaid salary for the month of September 2020.
“If after 30 days from the date of this judgment, the judgment is not complied with, interest shall begin to run on the judgment sum and cost, at the rate of 15% per annum until the entire judgment sum is fully liquidated.
“Evidence shows the Defendant has remitted the Claimant’s statutory pension contributions for the months of July, August and September 2020. The Defendant is ordered to immediately compute the accrued monthly penalty, now debt owed by the Defendant to the Claimant, and remit same to the Claimant’s retirement savings account in the manner calculated and set out at paragraph 28 of this judgment.
“Cost of this action is set at N500,000 only in favour of the Claimant.
“Judgement is entered accordingly.”
Fredrick Adefarati for the Claimant
Mahmood Adesina, SAN, with Maryam Abdulateef for the Defendant.