By Kazeem Ugbodaga
The National Industrial Court (NICN) in Ikoyi, Lagos, Southwest Nigeria on Friday, ordered Western Publishing Company Limited, publishers of Compass Newspapers, owned by former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel to pay former employees all their entitlements, including pension, running into N7 million in the next 30 days.
Justice Ayodele Obaseki Osaghai was delivering judgement in suit NICN/LA/143/2014 brought before it by Messrs Victor Asowata, Azuka Christopher Nwokocha, Usoro Ndianobong, Moses Abel Hope, Ayodele Kolawole, Emmanuel Ukudolo and Sebastine Enyinna against Gbenga Daniel’s Western Publishing Company Limited, publishers of Compass Newspapers.
The complainants had through their lawyer, Nkem Eke, sued the newspaper, seeking several reliefs, i.e, an order compelling the newspaper owned by the former governor to pay all their salary arrears, pension deducted but not remitted to the various pension administrators, cooperative contributions deducted at source from salaries but not remitted to the cooperative society and unpaid accumulated Leave Allowance.
He argued that the development amounted to breach of their rights to decent living and to take care of their families having laboured even in terrible weather in the morning and nights for months, stressing that a worker deserve his wages.
Lawyer to Compass Newspapers, F. Ogundowo had argued during hearing that the plaintiffs were not entitled to the reliefs sought on the ground that management issued a general memo dated 19/4/2012 after a general meeting stating that with effect from that day, editorial staff, including cartoonists would only be paid upon procurement of advert for the company.
He told the court that the memo superseeded letters of appointment and that the complainants were not entitled to the reliefs since they failed to procure adverts for the newspapers as stipulated in the memo.
Ogundowo argued further that some of the plaintiffs went away with laptops, cameras and motorcycles which were company properties, that the plaintiffs were joined and that the court lacked jurisdiction and urged the court to dismiss the suit.
Ruling on the matter, Justice Ayodele Obaseki Osaghai noted that the fact the plaintiffs were joined does not invalidate the suit and citting relevant sections of the constitution, she said that the matter falls within the jurisdiction of the NICN.
On allegation that some of the plaintiffs bolted away with company properties, her lordship ruled that the defendant failed to prove that the properties obtained through higher purchase were not paid for.
She ruled that the letters of appointments superceeded ordinary memo, stressing that the complainants proved their cases beyond reasonable doubts by tendering relevant documents like letters of appointments, letters of resignation, and statement of accounts from the various pension administrators.
She them ordered owners of the newspapers to pay all entitlements within 30 days, failure which 21 percent interest will accrue to the total judgement sum until it is liquidated.
She also awarded cost of N150, 000 against the defendant. She also struck out the 5th complainant (Ayodele Kolawole) for failing to appear to prove his case during the trial