IN THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT OF NIGERIA
IN THE ABUJA JUDICIAL DIVISION
HOLDEN AT ABUJA
BEFORE HIS LORDSHIP HONOURABLE JUSTICE O. Y. ANUWE
Dated: 25th April 2023 SUIT NO: NICN/ABJ/115/2019
Jeremiah Chigozie Nwoye - Claimant
Blueprint Newspapers Limited - Defendant
V. C. Akalazu for the Claimant
Kenneth Timbee with J. N. Onyia for the Defendant
The Claimant instituted this action by a Complaint filed on 6th May 2019. In an amended statement of facts filed on 12th February 2020, the Claimant claims the following reliefs against the Defendant:
1. A Declaration that the Claimant was an employee of the Defendant between 1st April 2011 to 4th April 2018.
2. A Declaration that the Defendant is owing the Claimant the sum of
N1,724,063.75 being arrears of salary, leave grant and pension.
3. An Order directing the Defendant to pay the Claimant the sum of
N1,724,063.75 as arrears of salary, leave grant and pension plus 10% interest on the said amount from 4th April 2018 till when judgment is given and thereafter 5% interest until the judgment sum is liquidated
4. The sum of
N2,000,000 as general damages
5. The legal charges at cost of
The defendant filed its memorandum of appearance and statement of defence to the suit on 21st June 2019 but deemed properly filed and served on 17th October 2019. The Defendant included a counter-claim in the statement of defence. When the Claimant amended his statement of facts, the Defendant filed a consequential amended statement of defence on 9th July 2020. This amended statement of defence did not include a counter-claim.
The Claimant gave evidence in proof of his claims on 4th April 2022 and he was cross examined by counsel for the Defendant. The Claimant closed his case on that day and the matter was thereafter adjourned for defence. The Defendant however failed to appear to present its evidence and upon being satisfied that counsel for the Defendant was served hearing notice, I made an order on 14th November 2022 foreclosing the Defendant from defending the suit. The Claimant filed his final written address on 5th December 2022 and same was served on counsel for the Defendant on 7th December 2022. The Defendant did not file a final written address.
The case of the Claimant, as stated in the statement of facts and in his evidence, is that, the Defendant, which is a Newspaper outfit, employed him as Graphics Artist on 1st April 2011 and his employment was confirmed by the Defendant on 9th February 2012. He worked for the Defendant until 4th April 2018 when he was forced to resign his employment. He was paid a monthly salary of
N50,000 from April 2011 to April 2013 then it was increased to N60,000 from May 2013 to April 2018 when he resigned. From his monthly salaries, the Defendant made deductions which include the sum of N2000 as pension contributions and the sum of N1,127.75 as tax. With these deductions, his take home pay was the sum of N46,872.25 and N56,872.25. His salaries were hardly paid and all promises made by the Defendant to pay him his arrears of salaries were not kept. His annual leave grant is 10% of his annual basic salary and it accrued to the sum of N180,000 from 2012 to 2018. He was only paid the leave grant for 2013. He has unpaid leave grant in the sum of N90,000. Also, the Defendant did not contribute its own part of the Claimant’s pension nor did it remit the deductions made from the Claimant’s salaries to the pension funders. When he obtained his statement of account from Trustfund Pension Plc in December 2016, he saw that no money has been remitted into his pension account since it was opened.
All his efforts to get the Defendant to pay him all the unpaid entitlements failed. Instead of paying him his entitlements, the Defendant gave him a notice of indefinite suspension on 26th March 2018. The real reason he was suspended was because of his demands for payment of his entitlements. When he could no longer cope with non-payment of his entitlements, he tendered his resignation letter. The Defendant is owing him the total sum of
N1,724,063.75 as arrears of salary, leave grant and pension. The Claimant computed this sum in relief 3 to have accrued as follows- unpaid salary from April 2011 to March 2018 is the sum of N1,302,063.75; unpaid leave grant from 2012 to 2018 is the sum of N90,000 while unremitted pension from May 2011 to March 2018 is the sum of N332,000.
The Claimant tendered some documents in evidence. Exhibit A and C are the Claimant’s employment and confirmation letters. These Exhibits show that that the Claimant was employed by the Defendant. Exhibit D is the memo increasing the Claimant’s monthly salary from
N50,000 to N60,000 with effect from 1st June 2013. Exhibit B is the certificate of the Claimant’s registration and opening of a Retirement Savings account with TrustFund Pension. It is dated 21st May 2011. Exhibits K1 and K2 are the statement of account of the Claimant’s pension account for the period up to 31st December 2016 and 19th September 2019. They reveal that no contribution has been made into the account. I have also seen Exhibits J and K3, which is the Claimant’s statement of account with UBA. The entries with respect to monthly salaries from the Defendant show deductions from his salaries as have been explained by the Claimant in his evidence.
Let me mention that, although counsel for the Defendant indicated intention to raise objection to the admissibility of Exhibits K1, K2 and K3 in his final written address, counsel failed to file a final written address. It is therefore deemed that counsel has abandoned the objection.
Although the Defendant filed a statement of defence, it failed to adduce evidence to prove the averments in the statement of defence. The averments in the statement of defence are therefore deemed abandoned and the effect is that the Defendant admits the averments and claims of the Claimant. In TEMILE vs. AWANI (2001) FWLR (Pt. 62) 1937 at 1953, the Supreme Court held thus:
“In respect of facts in the statement of claim which are admitted or not disputed by the defence, and accordingly no issue was joined between the parties, no proof of such facts is required and no evidence is necessary or admissible in further proof of such admitted facts”.
Furthermore, the failure of the Defendant to call evidence leaves the evidence adduced by the claimant unchallenged and uncontroverted. The effect is that this court is bound to accept the evidence of the Claimant as the correct position of the case. In IYERE vs. BENDEL FEEDS AND FLOUR MILL LTD (2009) All FWLR (Pt 453) 1217 at 1247 it was held that-
“Where evidence given by a party is unchallenged or uncontroverted, a court of law must accept and act on it unless it is palpably incredible”.
See also OYENIYI vs. ADELEKE (2009) All FWLR (Pt. 476) 1902 at 1922; KYARI vs. ALKALI (2001) FWLR (Pt. 60) 1481; ASAFA FOODS FACTORY LTD vs. ALRAINE NIG. LTD. (2002) FWLR (Pt. 125) 756.
The Defendant is aware of the Claimants’ claims yet it chose not to defend the suit. The Defendant’s conduct clearly shows that it has no defence to the claims of the Claimants. The law is also settled that where a Defendant is given opportunity to defend a suit but he fails to utilize the opportunity, the Defendant is deemed to have admitted the claims of the Claimant. See TEMILE vs. AWANI (supra). Consequently, the facts pleaded by the Claimant and the evidence adduced by him are uncontroverted and unchallenged. The only material placed before this court upon which this matter is to be decided is the facts and evidence presented by the Claimant. The evidence before the trial court goes one way with no other set of facts or evidence to contend against the averments and evidence given by the Claimant. Since the Defendant did not dispute the claims of the Claimant, the onus of proof on the Claimant in this case is discharged on minimal proof.
I have read the Final Written Address of the Claimant. I do not see any reason to rehash its contents here. Arguments proffered by learned counsel for the Claimant were duly considered and evaluated. I have also considered the evidence adduced by the Claimant and the documents he tendered in evidence, and I find merit in the Claimant’s case. From the evidence adduced by the Claimant, he has proved that he was an employee of the Defendant and he was entitled to be paid monthly salaries by the Defendant. He has also proved that his employment with the Defendant ran from April 2011 to March 2018 and within this period, he has outstanding salaries not paid to him. Furthermore, the Claimant has established that he has a pension account and, although the Defendant deducted the sum of
N2000 monthly from his salaries as pension contributions, the Defendant did not remit them into his pension account and the Defendant did not pay its own part of the pension contribution into the Claimant’s pension account. The Claimant has also shown that he has unpaid leave grant.
In the circumstances, I hold that the Claimant has succeeded in proving his claims in reliefs 1, 2, 3 and 4. Accordingly, reliefs 1, 2 and 3 sought by the claimant are granted as prayed, except the claim for pre-judgment interest in relief 3. As for relief 4, the sum of
N1,000,000 is awarded as general damages but relief 5 is refused for the reason that the Claimant did not prove the legal charges he claimed in the relief. It is hereby ordered as follows:
1. The Defendant is ordered to pay the Claimant, the sum of
N1,724,063.75 being arrears of salary, leave grant and pension owed to the Claimant.
2. The Defendant is ordered to pay to the Claimant the sum of
N1,000,000 as general damages.
3. The Defendant is to pay these sums to the Claimant within 30 days from today. In default, the sums will thereafter attract 10% interest per annum until the sums are fully paid to the Claimant.
As I have stated earlier in this judgment, the Defendant included a counter-claim in the statement of defence. The Defendant did not however adduce evidence to prove its counter-claim. The counter-claim is accordingly hereby dismissed. In any case, when the Claimant amended his statement of facts, the Defendant filed a consequential amended statement of defence on 9th July 2020. This amended statement of defence did not include a counter-claim.
Judgment is entered accordingly.
Hon. Justice O. Y. Anuwe