The Presiding Judge, Benin division of the National Industrial Court, His Lordship, Hon. Justice Adunola Adewemimo has ordered Nigeria Electricity Liability Management Ltd and Benin Electricity Distribution Company to pay former PHCN staff Mr. Olufemi Bamidele the sum of One Million, Seven Hundred and Ninety-Four Thousand and Twenty Naira cost of his medical bills as special damages, N20,000,000.00 (Twenty Million Naira) as general damages against the defendants within 30days.
The court held that Nigeria Electricity Liability Management Ltd took over the management and settlement of the PHCN, while Benin Electricity Distribution Company took over the distribution of electricity in Ondo State that both sprouted out from the defunct PHCN and have a stake in the matter.
The claimant’s-Bamidele was employed as a Contract Staff by the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria in 2008 and his appointment was formalized. He averred that on the 10th of September, 2013, in the course of duty, he was injured and the incident left him unconscious, treated for burns and other complications.
He averred further that some of his colleagues and officers in his cadre who were not retained after the privatization of PHCN were paid off and got an average of
N2,000,000.00(Two Million Naira) as a result, but received nothing from the management of the company.
He pleaded further that he was never officially laid off at any point in time, but the company refused to absorb him back into its employment after the accident. He averred that he was subjected to the worst form of neglect and injustice by the defendants, ranging from non-payment of his medical bills to tactical lay off with his requisite entitlements left unpaid and no compensation for his permanent incapacitation and psychological trauma.
In response, 1st Defendant – NELM pleaded that the claimant went outside his official duties on the day of the incident as he was not authorized to rectify faults and he neither sought approval nor notify the office before embarking on the job that resulted in his injury.
Further added that the claimant did not take into consideration his safety as required of staff on field assignments and failed to take adequate measures that all their legitimate staffs were paid off during the privatization exercise that Claimant was a contract staff and his employment was never formalized and not entitled to any of the reliefs sought.
The 2nd defendant – BEDC asserted that it did not inherit the liabilities of the defunct PHCN, and added that proper parties are not before the Court, and no reasonable cause of action is disclosed against it that the Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
In Reply, claimant submitted that a panel was set up after the accident to verify if he had his safety equipment on at the time of the incident, and a report was equally issued confirming same.
Delivering Judgment after careful evaluation of the submissions of both counsel, the trial Judge, Justice Adewemimo held that the argument of the 1st defendant that the claimant’s appointment was never confirmed and formalized as a legitimate staff of the company at the time of the incident cannot exonerate them and will not preclude the defendants liability.
“It is clear that by the nature of the relationship between the claimant and the company, a service relationship exists, the general requirement of law is where there exists a service relationship between the employer and the employee, the former is under a duty to take reasonable care of the safety well-being of the latter in all circumstances of the case, so as to forestall any harm to others or expose him (employee) to unnecessary risk.
“The contention of the defendants’ witnesses that the claimant was issued safety gears which he did not use was not substantiated by credible evidence. The claimant has on the balance of probabilities established before this Court that the defendants owed him a duty of care that was not exercised after the injury he sustained."
However, the Justice Adewemimo also held that claimant did not place anything before this Court or adduce any credible evidence on his entitlement to the said sum of 2,000,000.00 (Two Million Naira), he did not also call any evidence from these “colleagues” to prove that they were indeed paid the said amount.