IN THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT OF NIGERIA
IN THE MAKURDI JUDICIAL DIVISION
HOLDEN AT MAKURDI
BEFORE HIS LORDSHIP, HONOURABLE JUSTICE S. H. DANJIDDA
ON THURSDAY THE 23RD DAY OF JULY, 2020.
SUIT NO: NICN/MKD/05/2018
1. GABRIEL OGBEBA
2. JAMES ADAJI……………………………………………..……………………CLAIMANTS
3. SUSAN OCHEFIJE IFENEH
1. NEW EDUCATIONAL TEACHING PROJECT LTD.
2. HEPHIZIBAH M. AONDONGU (MD)……………………….………………DEFENDANTS
Irene Idoko Elawani for the Claimants.
This suit was commenced by way of Complaint filed on 29/01/2018 where the claimants ask for the following:-
“1. A declaration that the defendants have breached the contract.
2. AN ORDER of the Honourable Court compelling or directing the Defendants jointly and severally to pay the claimants basic salaries commencing from the dates of their various appointments to the 28th February, 2017.
i. 1st claimant’s salary for five months from 1st October, 2016 to 28th February, 2017 amounting to N600,000.
ii. 2nd Claimant’s salary for five months from 5th October, 2016 to 28th February, 2017 amounting to N230,000.
iii. 3rd Claimant’s salary for five months from 1st October, 2016 to 28th February, 2017 amounting to N185,000 totaling N915,000.
3. An order of the Honourable Court compelling or directing the defendants to jointly and severally pay the sum of Twenty Eight Thousand Naira (N28, 000.00) only, being the sum of an HP Computer which the 2nd Defendant bought from the 1st Claimant to run the company.
4. General damages of Three Million Naira (N3,000,000.00) only.
5. Ten percent interest rate on the judgment sum until same is defrayed.
6. Cost of prosecuting this case assessed at 10% of the judgment sum.
7. And for such order or further other orders this Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of this case.”
It is the case of the Claimants against the Defendants that the 2nd Defendant had at different times employed them to work in the 1st defendant which is a company owned and run by the 2nd Defendant. Whilst the 1st Claimant was employed on 1/10/2016 as the Head of Administration; the 2nd Claimant was employed on 5/10/2016 as a supervisor. For her part, the 3rd Claimant was employed on 1/10/2016 on GL 7. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Claimants were placed on monthly salaries of N120,000.00, N46,000.00, and N37,000.00 respectively.
The 1st claimant’s grievance is not limited to his five months unpaid salaries from 1st October, 2016 to 28th February, 2017 amounting to N600,000 alone but also for the cost of a laptop computer that he allegedly sold to the Defendant. The 2nd Claimant’s claim is for five months salary from 5th October, 2016 to 28th February, 2017 amounting to N230,000. Then there is the 3rd Claimant’s salary for five months beginning from 1st October, 2016 to 28th February, 2017 amounting to N185,000.
The sworn statements of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Claimants accompanied the complaint. However, by an application dated and filed on 23/02/2018, the claimants sought and obtained an order of court to amend their sworn statements on oath.
On 14/06/2019 the CW1, James Adaji (2nd claimant) testified by adopting his sworn statement of 23/02/2018 and tendered two (2) documents. That is, his appointment letter dated 19/10/2016 as Exhibit JMA1 and the Acceptance letter dated 24/10/2016 marked as Exhibit JMA 2. The CW1 was discharged on 13/11/2019 as the Defendants were foreclosed from cross-examining the witness owing to their failure to do so.
On 23/03/2020 the 1st claimant, Gabriel Ogbeba testified as CW2. The CW2 adopted his written statement on oath of 23/02/2017 as his evidence in chief. He tendered some documents that were admitted in evidence and marked as Exhibit JMA2- Letter of Temporary appointment dated 21/10/2016; Exhibit JMA4 - Acceptance Letter dated 21/10/2016. Minutes of meetings for 3/11/2016 and 8/11/2016, respectively marked as Exhibits JMA 5 and 6. Letter dated 08/02/2017 signed by the CW1 and 2nd Defendant (Exhibits JMA 7A and B)and Invoice dated 14/03/2013 – Exhibit JMA 8.
The CW2 was discharged without cross-examination as the Defendants were foreclosed from cross-examining him owing to the absence of the Defendants and their counsel.
It is important to point out that the conduct of the Defendants in this case has left much to be desired. From the record before the Honourable Court the Defendants never filed a Defence to this suit but continually sought adjournments upon adjournments. Needless to say, the Defendants also accrued costs as a matter of cause. The Defendants never filed any defence let alone called any evidence before this Honourable Court neither did they cross-examine any witnesses.
It must be noted that since the defendant did not file any pleading, it is safe to say no evidence was led at the opportune time for the court to make pronouncements there upon. Invariably, this is now a judgment in default of a defense as the Defendants have offered no contest to the claim.
Order 35, Rules 6 and 7 of the National Industrial court of Nigeria (Civil procedure) Rules 2017 make provision for the entry of judgment in default of pleadings. Essentially, in cases such as this where a Defendant refuses or fails to file a Defence to the suit the Court can enter judgment based on the pleading filed by the claimant or conduct trial based on such pleading presented by the claimant alone.
Looking at the case of the claimants, it appears fairly clear that the claimants are indeed employees of the Defendants quite alright.
It is an unassailable principle of law that the burden of establishing an assertion is on the parties who assert, considering it is that party who would lose if, upon conclusion of the case, no evidence is led to discharge the burden of proof. See; UZOKWE V. DENSY INDUSTRIES NIG. LTD. (2002) 2 NWLR (PT. 752) 528.
The 1st and 2nd claimants presented to the court their letters of appointment, minutes of meetings and a letter signed by the 2nd defendant as the MD of the 1st defendant. The appointment letters(Exhibits JMA1 and 3) contain the Annual and monthly salaries of the 1st and 2nd claimants. While the minutes of meetings (Exhibits JMA 5 and 6) reveal that the 2nd defendant would pay the staff of the 1st defendant their salaries. However, I observe that Exhibits JMA 5 and 6 were not signed by the 2nd defendant and on that note, Exhibits JMA 5 and 6 cannot bind the defendants. It is an established principle of law that the contents of a document are only binding on the parties who append their signatures. See Agbareh V. Minra (LPELR 235-(SC).
Similarly Exhibits JMA7A is an undertaking signed by the 2nd defendant that the 1st defendant would pay staff salary on 31/3/2017. The 1st and 2nd claimants also signed Exhibits JMA7A and B among other persons. It is instructive to note that Exhibits JMA 7A and B do not state any specific amount of the said salaries to be paid and do not also indicate the staff who would receive the salaries, however the undertaking is a corroboration of the testimonies of CW1 and 2 as well as their letters of appointment which contain their salaries. I wish to note that although, admission is not a conclusive proof of the matters admitted but it may operate as Estopel. See Sections 27 and 169 of the Evidence Act, 2011.
The basic principle of law is that where a claimant files his statement of claim raising an allegation of fact against the defendant, such defendant who does not admit the truth of the allegation must file a defence to contradict, controvert, challenge or deny any allegation. Where the defendant fails to file a defence, he will be deemed to have admitted the claim or relief in the statement of claim, and the court may peremptorily enter judgment against the defendant unless where the statement of claim is notoriously false to the common knowledge of the court. See Okoebor V. Police Council (2003)LPELR - 2458(SC). Emodi V. Emodi (2013) LPELR - 21221(CA).
It is pertinent to state that an admission by a party against his interest is best evidence in favour of his adversary in a suit. And no facts need to be proved in civil proceedings which the parties or their agents admit at the hearing or which before the hearing, they agree to admit by writing under their hands or which by any rule of pleading in force at the time they are deemed to have admitted by their pleadings. See Henshaw V Effanga (2008)LPELR - 4075(CA).
In the light of the above and considering the pleadings of the Claimants, Exhibits JMA1, JMA3,JMA7A and 7B coupled with the testimonies of the CW1 and 2 and the established principles of law, I am compelled to find and come to the conclusion that the case of the 1st and 2nd claimants only succeeds in part and in consequence I make the following orders as follows:-
1. That the defendants shall pay the 1st Claimant the sum of N600, 000 as his five months salary from 1/10/2016 to 28/2/2017.
2. That the defendants shall also pay the 2md claimant the sum of N230, 000 as his five months salary from 5/10/2016 to 28/2/2017.
3. That the case of the 3rd claimant is hereby dismissed.
4. All other reliefs are refused and are accordingly dismissed on the ground of either lack of jurisdiction or proof.
Judgment is entered accordingly.