The Presiding Judge, Enugu Judicial division of the National Industrial Court, His Lordship, Hon. Justice Oluwakayode Arowosegbe has declared the refusal of the International Tobacco Company to pay its former staff, Mr. Chris Osazuwa, his entitlement after he had formally handed over all company’s properties in his possession, and his resignation accepted, as illegal and an abuse of position.
The court also gave an order mandating the firm to immediately pay Mr. Chris full and final settlement, including his pension contributions, entitlement without removing a dime, with the sum of N500, 000 cost of action and N10,000,000 (Ten Million Naira only) as punitive general damages or the unmerited intimidation, humiliation and harassment meted unto him by withholding his entitlements and dragging him up to the police station, for no just course.
Justice Arowosegbe also granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the firm from further using the Nigerian Police Force, or any other authority, to harass or intimidate Mr. Chris as regards the BANK cheque valued at N945,755:00 or any appurtenant monetary claim accompanying the cheque.
From facts, the claimant- Chris Osazuwa had pleaded that he was the former Area Sales Manager of the firm, that his letter of acceptance of his resignation was seized as a lien for alleged payment on a certain amount of money for missing items, whereas the company was aware that he needed the letter and the endorsement of the hand-over notes for an interview for another job, used the avenue to blackmailed and coerced him to issue postdated cheques and letters of undertaking.
The claimant further averred that till date, the company have not paid his terminal benefits and further that he committed no wrong against the firm to warrant the inhuman treatment meted to him that these treatments have made him suffer emotional and psychological trauma, apart from making him lose business opportunities where he could have invested his terminal benefits urged the Court to grant the reliefs sought.
In defence, the firm admitted that they accepted the resignation of the claimant but counterpleaded that, as at the time of resignation, there was shortage in sales proceeds which the claimant was asked to account before acceptance of his resignation and endorsement of the hand-over notes, upon which the claimant voluntarily issued the post-dated cheques and the written undertaking.
The learned counsel submitted that the claimant failed to sustain duress allegation that nobody held any coercive weapon to force him to sign the undertaking and to issue the cheques, urged the Court to strike out the matter for being frivolous.
Delivering the Judgment, the presiding Judge, Hon. Justice Oluwakayode Arowosegbe held it’s a misconception of law to argue that duress could only be proved by an exertion of direct physical force.
“In proving the existence of the debts in question, the defendants clearly ought to have tendered the store ledger to show the stocks taken by the claimant that was not accounted for and the cost of the items in the stocks, totaling to the amount in issue or any other document duly endorsed by the claimant showing the deficit in issue. The law is that he who asserts the positive has the burden of proof.
“When the defendants could not establish any indebtedness against the claimant, logic and probability support the cogent inference that the defendants used undue influence and distrain [coercion] to obtain the letter of undertaking and the dud cheque from the claimant.
“There is no other rational explanation in the circumstances. The circumstantial evidence, therefore, unequivocally and irresistibly points to only one direction: duress. Duress is therefore established against the defendants, and I so hold.
“Duress of goods or economic duress does not need the exertion of physical force on the victim to be sustained. It only needs distrain and illegal or unlawful demand for money or other things to be sustained.
“The Court has a burdened duty placed on it by section 254C-(1)(f) of the 1999 Constitution to put an end to the unfair labour practice of employer of labour cooking up criminal allegations against their staff in order to deny them their terminal benefits and prevent them from exiting voluntarily. This practice is worse than enslaving employees."