Hon. Justice Zaynab Bashir of the National Industrial Court, Portharcourt Judicial Division has entered a summary judgment in favour of Mr. kioson Kio, Gift Eze, Ebere Wuche (for themselves and as representatives of Metal Products Association of Nigeria), and Umeada Christian, Adore Ekhator, Hope Progress (for themselves and as representatives of Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria) and J.N. Obah (for himself and as representatives of Contract workers, Sundry workers, and other creditors) against the Nigeria Engineering Works Ltd in the total sum of (N1, 435,529,832.00) One Billion Four Hundred and Thirty – Five Million, Five Hundred and Twenty Nine Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Two Naira Only representing unpaid arrears of salaries, allowances, severance packages and entitlements due and accrued to the claimants for the services rendered.
The Court ordered that the entire sum be paid into a Bank Account to be opened in the name “Nigeria Engineering Works Ltd Workers Account” in a reputable Bank in Port Harcourt and be jointly operated by the Chairman of Metal Products Association of Nigeria (MEPROSSAN), Nigeria Engineering Works Ltd Chapter – Mr. Kioson .J. Kio, the acting Chairman of Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN) Nigeria Engineering Works Ltd chapter – Mr. Umeda Christian, the legal Counsel appointed by the workers’ union and the legal counsel representing Nigeria Engineering Works Ltd and the company coordinator of Nigeria Engineering Works Ltd – Mrs. Uchechi Onuoha.
Justice Zaynab further granted an order directing Nigeria Engineering Works Ltd to immediately open the premises, factories warehouses, and offices of the firm and allow the claimants recover their personal items including purchased properties belonging to customers that are trapped in the premises and offices due to the sudden closure of the premises by the Rivers State Attorney General.
From facts, the claimants comprised of regular staff, contract staff, consultants, cleaners, drivers, sales representatives, and sundry staff had submitted that they are employees of the Nigeria Engineering Works Ltd and served for many years and were owed various sums of money including arrears of salaries, allowances, gratuities, and other entitlement.
They filed along with the Complaint a motion on notice for summary judgment on the grounds that the company has no defense to their claim and the Attorney General Rivers State, and VKS Nigeria Construction Ltd (2nd and 3rd defendants-) are not entitled to compromise the assets of the firm without first paying off their entitlements for services rendered to the firm in the course of their employment and as per the admission of liabilities to the claim by the firm in their statement of defense filed on 19/5/2022.
Their learned Counsel submitted that payment of the workers’ entitlement is a primary liability on the assets of the employer, and before the assets of any company or organization may be sold or compromised, the entitlement and other accrued benefits due to the workers must first be paid by either the employer or the person seeking to acquire the assets of the company or organization.
The learned counsel averred that the firm do not have defence to the amount claimed reasons that the amount claimed is an amount of money which the firm has carefully calculated and approved for payment to the claimants being the arrears of unpaid salaries, unremitted pension funds, allowances, gratuities, and other entitlements.
Delivering judgment, the presiding Judge, Justice Zaynab Bashir upon careful consideration of the submission of the process filed and in the absence of any opposition granted the application as prayed.
The Court struck out the name of the 2nd and 3rd Defendants - Attorney General Rivers State, and VKS Nigeria Construction Ltd from any liabilities in the suit.
Justice Zaynab maintained that while the application of the Claimant is pursuant to Order 16 Rule 1, the opportunity for the Defendant to indicate the intention to defend was also guaranteed as the defendant's representative in court conceded to the application of the Claimant for summary judgment.
“Based on the foregoing provision and authorities, It is clear that the Claimant has satisfied the requirement of law to the grant of summary judgement, hence all the reliefs sought in the motion on notice filed on the 6th September 2022 are all accordingly granted.” The Court ruled