The National Industrial Court in Ikoyi, Lagos state , Southwest Nigeria has slammed N500,000 fine on Mobil Producing Nigeria company for using delay tactics in a suit filed against the company by its former staff, James Nwagbogwu Ebede.
Last Friday when the matter was mentioned for continuation of trial, counsel for ExxonMobil, Paul Usoro SAN was in court to cross examine the claimant who has given evidence and closed his case since last year.
But Ituah Imhanze leading two other counsels for Mobil Producing company told the court that he has filed an amended statement of defence against the consequential amendment statement of claim of the claimant.
However, claimant’s lawyer, Barrister Chucks Uguru told the court that he will not be opposing the amendment but he urged the court to impose a cost of N750,0,000 on the Mobil Producing company, contending that the claimant filed his amended statement of claim since 18th of March,2022.
Uguru stated that the only reason the Defendants have not filed their statement of defence was for the purpose of delaying the case which was filed about five years ago.
He told the Court that the case has suffered series of adjournments at the instance of the defendants.
Mr Uguru further told the court that, the business of the day was for the claimant to be cross-examined by the defence counsels but this is another dilatory.
Consequently,he urged the court to grant them two hearing days if the case is to be adjourned after the application must have been heard.
In her ruling,the presiding Judge H Gwandu after Mr. Imhanze had moved his application for amended statement of defence was granted, ordered Mobil Producing Nigeria company to pay the cost of five Hundred thousand Naira,which must be paid before the next adjourned day.
Thereafter, Justice Gwandu adjourned till 30th and 31st of September,2023 for continuation of hearing.
In a statement of fact filed before the National Industrial Court on behalf of the ex -ExxonMobil corporation staff, James Nwagbogwu Ebede stated that he worked with the company from December, 2001 to 2018 as an Engineer and that because of his consistent excellent performance, he was at various times given important responsibilities.
He averred that in 2015, he was deployed to Dubai, with the posting to last till December 2017, but that he was forcefully redeployed back to Nigeria and retired because he refused to carry out dishonest actions that he was being compelled to do by the manager of ExxonMobil while on assignment in the United Arab Emirates and Iran.
According to him, on his return to Nigeria, further punitive actions were taken against him leading to his forceful retirement Some of these actions, he said, were: the company attempting to compel him to employ unqualified engineer and that on several occasions, attempt were made to compel him to sign off uncompleted and poorly executed project as completed, among others.
The Claimant alleges that upon return from Iraq ,he provided the defendants details of the unethical and immoral acts he was being coerced to do for which he was being unjustly treated.The defendants constituted a team and got further details from the claimant who promised them more paper evidence upon the receipt of his personal belongings shipped by the defendants for the claimant.
The Claimant further allege that when his shipment arrived Nigeria, he was shocked that the defendants were unwilling to either clear the shipment from the ports or handover the original Bill of Lading to the claimant such that the claimant can go and clear the container containing his personal belongings.
The Claimant alleges that since 6th September 2017, the Defendants have continued to hold on to the shipment containing his personal belonging and he believe it is in the defendants bid to subvert the course of Justice.
Consequently, Mr Ebede is claiming $4.2 million as general damages for the emotional stress he had suffered; N114,992,096 being the equivalent of 32 months salary which the defendant ought to pay him for his forceful retirement and also demanding published public apology in two daily newspapers and two international newspapers.
However, the defendants, in their preliminary objection filed before the court urged the court to decline jurisdiction to entertain the suit on the ground that the ExxonMobil company is an entity incorporated under the laws of the United States of America, saying that the Nigerian court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
In his submission Ebede’s counsel contended that the company not only conducts its business in Nigeria by mean of subsidiaries, but also operates directly in Nigeria as it held operating interest in several Oil Mining OML and therefore urged the court to dismiss the objection of the defendants.
In his ruling, the presiding Judge, R. H. Gwandu, while adjourning for hearing said “I hold that this court has the jurisdiction to adjudicate on issues contained in the claimant’s suits both by subject matter and territory, the claimant having shown sufficient cause of action against the defendant