The Nigeria Electricity Liability Management Ltd (NELM) and the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) have been directed to pay the sum of N21.8 million to a former employee of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Mr Olufemi Bamidele.
The Presiding Judge of the Benin Division of the National Industrial Court, Justice Adunola Adewemimo, in his ruling, said the two organisations must pay the amount within 30 days.
Justice Adewemino said awarded N1.794 million to the former staff of the collapsed national electricity firm as cost of his medical bills in special damages, while the N20 million was awarded as general damages against the defendants.
According to the court, NELM took over the management and settlement of the PHCN, while BEDC 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, Mr Bamidele, was employed as a Contract Staff by the defunct PHCN in 2008 and his appointment was formalised. He averred that on September 10, 2013, in the course of duty, he was injured and the incident left him unconscious and was 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 privatisation of PHCN, were paid off and got an average of N2 million 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 claimed 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, the first defendant, NELM pleaded that the claimant went outside his official duties on the day of the incident as he was not authorised to rectify faults and he neither sought approval nor notify the office before embarking on the job that resulted in his injury.
The agency 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 employees were paid off during the privatisation exercise that claimant was a contract staff and his employment was never formalised and not entitled to any of the reliefs sought.
On its part, the second defendant, BEDC, asserted that it did not inherit the liabilities of the defunct PHCN, and added that proper parties were not before the court, and no reasonable cause of action was disclosed against it, emphasising that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
In response, the 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 counsels, the trial judge held that the argument of the first defendant that the claimant’s appointment was never confirmed and formalised 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,” the judge ruled.
However, the Justice Adewemimo held that claimant did not place anything before the court or adduce any credible evidence on his entitlement to the said sum of N2 million as he did not also call any evidence from his colleagues to prove that they were indeed paid the said amount.
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