Court Slams Lapo Microfinance For Sacking Staff Unconstitutionally

 

A Lagos division of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) has described the Lapo Microfinance Bank Limited’s purported termination of appointment of one of its staff, Aruna Collins Ekpen, as illegal, unconstitutional, wrongful, null and void

The presiding judge, Justice Mauren Nkechinyereugo Esowe, has also declared that the purported dismissal and or termination of the employment of Aruna Collins, is wrongful and in breach of international best practices on labour law.

The judge also declared that the restriction placed on Aruna’s salaries for three consecutive months by the Lapo Microfinance Bank Limited, is unlawful, unjustified and done with utmost bad faith.

Justice Esowe consequently ordered Lapo Microfinance Bank Limited to pay Aruna the sum of N139,163.88, as damages representing what the Claimant is entitled to as payment in lieu of notice. And the sum of sum of N250, 000.00, as cost of action as assessed by the Court.

The crux of the matter is that the claimant, Aruna Collins Ekpen, had approached the court in a suit marked NICN/LA/145/2021, after he accused Lapo Microfinance Bank Limited of sacking unjustly and unconstitutional. The action he claimed was in breach of international best practices on labour law.

The claimant, through his lawyer, Sylvester Ijie, had asked the court for the following: “a declaration that the purported dismissal of the employment of the Claimant is unfair, unlawful and in breach of the principles of fair hearing and international best practices on labour law.

“A declaration that the withholding of his salaries for three consecutive months is unlawful, unjustified and done with utmost bad faith.

“An order of the Court directing the Lapo Microfinance Bank to pay him the total sum of N278,327.73, being the unpaid salaries for three months at N92,775.90 per month owed him.

“Interest on the sum of N278, 327. 73, at the rate of 21 percent on the principal sum till judgment is delivered and interest at the rate of 10 percent, on the judgment sum from the day of judgment of this Honourable Court till the judgment sum is fully liquidated.

“General damages in the sum of N1 million, for unfair dismissal, unlawful and unjustified termination of contract, financial hardship and socio-economic discomfort suffered by him because of the Lapo Microfinance Bank Limited’s refusal to release his arrears of salary for 3months despite repeated demands. And the Cost of this action as assessed by the Court.”

During the trial of the case, the claimant told the court that he was employed by the defendant on December 2, 2013, while his employment was confirmed on October 21, 2015 vide a letter of confirmation dated the same day. 

He told the court that In the course of his employment with the defendant, he worked in various capacity, and was placed on a monthly salary of N92, 775. 90. And that when he was transferred to one of the defendant’s branch office at Obalende Nigeria from its Opebi branch.

He told the court that he was not paid relocation allowance, due to the distance from his place of residence to the Defendant’s Forsyth branch, and that he had challenges with keeping up with his daily resumption time. The situation which made the defendant placed restrictions on his salary account while he was disengaged on December 09, 2020.

Meanwhile, Lapo Microfinance Bank Limited in its defence to the suit filed by it’s lawyer, Teena Wills-Obong, urged the court to dismiss the claimant’s suit with substantial cost.

In urging the court to dismiss the suit, Lapo Microfinance Bank Limited, formulated two issues for determination in its final written address filed on September 8, 2022 with leave of Court, namely: “Whether the Claimant’s appointment was lawfully terminated in line with the procedure stated in the Defendant’s condition of service and terms of employment and principles of international best practices on labour law.

“Whether the Claimant is entitled to the relief of money claimed and damages for the termination of his employment.”

Responding to the defendant’s final written address, the Claimant in his final written address also formulated two issues for determination, to wit: “Whether the Claimant has not made out a case to be entitled to the prayers sought in this matter.

“Considering the facts of this case, whether the Claimant is not entitled to interest and damages.”

 In determining the issues raised by both parties, Justice Esowe after citing several superior legal authorites, determined the issues in favour of the claimant.

Upon deciding the issues raised by parties in favour of the claimant, Justice Esowe ruled as follows: “In the light of the evidence before the court, has the claimant discharged the burden of proof on him to entitle him to the reliefs sought.

“On the whole, this court finds merit in part of the claims of the claimant, the issue for determination is resolved in the claimant’s favour and save as outlined below all other claims and reliefs sought by the claimant are hereby dismissed. 

“It is hereby declared that the purported dismissal and or termination of the employment of the Claimant is wrongful and in breach of international best practices on labour law.

“It is hereby declared that the restriction placed on the claimant’s salaries for three consecutive months by the defendant is unlawful, unjustified and done with utmost bad faith.

“The defendant is ordered to pay the claimant the sum of N139, 163. 88, as damages representing what the claimant is entitled to as payment in lieu of notice.

“The defendant is ordered to pay the Claimant the sum of N250, 000. 00, as cost of action as assessed by the Court. Judgment is accordingly entered.”