Justice Rabiu Gwandu of the National Industrial Court, Lagos, has fixed July 7, 2023, for definite hearing on the $4.2 million suit instituted against a multinational oil company, ExxonMobil Corporation and its parent body, Mobil Producing Nigeria Limited, by its former staff, James Nwagbogwu Ebede, over alleged forceful retirement.
Joined as co-defendant in the suit is the Vice President and the overall executive officer of ExxonMobil Iraq Limited between 15th February, 2017 and December, 2017, Mr.Ronald W. Romere.
Last Friday, the hearing of the case was supposed to resume, but the lead counsel, for the defence, Paul Usoro, was absent but sent a letter to the court, that he may not be able to come to court that day as he was busy attending to election petition matters at the election petition tribunal, and that the cases at the tribunal were time-bound. He therefore asked for adjournment.
However, James Ebede’s counsel, Chucks Nguru, objected to any adjournment been given on the ground that, the case had lingered for long time since 2018, adding that his client has no access to his property as they have all been locked up.
He urged the court to allow his client to be cross examined or the defence should forfeit the right of cross examination.
He also stated that the defendants were in contempt of the court, because they have not obeyed the order of court that directed them to deposit $4.2million money in an interest yielding account.
Consequently, Nguru, told the court that Usoro has a big law firm with retinue of lawyers who could adequately represent him.
On the issue of contempt proceeding, lawyer representing Exommobil M A. Sowumi, told the court that, they have appeal against the ruling of the court and filed stay of execution of the order, but Nguru told the court that the contempt, proceeding was a separate case on its own.
He said since the order was made nothing has been done.
Court had ordered that the 2nd defendant, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited to furnish an account in any name with enough funds to offset the Judgment of this Honourable Court should the claimant’s claims succeed, but the company has failed to obey the order of the court.
Leading to the issuance of form 48 consequence of disobedience to order of the court against six officials of the company namely Richard Lang, Alexander Savva,Mr Olusegun Banwo, Dozie Adesuwa, Aliyu Bala and Adelabu Adedoyin.
In a statement of fact filed before the National Industrial Court on behalf of the ex -ExxonMobil corporation staff, 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 said 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.
Consequently, 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 means 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.”