The troubled indigenous airline, Chanchangi, and top officials of the National Industrial Court are at the centre of an alleged conspiracy to deny a retired pilot, Eric Adegbite, 67, his due benefits, several years after serving the company.
Mr. Adegbite who worked for the airline for nine years resigned in 2010 after working for several months without salaries.
He approached the Lagos division of the industrial court in 2012 to press for payment of his salaries and retirement benefits. Two years after the litigation commenced, judgement was delivered in his favour, according to court documents reviewed by PREMIUM TIMES.
The court ordered that he be paid N4.75 million as outstanding salary owed, N13 million as arrears of gratuity, and N100,000 as judgement cost, giving a total cost of N17.85million. All the money was to be paid within 30 days of the judgement, the court ruled.
In separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, the Managing Director of the airline, Trevor Worthington, and a director, Bello Chanchangi, did not deny the court judgement, nor did they deny indebtedness to Mr. Adegbite.
However, three years after the judgement and seven years after the pilot retired from the company, the victim has not been paid his dues.
“The Judgment debtor, Chanchangi Airlines Ltd refused to pay the judgment sum
despite repeated demands to settle same amicably as ordered by the court,” Mr. Adegbite, now based in Lagos, said.
“I am suffering. I have treatment to undergo but I don’t have money to do so. I have worked for 30 years but see what I’m made to suffer at my age and in retirement.”
EXECUTING THE JUDGMENT
As it became increasingly difficult to get his benefits and salary arrears, despite the court order, Mr. Adegbite asked his lawyer, Femi Farohundiya, to file a writ of execution (fieri facias) which in legal vocabulary means enforcement of a judgement by levying on or disposing a property belonging to the judgement debtor to obtain funds to pay the creditor.
The writ was taken out to attach property located at No. 4 Nola Close, Off Bangui Street, Wuse II Abuja belonging to Chanchangi Airline Ltd.
After the order was endorsed by the industrial court in June 2016, the Chief Registrar, John Targema, referred it to the Sherriff for pasting on the gate and wall of the attached property. A notice of auction of action dated June 23, 2016 was also pasted.
Mr. Adegbite said Chanchangi started interacting with him and his lawyer, when it became aware of the writ of execution, for the sale of the property to realize the judgement sum.
“We were looking for buyers from our different ends,” said Mr. Adegbite. “But along the line the company, Chanchangi Airlines, declared the C of O over the attached property missing, published same in the Newspaper (Daily Trust Friday July 1 2016), swore to an affidavit before the High Court of Justice of Kaduna State on 29/06/2016 and also reported same to the Police Station at Ungwan Sanusi, Kaduna and an extract of this report was issued on 18/07/2016.”
However, while the airline, which currently runs a skeletal charter service, claimed the C of O of the property was missing, records show the building was sold without the formal knowledge of Mr. Adegbite or the court.
And although the company’s Managing Director, Trevor Worthington, when faced with facts obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, confirmed the property was indeed sold, he, however, said it belonged originally to another company owned by the Chanchangi family, not Chanchangi Airlines Limited.
He said he regretted that the target property, already put up for auction by the court, was sold by the family. He claimed that the airline had wanted to source the fund to pay Mr. Adegbite and settle other matters from the sale of another family property.
But Mr. Worthington’s claim on ownership of the property is untrue, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report. The C of O of the property, seen by this newspaper, clearly carries Chanchangi Airlines Limited as the owner, not any other family business.
The notice of the purported loss in Daily Trust newspaper of July 1, 2016 also stated that it was Chanchangi Airlines Limited that lost the C of O of the property.
A source close to the airline alleged that one of its directors, a member of the Chanchangi family, sold the property with forged documents, but the airline had to cover-up for him.
COURT OF CONTROVERSY
One person, Simon Naoum, found to have bought the property from Chanchangi according to documents reviewed, filed an interpleader at the registry of the industrial court in Abuja.
The interpleader was to ‘regularise’ the procurement of the property as it is a subject of litigation between two parties.
But the court did not serve any notice on Mr. Adegbite.
“It was insiders that alerted us to the motion and I did file a response through my lawyer that I was not a party to the sale of the property which was attached by the court to be sold to pay me.
“Chanchangi Airline too denied participation in the process of the sale,” Mr. Adegbite said.
The matter was then assigned for hearing, slated to commence on March 27, 2017.
But while he was already in Abuja for the hearing, on the morning of March 27, Mr. Adegbite’s lawyer, Mr. Farohundiya, got a call from the court registry that the case file had been recalled by the management led by the Chief Registrar, Mr. Targema, and as such could not be listed, the lawyer told PREMIUM TIMES.
“This was a further attempt to stop this matter from being heard in open court, after being assigned to a judge; a date is given but administratively adjourned without the knowledge of the presiding judge,” said Mr. Adegbite.
Mr. Adegbite said he has reason to assume that the court registry and Chanchangi are colluding to deny him his due benefits. At the time the registry was unwilling to serve notice on him, disallowing inquiries from his lawyer and ‘administratively adjourning’ the case, Chanchangi officials were asking Mr. Adegbite to withdraw from the case with offer of N5 million for settlement – though he is owed over N17 million.
His lawyer was also asked to accept N2 million to withdraw from the case, the counsel said.
Mr. Worthington, the company MD, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that his firm had been negotiating with Mr. Adegbite to settle their dispute out of court.
One of the directors, Musa Chanchangi, also disclosed that he had personally contacted Mr. Adegbite for negotiation.
Then, one registry official identified as Mr. Akindipo, wrote a letter dated March 9, 2017 declaring ‘illegal’ the order directing the auction of the Chanchangi Abuja property by his office a year before.
By some curious coincidence, this was immediately after the purported sale of the property and upon the filing of an interpleader which was yet to be served on Mr. Adegbite as at the time of filing this report.
WE WANT TO PAY
Both company officials – Messrs Worthington and Chanchangi – said there was no plan to not pay the retired pilot his salary arrears and gratuity.
Mr. Worthington said the airline was looking at selling three real asset belonging to the Chanchangi family to revamp the troubled airline and also pay Mr. Adegbite.
The Chief Registrar of the industrial court, Mr. Targema, told PREMIUM TIMES he could not comment on the allegation of colluding with the airline, citing judicial principle of not addressing court matters in the press.
He said Mr. Adegbite should formally approach the head of the industrial court, if not satisfied with the administrative process at his office or petition the National Judicial Council.
While the case continues at the industrial court, Mr. Adegbite fears he may have to wait for much longer or never be able to get his due rewards seven years after leaving Chanchangi, unless his case is treated with impartiality, transparency and integrity.