The National Industrial Court of Nigeria sitting in Yola, Adamawa State, has held that the court has exclusive jurisdiction to determine civil suits to recover a company’s funds misappropriated by an employee.
This was the verdict of the Presiding Judge of Yola Division, Justice Nelson Ogbuanya, in a suit by West African Cotton Ltd against Oscar Amos on the issue of jurisdiction raised by the defendant.
The claimant said the defendant was employed as an accountant in charge of its Yola office accounts unit in January 2008.
The claimant accused Amos of embezzling and misappropriating the company’s money.
In February 2015, the defendant undertook to repay the missing sum, totaling N812,518.40.
But, the defendant reneged on his promise and allegedly abandoned his duty post for over one year, prompting the claimant to replace him and file the suit.
Amos said he asked for casual leave to enable him source for funds to replace the missing money.
He said when he returned to office after the expiration of the casual leave on February 28, 2015 without the sum, he was orally directed to stay away from office until the issue was resolved by the claimant’s head office in Lagos, which he complied with.
He counter-claimed, asking for the amount covering the five months he stayed away, during which his appointment was not formally terminated.
In his verdict, Justice Ogbuanya upheld both the employer’s claims and the counter-claim in the sum of N500,000.
The court ordered the mployee to refund the balance to the employer within one month to end the employment relationship.
Justice Ogbuanya held that the court had exclusive jurisdiction on the matter.
“It is, therefore, my humble but tenacious view and I hold that, whereas in the instant case, the claimant as an employer, takes the civil option and institutes a civil suit to pursue an otherwise criminal claim (misappropriation of fund/criminal abuse of office) against its employee trusted with funds in the course of duty at work place, and carefully couch the claim as a civil action (recovery of missing/misappropriated funds) and is ready to establish the case as a civil claim and to discharge the onerous evidential burden placed thereby (for making criminal allegation in civil claim), the National Industrial Court is not only the appropriate court to ventilate the claim, but it also has exclusive jurisdiction to entertain the civil suit, for recovery of misappropriated fund at work place in the course of duty by an employee.
“In other words, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria has exclusive jurisdiction over civil claims for recovery of misappropriated funds by employee in the course of employment, pursuant to S.254C (1) (a) Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended by the 3rd Alteration Act 2010), which granted this Court an exclusive jurisdiction, in such civil causes or matter ‘relating to or connected with any labour, employment…and matters arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety, welfare of labour, employee, worker and matters incidental thereto or connected therewith.’”