The publisher of Orient Daily newspaper, Mr. Godwin Ezeemo has served eviction notice to staff of the company residents at its Charity Estate staff quarters behind the government house, Awka, Anambra State capital.
Ezeemo is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Orient Magazine, Newspaper & Communication Limited (OMNCL), publishers of Orient Daily, Orient Energy and Omega FM.
The former Anambra governorship candidate under the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) served the notice to his staff through his lawyer, Uju Ikena Esq. of Pax-Christi Chambers, Onitsha.
Daily Vendor gathered that the notice dated May 31, 2023 was pasted on the walls at the staff quarters on June 20, 2023, amidst mounting arrears of unpaid salaries and other entitlements as well as speculation that the company had been shutdown permanently by Mr Ezeemo.
The development, according to inside sources, took place barely three weeks after the lawyer called a meeting of residents of the estate and declared herself the new solicitor of Ezeemo and issued a new directive to distraught staff and non-staff at the quarters to come with their rent receipts and evidence of payment of electricity bills at the next meeting.
“The lawyer made it known to us that Oga was no longer interested in hearing that we are Orient Staff and that he wants only those who will pay the new rent to remain and those that could not to pack out, even as he insists that he was not owing anybody”, the source who craved anonymity disclosed.
“We were still waiting for the lawyer to come for the rescheduled meeting so we can iron out the issue when we saw quit notice pasted everywhere at the quarters with ten days to expiration of the notice”, the source added.
It was learned that trouble started in early 2021 when frustrating salary crisis and fragrant breach of employment contract by the management forced some key staff of the company including the Editor, the News Editor to resign their appointments. Despite spirited attempts to replace the departed staff, revive morale of workforce and operations, Orient Daily fortune didn’t improve as cash crunch deepened its salary crisis.
“It will interest you to know that despite the grueling situation at the company, Mr. Ezeemo, a self-acclaimed industrialist, has been spending heavily on the political fronts, as consistent contestant for the Anambra governorship. As at last count, he had contested four times with different parties from 2010 till 2021 at huge cost without success. And he now wants his employees to pay the price for his political losses”, another ex-staff of the company said.
It was gathered that shortly after his last failed governorship crashed, Ezeemo in a memo he personally signed announced temporary closure of the Orient Daily newspaper in what he called move to “restrategize” operations of the company. According to the memo dated 10th December 2021, the company would scale down its operations in order to “minimize cost and attract a sizable revenue for a restart” .
Ezeemo, through the memo, told employees of Orient Daily to stay out temporarily until they are invited for resumption of duties, or else will be paid their salary arrears since the accounting department has information of the account details of all the available and non-available staff for settlement.
It was also learned that a year earlier, Orient Daily staff, some already owned up to 12 months’ arrears were forced to spend the December 2020 with paltry N10,000 ‘Christmas palliative’, a development that forced some of them to the exit.
Our correspondent also gathered that the some staff resident at the estate expressed shock that Ezeemo decided to eject them from the staff quarters when he had not informed them of formal closure of the company or settle salary arrears and other entitlements owed them.
“It came to us as a shock because we have been hearing a rumour that he has closed Orient Daily and set up another company called Umeaku Printing Press. We were waiting for Ezeemo to tell us that we no longer have a job at Orient Daily but he didn’t and the next thing we got was a quit notice”, the staff said.
According to this staff, the next shock was that the new lawyer engaged by Ezeemo refused to accept a tenancy agreement signed by the management of the company at their point of engagement, insisting that everybody must pay a new tenancy agreement of N10, 000 and new rent.
“We told the lawyer that most staff living in the quarters pay subsidized amount as rent deducted from the company’s payroll and that under the staff quarters rentage agreement managed by the administrative department, we were not issued rent receipts. But she insisted that we must pay a new agreement fee and rent renewal”, the source revealed.
According to her, many see the decision by Ezeemo to impose a new tenancy agreement and increase house rent as the last ditch effort to get rid of his employees without paying them.
“This is a calculated attempt to send us away, empty handed. Six months after he suspended operation of Orient Daily, Mr. Ezeemo, had through his lawyer, doubled the tenancy charges of the staff resident in the estate without any explanation.
Then, we saw it as a move to easily run down the outstanding arrears of workers some of whose arrears are counting in millions. We didn’t protest. Now, he came again with another increment and tenancy agreement that nobody had sighted and he hasn’t paid us a dime since then. Where is he expecting us to get money to pay him?! This is why we are convinced that he wants to push us.
Ezeemo’s new lawyer, Uju Ikena Esq., who had imposed a new tenancy agreement and rent hike, feign ignorance of the debt profile of his client and had warned the staff that she was not concerned about any arrears or their past business with the politician.
Another affected staff told our correspondent that the politician has been looking for a way to exonerate himself of the plights of the workers whose futures have been badly damaged. “He wants to sweep the accumulated debt under the carpet, hence the order to the lawyer to device any possible means of getting rid of the remaining staff in the company’s quarters”, she disclosed.
“Our careers have been torn apart by the management style of Ezeemo. Even while the company was functioning, we could barely eat because of the inconsistencies in the salaries. We resorted to waiting for the company to revive to pay us up only for him to issue us quit notice without giving us any dime, ” another staff who was recruited from Lagos lamented.
This paper further learned that despite service of the court processes on the employees, Ezeemo’s lawyer is still threatening to employ thugs and other unlawful means to forcefully eject the employees.
Reacting on his indebtedness to the staff of the company, and the attempt to quit them from their residence, Ezeemo denied.
“That property is not owned by Orient Daily newspaper. It is owned by Redmark Agency. What Orient Daily did was to pay Redmark Agency for its staff to live in the property, and now that they have run Orient Daily aground, and the company can no longer pay for the rent of staff, Redmark Agency is seeking to recover its property.
“I have spent over N350million on that company from 2015 to date and all of it was mismanaged. Those apartments they are talking about is not staff quarters of Orient Daily, it is property of Redmark Agency, and Orient Daily rented it from Redmark.
“Now that Orient Daily has folded up, Redmark Agency decided to recover their property. We only rented those spaces for our staff, and now that they stopped working with Orient, and Orient Daily has not paid, the agency said they want to recover their property, since Orient is no longer paying their rent.”
Speaking about the backlog of salaries, Ezeemo said: “They are saying we owe them for two or three years, and for that period they have been living on that property. All the laptops, computers, cars, were all taken away by them. They are the people who are looking for my trouble. They stole all the equipment.
“They just think I’m stupid, but I’m not stupid, just that I like to take my time before acting. Else, Redmark Agency would have ejected them long ago, because Orient was not been paying to the agency the rent.”