Mr. Sylvester Opara was on June 12, 2013 sacked by his employer, a chemical producing company in Ota, Ogun State – Nycil Limited – but he alleged that his sacking was disrespectful to a pending suit he filed against the company.
Mr. Opara alleged that upon being exposed to cancer-causing chemicals in the company, he had since June 8, 2012 been diagnosed of laryngeal cancer (cancer of the larynx, an organ in the neck which is involved in breathing and sound production).
The aggrieved employee, who claimed he joined the company 28 years ago in 1985 as a trainee electrical engineer, said he was until his sacking the company’s maintenance engineer.
The 56-year-old Opara had on May 17, 2013 sued Nycil Ltd before Justice Lawal Mani of the National Industrial Court, Lagos seeking the court to order the firm to pay him a total of N18m as damages and cost of treatment in the United States of America.
He told the correspondent that he was “shocked” to receive a letter written on June 12, 2013 by the company’s Head of Personnel and Administration Department, Mr. B.N Okpe, intimating him of his disengagement while his suit against the company was pending.
Opara said, “Why should the company take this kind of decision when my suit against it has not been heard? That is disrespectful to the court, which has assumed jurisdiction on the matter.”
He stated in his affidavit that he was exposed to at least six types of harmful chemicals being used by his former employer, such as Acrylamide known to cause cancer, Benzoic acid and Formaldehyde.
His lawyer, Mr. Augustine Audu of Falana & Falana’s chamber, alleged in the suit that the claimant first noticed obstruction in his breathing on June 6, 2013 and after an initial examination at the company’s hospital, he (Sylvester) was referred to Lagos University Teaching Hospital.
LUTH, which was said to have diagnosed him of laryngeal cancer, later on June 8, 2012, carried out an “emergency trachetomy operation” to enable him to breath.
Audu claimed that though his client incurred N8,166,540 as cost of treatment during an allegedly aborted medical journey to the US, he was granted a N3m loan by the company,which the company decided to deduct it from his entitlements “contrary to best labour practices”.
The lawyer said, “The claimant (Opara) has incurred huge debt from friends and relation in order to pay his medical bills both in Nigeria and the US.
“At present, the total medical bills stand at N8,166,540.4. the claimant has paid a total sum of N6,583,545.2 to the hospitals, while the sum of N1,582,995.2 remains unpaid.”
In addition to seeking the court to order the company to pay his client the sum of N8.2m, Audu also seeks the court to order that he (Opara) should be paid “N10m as general damages for the exposure to risk, physical and psychological trauma, and the financial hardship the claimant went through”.
However, the company, through its counsel, Mr. Olumide Ekisola, has asked the court to dismiss the suit for lacking in competence. According to Ekisola, the suit should be dismissed because the claimant “has not exhausted other processes” to resolve the issue.
Meanwhile, when contacted on Thursday, the company’s Head of the Personnel/Administration Department, asked him to “write to the management of the company to respond to the issue.”