By Izunna Okafor, Awka
What could be best described as a frustration may have befallen a regular gubernatorial candidate in Anambra State and publisher of Orient Daily Newspaper, Mr. Godwin Ezeemo, as he served eviction notice to staff of the company residents at its Charity Estate staff quarters, behind Government House, Awka, Anambra State capital.
Recall that the highly-indebted guber candidate, Ezeemo has contested governorship election four times in Anambra State, but won none.
Ezeemo, who is the Chairman and CEO of the (now-moribund) Orient Magazine, Newspaper & Communication Limited (publishers of Orient Daily Newspaper), Orient Energy and Omega FM, was said to have served the eviction notice to his staff through his lawyer, Uju Ikenna Esq. of Pax-Christi Chambers, Onitsha.
It was gathered that the notice, dated May 31, 2023, was pasted on the walls at the staff quarters on June 20, 2023, amidst mounting of unpaid salaries arrears and other entitlements he owed to them.
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.
This reporter gathered that shortly after his last failed gubernatorial outing, 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 were 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.
In an interview with this reporter, 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 cleared the backlog of salary arrears and other entitlements owed to 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,” a staff of the company recounted.
According to the 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 staff added.
The staff further described 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 whom their 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,” the staff lamented.
It was gathered that Ezeemo’s new lawyer, Uju Ikena Esq., who had imposed a new tenancy agreement and rent hike, feigned 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.
Further recounting their experiences, another affected staff told this reporter that the politician had 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,” the staff disclosed.
Another staff added thus: “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.”
This reporter authoritatively gathered 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.
According to a reports, in his reaction when contacted over his alleged indebtedness to the staff of the company, and the attempt to quit them from their residence, Mr. Ezeemo said what the staff claimed was not what happened.
In his own narrative, Ezeemo was quotes as saying thus: “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.”
Concerning the backlog of salary arrears owed to the staff, Ezeemo was quoted as saying: “They say 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 equipments.
“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 has not been paying to the agency the rent.”
Amid the distressing twist of events, Mr. Ezeemo, appears to have found himself grappling with frustration emitting from the aftermath of all his failed political outings since 2010, as well as the consequent financial hardships and aggression it has plagued him, which he is allegedly trying to transfer to his workers by rendering them homeless amid backlog of unpaid salaries and entitlements.
The above speculations may not be far from the reason why Mr. Ezeemo was also adjudged to be one of the struggling millionaires in Anambra State who would always donate to churches and sponsor beauty pageantry, while his workers wallow in poverty over unpaid salaries and entitlements.
As the shadow of uncertainty and financial bondage looms large over Ezeemo’s dedicated workers, it is paradoxical to note that his Orient Daily Newspaper’s slogan is “Setting the Bonds Free.“