By Yerima Kini Nsom & Solange Tegwi
The former General Manager of the G4S Security, a private security company operating in Cameroon, Joseph Biyiwoh Kowoke, has dragged his former employers to court for abusive dismissal and non-payment of his terminal rights.
This is the substance of a suit the he filed at the High Court of Mezam Division in Bamenda.
According to the suit, the plaintiff wants the court to compel G4S Security to pay him a total of FCFA 886,235,657. This amount represents the plaintiff’s terminal rights for the close to 26 years that he worked in the company as an employee and for the services that he rendered to the company as General Manager, and the company’s representative in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Gabon.
When the matter came up for hearing before His Lordship Justice Ching Tom Ngong, the defendant, G4S Security, through its counsel, Barrister Ngole Sone, holding briefs for Jing and Partners (a Douala-based Law Firm), raised a preliminary objection.
The Defence Counsel pegged the preliminary objection on claims that the Mezam High Court did not have jurisdictional competence to entertain the matter. The counsel for the defendant equally raised claims that the plaintiff was not resident in Bamenda and that he never had a contract as General Manager.
In his counter submission, counsel for the plaintiff, Barrister Elvis Kumfa, argued that the grounds of the preliminary objection were legally untenable. In the ruling delivered on May 12, 2022, the court rejected the preliminary objection while describing it as being “dilatory, vexatious and an attempt to thwart the justice of this court”. The court ruled that it has the jurisdiction and was ready to start an accelerated hearing on the substantive matter.
Feeling dissatisfied with the Mezam High Court ruling, G4S Security appealed against the decision at the North West Appeal Court. In its judgment No. 011/LAB/2023 May 31, 2023, the North West Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Mezam High Court.
Presided over by Justice Sokem Ngale Mborh, the court dismissed all the grounds of the appeal. The judgment partly reads: “….We find this appeal one of a dilatory character, which should have attracted heavy costs against the appellants, but for the fact that labour matters are in principle considered to be processed free of charge… The ruling of the trial court is hereby upheld”. The case file has to be remitted to the Mezam High Court for the substantive matter to be entertained on its merits.
According to the plaintiff, he is determined to claim his full rights for the meritorious services he rendered to the company for 25 years, six months.
He said he suffered a lot of prejudices when he grappled with the various strikes that rocked the company in 2006. He equally wants fees for the services he rendered to the company in Gabon and the Central African Republic.
“Secondly as the promoter of the company who procured the operating licence for the G4S Cameroon, I am entitled to part of the profits of the company. This is what I tabled to them in April 2019 and which ultimately led them to terminate my mandate as General Manager without a query,” Biyiwoh told The Post.
He said he was served with a termination letter following an alleged resolution of the meeting of the Board of Directors of the company that allegedly took place on January 16, 2020. Going by the plaintiff, no reason was given for his dismissal.
Narrating his ordeal to The Post, Biyiwoh said he joined the Wackenhut Security Company as a security officer on June 30, 1994, after graduating from the University of Yaounde with a degree in law.
According to him, he worked so hard that he was promoted to the various positions and ranks in the company, including Radio Communicator; Supervisor; Administrative Support Officer; Administrative Manager and, finally, the General Manager of the Company.
He was made General Manager after he successfully obtained an operating licence for the company in tandem with the September 10, 1997, law regulating the activities of the private security companies in Cameroon. The President of the Republic signed the text of application on February 2, 2005, which provides that all private security companies must be registered and managed by Cameroonians.
He said it was at this time that the management of Wackenhut, which later changed its name to G4S Security appealed to him to be the front man in search for an operating licence for the company.
In this perspective, Biyiwoh said he was appointed to replace Christopher Clay, an American, as General Manager of the company in Cameroon on June 29, 2005. It was in his new capacity that Biyiwoh applied for an operating licence for the company which he obtained on May 15, 2006. He said even as General Manager, his appeal to the Board of Directors of the company to increase his salary did not yield any dividend until 2008. He said, when the name of the company was changed from Wackenhut to G4S Security, there were a series of strikes by workers of the company.
Going by the erstwhile General Manager, the workers were misled to believe that the company had to pay them some money as RIGHTS after Wackenhut was sold to Group4 Falck in 2002. Biyiwoh said, as General Manager, he bore the brunt of the two violent strikes that took place on April 12, 2006 and August 22, 2006 respectively.
He said the August 22, 2006, unrest was so violent that the workers held him hostage for five days in one of the offices of the company in Douala.
He said, even when he went through such an ordeal, the company did not compensate him until July 29, 2008, when bandits murdered the lone guard that he had at his residence in Douala. At this time, the Board of Directors of the company decided to make a symbolic increment on his salary without any corresponding arrears.
Going by him, he represented the company in Gabon, South Africa and Morocco in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 respectively.
In 2015, G4S International, represented by the Regional Office in South Africa, assigned him to oversee the activities in Central Africa Republic, CAR.
According to the plaintiff, he did his job diligently by making eight trips to CAR between 2015 and 2019. He said he did all these without any additional advantages to his pay package.
Biyiwoh told The Post that since the operation license that was given to the company bears his name, he was supposed to have some advantages.
He said it was when he asked for his dues as promoter of the company that he was sacked with no terminal rights and without a query letter.
He said even the work certificate that was given to him two weeks later did not effectively reflect the various positions he held in the company.
He said he thought the company was going to call him up for an amicable settlement after the abusive summary dismissal.
He explained that it was after he waited for 21 months that he decided in October 2021, to take the matter up with the Labour Department. It was there that a non-conciliation was established. It was after this that he decided to take the matter to the Mezam High Court in Bamenda where he took up residence after being sacked. The Post struggled in vain to get the reaction of the G4S authorities to the claims 0f their former General Manager.