By OUR CORRESPONDENT
An Onitsha-based haulage businessman, Mr. Idoko Chidozie Collins has demanded a N14m compensation from transport giant GUO Transport Company Ltd (GUO for short), being calculated losses from a 28-day ‘illegal’ seizure of his truck at a disused GUO’s Iddo, Lagos, terminal, on the order of Mr. Maduabuchukwu Okeke, eldest son of GUO and managing director of the transport company.
In a letter dated October 13 and written by his counsel, Joseph Otogbolu, to Maduabuchukwu through his lawyer, Ikem Nwanegbo, Mr. Chiedozie Collins warned that he had all necessary documentary evidence to drag GUO to court for losses incurred by his cargo company calculated at N500,000 a day, if Maduabuchukwu or GUO failed to pay the said N13m demanded by him “within a reasonable time frame.”
He pointed out that no law in Nigeria gave Mr. Maduabuchukwu Okeke or GUO the power to detain a vehicle belonging to another businessman without any authorization by a court of competent jurisdiction in the country, especially not when the owner of the vehicle so seized had no prior dispute whatsoever with Mr. Maduabuchukwu Okeke, either in Mr. Okeke’s private capacity or in behalf of GUO.
According to Collins, who spoke in an interactive session with journalists at his office in Onitsha, Anambra State, Ezeanochie, on return from his lunch break, found the lot where he packed his truck under lock and key reportedly on the order of Mr. Maduabuchukwu Okeke, who is also the MD of GUO Transport Company.
Three days later (on October 8, 2022, to be precise) and unable to resolve the situation by himself, Ezeanochie, Collins further recalled, called his boss (Collins) who was in Onitsha, Anambra State, and explained to him what had happened to the truck, and asked for his intervention.
On hearing the ‘sad’ news, Collins said he travelled to Lagos the following day being October 9, to see Mr. Okeke after he (Collins) had failed to reach the GUO MD on phone after several attempts.
“I called Maduabuchukwu several times to see if we could amicably resolve the matter over phone, because I couldn’t afford to have the truck miss business even for a day, but he would not pick my calls,” Collins recalled. “So, I decided to travel to Lagos immediately in the hope of meeting and discussing the matter with Maduabuchukwu face to face.”
Collins further narrated that on arrival in Lagos in the evening of that Sunday, October 9, he called Mr. Ezeanochie and Miss Chika Odoemena, another of his company’s employees, to get ready to go with him to see Maduabuchukwu the following day, being Monday, October 10.
As planned, Collins said he and his team arrived early in the morning of October 10 at Maduabuchukwu’s Alafia, Amuwo-Odofin LGA, Lagos State, GUO Lagos headquarters office and waited in the reception to be ushered in to see him, lamenting, however, that Maduabuchukwu refused to see them after many hours of wait.
“I mean, I was in Maduabuhukwu’s office, along with Ezeanochie, the driver of the vehicle he seized and another member of our staff, Miss Chika Odoemenam, but he would not see us, after more than 12 hours of wait in his office,” Collins fumed.
Luckily for Collins and his team, at about 7.48pm, while they were still waiting in the reception of Mmaduabuchukwu’s office, in the hope of still seeing him, Maduabuchkwu’s younger brother, Kenechukwu walked in. After exchanging pleasantries with Collins and his team, and being told why they had come to see Maduabuhukwu, Kenechukwu, according to Collins, said he was not aware of the development but that they should wait for him to go and discuss the matter with his elder brother, Maduabuchukwu.
However, a few minutes later, Kenechukwu, on coming of his brother’s office, asked Ezeanochie, a former driver with GUO, why he hadn’t returned to Onitsha, as he was directed by Maduabuhukwu, to ‘properly’ hand over to the company’s management the vehicle Ezeanochie was driving for GUO but which he was said to have ‘improperly’ parked at the company’s premises and allegedly absconded.
But, told by Ezeanochie that he had not had any such instruction from Maduabuchukwu, Collins recalled that Kenechukwu then advised that Ezeanochie travel to Onitsha to see the manager named Mr. Chike, aka Ogidi, and do the needful so that the matter would be resolved once and for all.
“There and then, we mobilized for Uche (Ezeanochie) to travel to Onitsha that Monday, Otober 10th night, and do as instructed,” Collins further recalled. “In fact, it was Kenechukwu himself, with us in the reception of his brother’s office, who helped us to get a seat reserved for Ezeanochie on a GUO bus from Okota, Lagos, to Onitsha that night.
“At the Onitsha office of GUO the following morning, being Tuesday, October 11, Ezeanochie met the manager, Mr. Chike, aka Ogidi, who complained about Ezeanochie’s ‘mishandling’ of certain things in the said GUO vehicle Ezeanochie was said to have ‘improperly’ parked before allegedly absconding from the company.
“While one or two things alleged to be missing from the vehicle were later found intact in the vehicle, Ezeanochie was, however, to spend only N25,000 to buy and fix the vehicle’s four frog-lamps presumably broken by him in the course of his duty as driver of the vehicle. Thereafter, ‘Ogidi’ certified that, finally, Ezeanochie had formally and properly resigned from GUO and was, thus, free to go wherever he wanted.”
Unfortunately, the ‘proper’ handover by Ezeanochie was not to be the end of the matter, as Mr. Maduabuchukwu Okeke still refused to release the said truck to its owners for the business for which it is used, Collins further narrated.
“Maduabuchukwu’s refusal to release my vehicle even after they had compelled Ezeanochie, at my expense, to go to Onitsha and ‘properly’ resign from their company, was a clear indication that Mr. Maduabuchukwu Okeke was not interested in any ‘proper handover’ by Ezeanochie but in crippling my business, just to feed his gargantuan ego as the son of a rich man who can do as he pleases,” Collins alleged.
“But there is no law in Nigeria that authorizes a businessman or anyone else, rich or poor, for that matter, to seize another businessman’s property at will. What GUO’s son, hiding under the might of his father’s money did (still doing) to my business came as a glaring act of impunity, which is acceptable neither to me nor to any known law in Nigeria. He must pay me the money I have demanded, being losses incurred as a result of the illegal and irresponsible seizure of my haulage vehicle for all of 28 days, without any cogent or legal reasons, or, failing to do so, be prepared to meet ‘this underdog’ in court.”
Among the documents Collins showed to journalists at the media briefing was a letter from Mr. Maduabuchukwu’s lawyer responding to Collins’ demand letter.
In the letter, the GUO boss denied ever knowing Mr. Chidozie Collins or even having heard about him before and, therefore, had had no dealings with him whatsoever.
In the letter sent to Collins through his lawyer, Mr. Joseph Otogbolu, Maduabuchi went further to accuse Collins of “purposely shielding the driver of the said vehicle (one Mr. Uche Ezeanochie), who was a driver of a certain vehicle of client with registration N0 GOD 486 ZE in our clients(sic) company and who dumped the said vehicle assigned to him by our client contrary to agreement, in a dilapidated condition without officially handing same over to our client and absconded from our clients(sic) company.”
Continuing, Maduabuchukwu’s lawyer, Nwanegbo, wrote: “Our client had made several efforts to compel the said Uche Ezeanochie to come to our client to reconcile the differences but he had adamantly refused to come our client for any reason at all, including to reconcile with client concerning official handover of the vehicle and repairs of the damages associated with the said vehicle, which were caused by him.”
But addressing the journalists gathered for the media briefing at his office, Collins debunked Maduabuchukwu’s claims, drawing reporters’ attention to the fact that the reply to Otogbolu’s letter dated October 13, 2022, came from Maduabuchukwu’s lawyer, Nwanegbo only on the 18th of the same month, five days later.
“Now, recall that on the 10th of this month, the said Ezeanochie, Miss Odoemenam and myself were in Maduabuchukwu’s office from about 7.30 am to 7.48pm – over 12 hours – but he refused to see us,” Chidozie told the journalists.
“Recall also, as I had earlier stated clearly, that it was in the reception of his office on the same October 10, at about 7.48pm that Maduabuchukwu’s younger brother, Kenechukwu, met us while we were waiting to see his elder brother who wouldn’t let us see him. As I explained, it was then that Kenechukwu, who said he didn’t have any prior information about the truck seizure, promised to speak to his brother on our behalf but that even after his intervention, Maduabuchukwu rebuffed all entreaties and in an arrogant show of power bought with his father’s money, still refused to see us. Instead, he directed Kenechukwu to tell Ezeaochie to go to Onitsha and reconcile his ‘differences’ with GUO before any complaint from us could be entertained.
“Recall also that I said that in the night of that October 10, right from Maduabuchukwu’s reception, I mobilized Ezeanochie to travel to Onitsha to meet the GUO manager, Mr. hike, alias Ogidi, to reconcile his (Ezeanochie’s) ‘differences’ with GUO and that, in the end, the whole ‘reconciliation’ amounted to only N25,000 which Ezeanochie used to buy and fix four broken frog-lamps of the ‘dumped’ vehicle, ‘which needed repairs of damages associated with the said vehicle, which were caused by him (Ezeanochie),’ according to letter written by Maduabuchukwu’s lawyer, Nwanegbo.
“Now, if Maduabuchukwu didn’t know me and had no dealings with me whatsoever and I was at the same time shielding an ‘absconded’ Ezeanochie from GUO, how could the foregoing sequence of actions have been possible with Ezeanochie as a prime actor in it all? Therefore, it is up to you, members of the press and the general public, to decide who, between the two parties – Maduabuchukwu and myself – is telling the truth here,” Collins remonstrated.
“Ten days after you refused to see my team, among whom was the same Ezeanochie you said you had been looking for, and seven days after the demand notice my lawyer wrote to you, which arose from your refusal to release my vehicle that you had illegally detained, even after the driver Ezeanochie, as demanded by you, had ‘properly’ resigned from your company with no indemnities whatsoever, you are still writing on October 18 and claiming that you didn’t know me and that Mr. Ezeanochie was still at large? The question is, who, really, is fooling whom?”
Collins, then, surmised, in response to a letter from Maduabuchukwu’s lawyer.
“Here’s my official reply based on the letter you sent to me on October 24, 2022,” wrote the Chido Cargo, Onitsha, boss. “In my voice note on October 11, 2022, I told you that after I left your office, I wasn’t going to come back for my truck again.
“If you are ready for peace to reign, as I was begging you before coming to your office and after I left your office, kindly reach my lawyer, Barrister Joseph Otogbolu for official release of the truck to him (as) I have given him authority to act on my behalf.
“Thanks so much for your understanding and remember today (November 2, 2022) makes it 28 days that my truck has unlawfully been in your custody, amounting to N14,000,000, being losses incurred for non-deployment of the vehicle for business all of these past 28 days.”