INVESTIGATION: How Visafone conned 2,000 workers into mass resignation before MTN takeover

visafone

Visafone Communications Ltd tricked over 2,000 employees into disengagement to pave way for its takeover last January by telecom giant, MTN, PREMIUM TIMES investigation reveals.

On January 7, MTN Nigeria announced it had completed the acquisition of Visafone, then the only surviving Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network in Nigeria’s telecommunications industry.

The acquisition figure, believed to be a landmark deal, is wrapped in secrecy just as the circumstances under which the workers were kissed goodbye.

The News Agency of Nigeria had reported that over 2,000 employees of Visafone were disengaged with effect from January 5and paid three months’ salaries as severance package. However, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively reveal that the Visafone employees were conned into mass resignation.

MTN Nigeria office
MTN Headquarters

In a desperate move to shed the workers and spare MTN any labour issues, the human resources department of Visafone resorted to impersonation by writing resignation letters in the names of each and every one of the employees without their knowledge.

Then, tricks, coercion, intimidation and cunnings were brought to bear to make the workers sign the letters they did not write. This ploy was the only resort ostensibly to protect Visafone from paying full entitlements to employees who built the company from scratch into a 2 million-telephone-line business.

PREMIUM TIMES gathered that two days before MTN publicly announced its acquisition of Visafone, employees of the latter had turned up for work on January 5 only to be served two letters each by the Human Resources. One was a letter of resignation already crafted by the management on behalf of the receiver employee. The other was an acknowledgment letter from the management accepting the purported resignation.

Both letters, sighted by this newspaper, were backdated to December 30, 2015.

One of the affected staff, Olachi Onuorah, who served the company for five years and six months described the tactics employed by Visafone to get rid of its workers as a scam.

She told PREMIUM TIMES that all the employees were left bewildered upon receiving the two letters from the Head of Human Resources, Theodora Chukwuma.

“Up until that fateful day the mass resignation letters were distributed, Visafone had repeatedly brushed aside every enquiries from employees who demanded to be told the true situation of the company after news of imminent takeover began to come from the industry grapevine. The management kept feeding us lies and denials, saying there was no truth in the rumour,” she said.

Mrs. Onuorah, one of the former Visafone workers that petitioned the Ministry of Labour in the wake of the mass sack, insists that Visafone’s tactics was an act of impersonation and one that must be questioned by the law.

“I have no problem getting disengaged if a company that employed me has been taken over by another; however the disengagement must be done in a manner that satisfies best practices, such that guarantee the payment of my full entitlements as required by International Labour Law,” she added.

Visafone’s agitated former employees disclaimed the mass resignation letters which they said were calculated to rob them of their full benefits. They accused Visafone of resorting to contrivance as a means of laying off workers without paying full severance packages. With the workers tricked into mass resignation, all they got was three months’ salary and monetized leave.

Several copies of the controversial resignation letters sighted by PREMIUM TIMES showed that all the letters have the same words and punctuations and the same paragraphs and computer font indicating they were written by the same person.

They read: “I hereby resign my employment with Visafone Communications Limited effective 30th day of December 2015. I wish to thank the company for giving me the opportunity to serve.”

Similarly, all the acceptance letters from the management carried the same tone and date: 30th December 2015. The only uniqueness to the resignation letters are the individual names of the employees at the bottom.

Jim Ovia
Jim Ovia

Shedding more light to the controversial mass resignation, Mrs. Onuorah said that when the workers received the letters written in their names and were told to sign, there was a collective objection. They reminded the management that the resignation was never discussed at any time and that by the letter the employees were technically being asked to fire themselves.

“The Human Resources Manager, Theodora Chukwuma, told everybody that the resignation letters were merely a formality and that it was the only way for former Visafone workers to start on a new slate with MTN since most of them were going to be reabsorbed any way.”

“Different ways were used to arm-twist the workers into signing a letter they did not write. Those that bought the re-employment story began to sign. The Management went personal with some of us that refused to sign. Theodora Chukwuma kept mounting pressure on me all day and kept using languages that bothered on intimidation.

“I was told to take the three-month salary offer or risk spending a lifetime fighting a company that will soon cease to exist. Finally, sensing that I was standing alone, I signed. I must have been the last person to sign,” Mrs. Onuorah said.

Labour lawyer, Oghenero Ukpe, told PREMIUM TIMES that Visafone’s action of authoring a letter of resignation for about 2,000 employees was tantamount to forgery and impersonation.

“The question we must ask Visafone is: was it the company that wrote the letter of application for each of the workers to be employed? If no, on what authority did it act in writing the purported letter of resignation? The fact that the workers signed these letters under duress makes the said resignation null and void. It is of the same reasons that wills are contested and nullified when it becomes known that the owner did not write it of its own free will or was not in a proper state of mind,” Mr. Ukpe said.

CHALLENGED ACQUISITION

Mass resignation is not the only controversy trailing the acquisition of Visafone by MTN Nigeria. Last February, rival telecoms operator, Etisalat, dragged MTN to court to prevent the latter from using the 800MHz spectrum it acquired from Visafone to deploy broadband services ahead of its competitors, arguing that doing so will further entrench MTN’s dominance in the Nigerian telecommunications sector.

Visafone was one of the leading CDMA/ICT companies in Nigeria, offering a number of services, which include voice, high speed data (3G), internet and other Value Added Services (VAS).

PREMIUM TIMES called Visafone’s office in Abuja for comment on the forgery allegations. A male voice responded but refused to disclose his identity just as he pleaded he could not speak on the matter as he was no longer in the employ of the company. He only added that he used to work in the Corporate Affairs department of Visafone.

PREMIUM TIMES telephoned Jim Ovia, the former owner and founder of Visafone, on his mobile. On two occasions the calls were not taken. An SMS was sent but still was not responded to after five days.

etisalat
Etisalat

In response to PREMIUM TIMES enquiry, Funso Aina, PR and Protocol Manager in MTN’s Corporate Services Division, sent an email reply:

“Last January, following media interest in MTN’s acquisition of Visafone and subsequent allegations of mass sack, the founder of Visafone, Mr. Jim Ovia, issued a categorical statement on the matter where he said, ‘Contrary to media reports, MTN did not sack 2,000 staff or any staff for that matter. However, out of the total 350 professional staff that Visafone had prior to the acquisition, some voluntarily resigned and were adequately compensated.’

“MTN subscribes to the highest ethical standards in all transactions and our acquisition of Visafone was concluded after obtaining all necessary statutory and regulatory approvals.”

Reacting to MTN’s claim, Mr. Ukpe said while the firm may have necessary regulatory approvals, it may not have acted right on with its due diligence on labour issues.

“Of course regulatory approval came from the National Communication Commission but that is not what we are talking about here,” he said. “The labour component is a big issue in any takeover anywhere in the world and a company like MTN should have known better. It is not a matter you tackle in a hatchet manner rather by negotiation.”

The lawyer added that if MTN’s due diligence could not detect the serious issue of forgery and impersonation, the telecoms company should know that when it acquired Visafone, it also acquired the liabilities.


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  • kayode Olufade

    It is sad to note that Nigerians just tale employment without knowing their righys. The albatross now is that they signed the resignation. Crying now after accepting the benefits will do them no good. When you come to equity, come with clean hands. If they wanted justice, they shouldn’t have signed the documents. Also. The labour laws in our country need to be revisited and agencies of labour law enforcement need to be up to their game

    • RAPHAEL

      U’ve a point but I believe that the matter can still be taken up from there. Signing the forged document alone ought not to have closed the case as evidences are there that the document didn’t originate from the individual employee and that it carried the same content. It can be proved that they were signed under duress as described in the article above and with the content being the same shows that the originator was the defunct Visafone HR Department. With these being established under an incorruptible Judge, they can still have their severance allowance being adequately claimed from their former employer. NLC and TUC should wade in and help these helpless individuals. I always continue to wonder why MTN is always associated with questionable acts like this.

      • kayode Olufade

        I pray they are able to then. Nice disposition

      • Rumournaire

        I worked for a multinational company for decades. When the business went awry for the company, the only way to survive was to lay off about 25% of its workforce. The company could easily have given letters of redundancy to the 25% and pay them their contractual benefits – what the contract the employees signed said about the terms of redundancy. However, the company rightly deemed it in the better interest of the staff that it be on record that they resigned, rather than that they were made redundant. (It is always better for you if your CV says you resigned rather than that you were laid off.) So the multinational company prepared letters of resignation for those 25% to sign. They did not have to sign, but it was up to them. ALL the 25% signed, collected the contractual benefits and left.

        The question in the Visafone case should be what the employment contracts said Visafone should pay at the end of their service. If the employment contract said they were only entitled to 3 months salary, what is the problem? People don’t read their employment contracts before coming to make noise online. And, unfortunately, they get shallow-thinking, half-baked journalists to present their stories. Why did Premium Times not get a copy of the employment contract of these ex-Visafone staff to show us whether or not Visafone short-changed them?

  • FineBoy

    Con men leading our businesses and government houses.

    God will deliver our Nation

  • Visafone staff

    When there is no justice the people are left to the mercies of heartless people. To tell you that many of us were ready to fight this evil but we were left with no choice than to yield to this antics as we didn’t have the muscles to prosecute this illegality. The statement that Jim ovia released was all lies written by Oshegale. That was how the top managers cleaned out with good salaries and others who have worked with the company for years without promotion or increments of salaries were left to go home with peanuts for a company that was bought over. This why that deal will never see the light of day because of the evil that was perpetuated.

    • soulchild

      I follow to say AMEN to ur prayer.

      As a former staff of Zenith Bank , even if the company name was not mentioned in the article, I would have told you that that is Jim Ovia’s modus operandi. He never pays the stipulated severance package and keeps getting away with it because our labour guys are heavily compromised.

      One day either he repents or he will get his reward

  • RAPE on Niger DELTA

    There is massive poverty in the Niger Delta. There is nothing to show for the wealth of the region as monies from the region are used to develop Abuja and the rest of the country. The only benefit the oil producing and resource owners – Biafra and Niger Delta regions benefit from Nigeria are :
    – Pollution
    – Neglect
    – Violence
    – Military Occupation
    – Wanton arrest of its citizens
    – Harassment
    – Sponsored propaganda to defame
    – Bypass in political appointments
    – Hate, hate and more hate
    – Etc etc, etc

    …yet, the parasitic regions (Vultures) that feast on the resources of the Niger Delta want it to remain part of Nigeria even as they care not about the many artificial problems that oil exploration has brought to the people –Health issues / Diseases arising from toxic pollutants. Buhari never borrowed to clean up the Niger Delta or rehabilitate the displaced farmers and fishermen. But he borrows to resettle those reportedly displaced by Islamic terrorists – a people (Terrorists) he claims must not be killed.

    SECESSION is the only way for the Niger Delta and Biafran regions if they must achieve their potentials. Buhari can remain president of the rest of Nigeria and those of us who do not want to be associated with Nigeria in any way should be left alone to live our dreams and fly to our destination – have our own country. And this is what we must do. May God be with our freedom fighting comrades which Nigerian Govt love to call Militants.

    • wazobia ninja!!!!!!

      hold the thief of otuoke responsible ……… and write to him DIRECTLY ………

    • RAPHAEL

      I pity you because you are crying on a spilled milk. Instead of you to face your work and look for how to better your current position, you are using your valuable time to propagate terror and secession which will never come to reality. Let us be talking of unity and not separation in Nigeria. Nigeria is our country, let us rally round the God sent administration of our time now. 2019 is around the corner, if people are not interested in PMB or his party, then we can choose another party instead of running down our President. Let us allow him to concentrate on the driving of the nation’s vehicle that he is assigned to do for us. He is on the driver seat, we should allow him to face it squarely. May God Bless Nigeria.

      • gosgos

        I refuse to be driven by this ‘driver’who doesn’t have the map to the destination and wouldn’t seek assistance from those who possess the Roadmap. Anyone who leaves his/her destiny in the hands of this ‘driver’is doomed and I refuse to be.

  • Binta

    “Labour lawyer, Oghenero Ukpe, told PREMIUM TIMES that Visafone’s action
    of authoring a letter of resignation for about 2,000 employees was
    tantamount to forgery and impersonation.”

    What then will Labour lawyer, Oghenero liken the lies (as regards his WAEC Certificates) presented by Buhari before INEC to? Is that one not forgery too?

    • lanre

      Buhari is your problem abi?
      You better get over your election loss and make yourself happy.

    • wazobia ninja!!!!!!

      oh,you have not heard the 86 year old ex-registrar waec that confirmed issuing his certificate?

  • Desmond

    Buhari has destroyed Nigeria and destroyed jobs. Nigerians have been losing their jobs on per minute basis since Buhari came in. A clueless useless govt led by brainless people who have no idea what governance is. Imagine after 1.5yrs there is still no Economic BLUEPRINT. Buhari wants to borrow billions of Dollars with no plan on how to repay and no analysis of where the repayment money will come from. He has been busy arresting and jailing people, others are simply shot and killed for daring to protest or show dissent. His is simply an endless SORROWS, TEARS and BLOOD! Shame!

    • wazobia ninja!!!!!!

      when you had a thief in power that stole you blind for 6 years,you didn’t even know it ……..&^$$@!@#@!!@@!

      • Du Covenant

        My broda, such idiots just ‘didn’t want to know’ that the last administration we had was the worst in our history. Even with revelations that some of the thieves returned their stolen share as the investigation goes on. It is this mentality that has kept the entire black Africa so backward?. The worst case is Nigeria because it is where the unbelievable waste and stealing has been the worst!.

    • Gecko75

      What has Buhari got to do with Visafone wahala?

    • RAPHAEL

      It is unfortunate that you people without culture will always come around to air your views based on sentiment every time the opportunity comes your way. What has our President Buhari has to do with issue concerning MTN, Visafone and NCC. No wonder that the country refused to craw not to talk of walking after her birth 56 years ago. You left the matter at hand and started chasing shadow because of tribal sentiment and political difference. PMB, by the grace of God, is over 70 years today and needs to be respected regardless of where he comes from or the political party he might belongs to. In Africa, we respect our elders except if where you come from you use your elders as rags to mop the floor. Let us be wise and polite to our elders. The Bible says: ‘Honour your elders, so that it shall be well with you’. A word is enough for the wise.

      • gosgos

        The good book says to ” honour your parents……”.I know who my parents are,none of them is named ‘Buhari’

        • RAPHAEL

          ‘Birds of the same feather, flock together’. I’m not disappointed because of your contribution as I knew that there are many like Desmond over there who will not like to listen to words of wisdom because of sentiment and selfishness. With your comment, you’ve proved me right.
          Proverbs 9:8b says: “——-rebuke a wise man and he will love thee”. The Bible defined ‘parent’ not only your blood parent but anyone that seniors you. In the case of the subject here, we are talking of our and your President (regardless of his age in the first instance) not to now talk of a Baba that is over 70 years. You have sinned and therefore need to go back to God and apologize for your misdemeanour. No wonder that we are in recession in Nigeria. Many of us have sinned and God is angry with the nation. God will help us. If we continue like this, Nigeria don’t have future.

  • Babrutus

    Visafone was only promoting entrepreneurship. How can we not support them?

  • Dimka

    Forbes billionaire

  • Ik9ja

    Nigeria! An unfortunate country.

  • Chardon .A, Amos

    Nigeria is an unfortunate country where ” Con Men” abuse the laws of the land like there is no tomorrow. Do we still have labour laws in Nigeria? Will the courts be able to handle this cases as a matter of urgency? This is a situation that should be taking into account very seriously.