The National Industrial Court in Lagos has ordered the telecom giant, Airtel, to pay about N160 million to Abdul-Hakeem Olasewere, an employee wrongfully dismissed by the company on Christmas eve, 2013.
Justice J. D. Peters, in his judgment on April 7, said the termination of Mr Olasewere’s employment by Airtel is “wrongful and without any justifiable basis.”
He frowned at the decision of the company to fail to provide a reason to throw its former employee into the job market during a festive period.
“It is against the international best practice as well as international labour standard to lay off a performing staff without justifiable reasons,” said the judge.
“At the global level, termination of employment at will and without reason is no longer fashionable or acceptable.
“We must bear in mind that no nation can be an island to herself and any nation that seeks to do so will be doing so at her own peril.
“Therefore, the need to ensure that the Nigerian labour jurisprudence is in tandem with what is obtainable at the international scene found reflection in the National Industrial Court Act, 2006.”
According to Mr Olasewere, Airtel employed him in 2008. After a series of promotions, he rose to the position of VP, Operations and Support.
He said he had consistently ranked as one of Airtel’s top managers of human resources and was only two steps away from the position of Chief Executive Officer in the management’s organisational chart. To his surprise, however, he said he received an internal communication in November 2013 informing him he had been removed as VP, Operations and Support and made VP’ Special Projects Site Optimisation.
According to him, the new role was a reduction in responsibility, as he was not responsible for any senior and general managers or external human capital but reported only to the Chief Executive Officer.
Mr Olasewere said on November 11, 2013, the company’s Chief Technology Officer and Director of Human Resources summoned him to a meeting where they told him that some Integrated Site Maintenance (ISM) vendors had sent in some petitions against him and the evidence was damning. They further told him that he needed to step aside for three to four days for a proper investigation to be carried out.
Mr Olasewere said they did not communicate to him after ten days and he wrote to request for a meeting for disclosure of the allegations against him. He said the company informed him that there was at least one petition bordering on wrongful dismissal and another allegation of improper conduct unbecoming of someone in his position.
Mr Olasewere said they summoned him to another meeting on December 12, 2013, with the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Finance Officer, SCM Director, and Jubril Saba of the Human Resources Department. He said he, again, requested the disclosure of the allegations against him but they again refused same.
On December 24, 2013, Mr Olasewere said the company terminated his employment without notice.
According to him, “the termination of his employment was accentuated by malice, pre-meditated and a deliberate attempt and machination of Mr. Segun Ogunsanya (the CEO) to oust any possible likely successor to the office of the Chief Executive Officer in the event of the impending expiration of his contract of employment.”
Mr Olasewere sought a declaration that the termination of his employment is wrongful and an order for the payment of N1.3 billion as special damages.
He also sought an order for the payment of N100 million as general damages for the breach of the contract of employment and disciplinary policy and procedure, among others.
In its defence, Airtel said it is not under any contractual obligation to state the reason, cause or the basis for the termination of its employee’s employment.
The company also maintained that the reassignment of Mr Olasewere to a new role does not amount to demotion, victimization or disciplinary sanction.
It further stated that in the unlikely event the court holds that Mr Olasewere’s employment was wrongfully terminated, the only remedy available to him is the award of salary for the period of notice which he has already been paid. It noted that the former employee was to repay N4.9 million, the outstanding sum after the remuneration due him were deducted from a N13.2 million car loan.
In his judgment, Mr Peters noted that the Airtel management failed to give Mr Olasewere a fair hearing before his sack.
“This court has found the termination of the employment of the Claimant wrongful,” said the judge.
“Not only is the termination wrongful, the conduct of the Defendant as exemplified or represented by its CEO Mr. Segun Ogunsanya is despicable and a stain on the corporate image of the Defendant to have allowed personal ambition and self-serving interest to overshadow the overall interest of the entire corporate entity.
“From the pleadings and evidence led by the parties, I see also some elements of fraudulent activities being covered by those who wanted the Claimant out of the Defendant by all means. Whether it is called fraud or corruption, it amounts to one and the same thing.”
The judge also lambasted Airtel for doing everything possible to frustrate the subpoena issued to its CEO, Mr Olusanya.
“The only plausible inference available to the court is that the Defendant was afraid of the evidence of Mr Segun Ogunsanya as it would have worked against it if allowed to be heard.
“Accordingly, I hold that the evidence of the Claimant on allegations of malice leading to the termination of his employment remains intact, unchallenged, and uncontroverted.”
The judge awarded N100 million exemplary damages against Airtel. He also awarded Mr Olasewere his two years salary amounting to N60 million as general damages for the wrongful termination of his employment without justifiable basis.
He further awarded and ordered Airtel to pay the former employee N1 million as the cost of the litigation.
He, however, ordered the Claimant to pay N4.9 million being the outstanding balance of his Vehicle Purchase Loan.
“All the sums of money due and payable under this judgment both to the Claimant and the Counter claimant shall be paid with interest at the rate of 20% per annum from the date of this judgment until final liquidation,” he added.
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