National Industrial Court in Lagos has ordered telecommunication giant, Airtel to pay N165,986,419.98 to Abdul-Hakeem Olasewere, a former employee of the company over wrongful dismissal.
The presiding judge, Justice J. D. Peters in his judgment said the termination of Mr Olasewere’s employment by Airtel is wrongful and ordered the company comply with the court verdict immediately.
Justice Peters lambasted Airtel for failing to provide a reason to throw its former employee into the job market during a festive period. He opined that it is against the international best practice to engage in such an act. Airtel is among the top three telecommunication companies operating in Nigeria. It was formerly known as Zain telecoms, until 2011 when there was a change of ownership.
The company has once been called out for allegedly sacking about 3,000 Nigerian workers a few months after taking over to accommodate Indians workers. The company however rolled out vacancy positions to counter the allegation.
Mr. Abdul-Hakeem Olasewere, who is the claimant stated that he was employed by Airtel in 2008. After a series of promotions, he rose to the position of VP, Operations and Support.
But when he was only two steps away from the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in the telcos’ management organizational chart, the Defendant’s CEO, Mr. Segun Ogunsanya, began removing Nigerian local talents who may in future be considered for CEO.
The claimant said he was subsequently 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 Mr. Olasewere, “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 was 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.
Airtel in its defence 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 was not tantamount to demotion, victimization or disciplinary sanction.
Justice J. D. Peters’ judgment reads: “I declare that the termination of the employment of the Claimant by the Defendant is wrongful and without any justifiable basis.
“I award the sum of N100m only as exemplary damages against the Defendant and in favour of the Claimant.
“I award to the Claimant his two years salary in the sum of N60million as general damages for the wrongful termination of his employment without justifiable basis.
“I award and order the Defendant to pay to the Claimant the sum of N1million as cost of this action.
“The Claimant/Defendant to the counterclaim is ordered to pay to the Counter-Claimant the sum of N4,986,419.98 being the outstanding balance due to the Counter-claimant on Vehicle Purchase Loan.