MTN Nigeria Communications Limited has faulted the judgement of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), Akure Division, which ordered the company and MTN International, Mauritius, to pay its former Network Group Operations Manager, Mr Paul Odunewu, $13,419,728.54, £10,000 and N2,540,000 (totalling N4, 825,036,735.9) following alleged wrongful termination of employment.
Justice Oyejoju Oyewunmi gave the order on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 following Odunewu’s suit challenging his 2006 termination and the deprivation of his entitlements including share options valued at $13,144,512.00.
In a statement on Saturday responding to the judgment, the telecommunication company said the position of the National industrial Court on the suit filed by its former employee is “detrimental to our interests.”
“The court’s position has been reviewed by our internal and external counsels. Following that review, we have approached a higher court requesting that the decision of the industrial court be set aside.
“We believe that there are critical elements of our case which were not fully considered by the lower court before taking its position. We are confident that the outcome at the superior court will be different and that justice will not only be done but will be seen to be done in this case, “ the company stated,
MTN said it is committed to a policy of openness, integrity, diligence and professionalism in the conduct of business – with customers, shareholders and each other.
“Our Code of Conduct stipulates high labour standards regarding all our employees. In addition we have processes in place to ensure that we act in accordance with international standards and local laws.
“ We therefore maintain that we treat all our employees fairly, as captured in the details of our employment contracts, signed and legally binding. This situation was no different. The most basic commitment we make – to our customers, our shareholders, and each other – is to conduct ourselves in an ethical, honest and respectful manner”.
MTN Group Limited, South Africa; MTN Nigeria and MTN International, Mauritius were first, second and third defendants in the suit which lasted 10 years from the Lagos State High Court to the NICN.
Justice Oyewunmi ordered that the sums be paid by the second and third defendants, “except the issue of costs which is to be paid by all the defendants.
The judge ordered MTN to make the payments within 30 days following which the sums would appreciate at 21 percent interest per annum.
In reaching judgment, the court agreed with the submissions of Odunewu’s counsel, Mr Kemi Balogun (SAN) that MTN unfairly imposed a restraint of trade on Odunewu, thus preventing him from working for a period.
The judge upheld Mr Balogun’s submission that the evidence showed that Odunewu neither committed any serious, persistent breach of the provisions of the agreement or the company’s code, nor was ever summoned to a disciplinary committee or found guilty of any misconduct or non-performance.
Justice Oyewunmi observed, among others, that the defendants failed to controvert the testimony of a former MTN Chief Executive Officer, Mr Adrian Wood, regarding the offers made to Odunewu which persuaded him to quit his job in The United Kingdom and join MTN. Odunewu, a UK-based chartered engineer, was employed by MTN Nigeria in 2001.
He said MTN pleaded with him to return home from the UK and help the company to develop its telecommunications in Nigeria. He averred that he was promised, among others, a Share Option, a long-term incentive scheme being developed by MTN. Odunewu said when he complained that the Share Option was not contained in his offer letter, MTN persuaded him to accept the job, adding that he would be entitled to the shares after three years.
Odunewu said he worked at MTN for over four years, and was responsible for the network’s outstanding achievements, which continues till date. The former manager said he was responsible for the company’s pre-paid and post-paid revenue, subscription, voucher management and real-time charging. Odunewu commenced the suit against the defendants in 2007 before the High Court of Lagos State, but in 2012, it was transferred to and began afresh at NICN which had exclusive jurisdiction. Trial commenced on January 29, 2014.