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30 Sep 2017

Court orders MTN to pay ex-Nigerian operations manager N4.8billion

The National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), Akure Division, has ordered MTN Nigeria Communications Limited 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 wrongful termination of employment. Justice Oyejoju Oyewunmi made 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.
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.

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