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CPC secures N17m judgment against Coca-Cola



The Director General of Consumers Protection Council (CPC) Mr. Babatunde Irukera has secured a N17 million judgment against Coca-Cola International Company at the Supreme Court for wrongfully terminating the employment of a Nigerian, Mrs. Titilayo Akisanya.

In the judgment delivered on June 30, 2017, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal to the effect that the Court of Appeal is the final arbiter in employment, trade and labour related matters adjudicated upon by the National Industrial Court (NIC).

Again, the Supreme Court, in interpreting Section 254(C)(1) of the Third Alteration Act to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) also held that the jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court (NIC) extends to all employment-related disputes including private employment contracts.

Mr. Irukera took up the case of Mrs. Akisanya on February 10, 2012, when he filed a civil action before the NIC, Lagos, challenging her wrongful dismissal by Coca-Cola Nigeria Ltd. Mr. Irukera was then a Partner in SimmonsCoopers Partners, a reputable law firm in Nigeria that had the acting President, Pro. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) as its Principal Partner.

SimmonCoopers Partners is renowned for representing individuals, corporations and government in public interest litigation. The law firm successfully challenged Pfizer, an international pharmaceutical company over its testing of an antibiotic drug (Trovan) in Kano State, Nigeria, a situation that led to over 100 children developing meningitis. The firm also successfully represented about one million investors in a significant securities litigation arising from the First Bank of Nigeria Hybrid Offer of 2007.

The respondents employed Akisanya as Human Resources Manager on December 11, 2001. In May 2007, she was promoted as the Human Resources Director, Commercial Product Supply (CPS) Pan Africa, while she still doubled as the Human Resources Manager at its Ota, Ogun State Plant.

In the claim she filed before the National Industrial Court, she claimed that she received several awards and commendations for her industry and significant contributions to the growth of the company in the course of her duties.

Things however turned sour when, in the course of her duties, she incurred some travel costs and expenses, which she submitted for reimbursement. The travel expenses were however not paid to her despite repeated demands. Rather than paying her, Mrs. Akisanya was directed to forward the original copies of the expenses to the corporate auditors of the company. She complied. She was later invited to a meeting with the internal auditors of Coca Cola.

At the meeting, she answered the questions posed to her by the auditors and even promised to send a detailed report to them. She promptly submitted her written report to the audit panel. The panel advised her to wait for their report, which they would send to the ethics and compliance (ECC). She did not get a response from the ECC, neither was she shown the final report of the audit panel.

The next move she got from the company was a letter dismissing her from the employment of the company. The later was dated December 6, 2010. Mr. Sheriff Tobala signed the letter on behalf of the company. She was accused of violating the company’s code of business conduct by submitting non-business related expenses for reimbursement and disclosing company’s confidential information to a third party.

Dissatisfied with her wrongful dismissal, Mrs. Akisanya commenced a legal action against the company before the NIC on February 10, 2012. In the suit filed before Hon. Justice B.B Kanyip, Mrs. Adesanya sought for declarative and injunctive reliefs nullifying her dismissal. She also claimed N100million general damages, and N50million as exemplary damages.

Defendants in the suit are the local company- Coca-Cola Nigeria Ltd, the Coca-Cola Company (the foreign company) and Mr. Tobala who signed the letter of dismissal.

Coca-Cola through its counsel, Mr. A. Candide-Johnson (SAN), however objected to the claimant’s suit by arguing that the suit is a private employment contract, or at most an executive management contract and therefore the NIC lacks jurisdiction to entertain private employment contracts.

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