The presiding Judge, Enugu Judicial division of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, His Lordship, Hon. Justice Oluwakayode Arowosegbe has nullified the purported letter of resignation written by MR. OKEBUNACHI EZEKWERE from the service of NIGERIAN BREWERIES PLC that the resignation was obtained under duress and undue influence.
The court ordered defendant- NIGERIAN BREWERIES PLC to issue a letter of retirement to the claimant- MR. OKEBUNACHI in virtue of the over 14 years spent in its service, and payment of full salaries and allowances of N561, 915.05 on monthly basis till the date of judgment delivery and recalculate the terminal benefits and pay the surplus difference after deducting the terminal benefits already paid and cost of 200 thousand naira within 30 days.
From facts, the claimant pleaded that he was originally employed by Consolidated Breweries PLC and his services transferred to the Nigerian Breweries as a result of merger, that he was an award-winning Area Manager at the Consolidated Breweries and that he continued as Area Sales Manager at the Nigerian Breweries until the defendant forced him to resign on 17th January 2017.
In opposition, the defendant opined that claimant was invited to the headquarters to meet with the Human Resources Manager after he was rated U, for which he was liable to termination that, the claimant got angry while he was being briefed and started shouting that at that stage, other staff and the security men came in to restrain him that, the claimant was not forced to resign under gun or any form of coercion.
The defendant submitted that it had credited the claimant’s account with all his entitlements after the resignation and the claimant had collected his other entitlements that, the claimant resigned to avoid being terminated; and that the claimant is not entitled to the claims.
The learned counsel submitted that, since the claimant did not state the term of his contract that was breached, he could not make a claim for breach of contract urged that the case be dismissed.
In reply, claimant’s counsel argued that the evidence of DW1 that the claimant had been paid 2 months salaries in lieu of notice is fallacious, that if in deed the claimant resigned voluntarily, it is the claimant that ought to have paid the defendant one month salary in lieu of notice instead, since he was the one that resigned.
The learned counsel also submitted that, failure of the defendant to communicate to the claimant the result of his appraisal amounts to breach of fair hearing.
Delivering the Judgment after listening to the submissions of both parties, the Presiding Jude, Justice Arowosegbe described as afterthought the omission on the part of the claimant to mention the issue of being forced at gunpoint to write the resignation letter nullifies the allegation of being coerced at gunpoint to resign but maintained that the mere fact that coercion [duress] at gunpoint was not proved does not detract from the fact that duress by other means was proved.
“From the above, I found that the defendant admitted asking the claimant to resign or be terminated outright. It relied on the Performance Appraisal Guideline, as the authority for its action in asking the claimant to resign, yet did not tender this very document to convince the Court that it formed part of the contract between the parties. This is an admission against self-interest.
“Let me say straight away that, I cannot find any inconsistency in the case of the claimant. If the claimant said he was forced to resign and the defendant on its own volition without the promptings of the claimant, paid his terminal benefits, the claimant could not be blamed for this.
“This forced resignation cannot stand. It is void ab initio. The purported letter of resignation is therefore a nullity. It must be set aside. It is hereby set aside. The implication of voiding the forced resignation is that the claimant did not resign and since the defendant has not terminated his appointment, he remains in the employment of the defendant till the determination of the suit and therefore entitled to his arrears of salaries.
“It is my view that the circumstances of this case are suggestive that the employment of the claimant was suspended by the illegal and forced resignation and that; the defendant must pay the wages the claimant lost from the date of the forced resignation till the determination of this suit for forcibly and illegally keeping the claimant’s employment in abeyance till the determination of this suit.” Justice Arowosegbe ruled.