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Although the law is quite clear that an
employee whose employment was wrongfully terminated would be entitled to
damages from his employer, there seems to be some of sort of confusion
regarding the quantum of damages, which an employee whose employment was
wrongfully terminated would be entitled to. The source of this confusion can be
traced to some recent decisions of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria
(NICN), delivered after the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of
Nigeria was amended in 2010 to expand the jurisdiction of the NICN and to
confirm its status as a superior court of record.

Prior to the 2010 amendment of the 1999
Constitution, the law was quite settled that if the termination of an
employment was wrongful, the employee would only be entitled to damages in
terms of payment in lieu of notice, as stated in his/her contract of
employment. This position was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the
case ofIfeta v. SPDC (Nig.) Limited (2006) 8 NWLR (Pt. 983) 585
where the apex Court held that although the termination of the Appellant’s
employment was wrongful, he would only be entitled to three months’ salary in
lieu of notice and his other entitlements which he would have collected if his
employment was terminated lawfully. It is instructive to note that in Ifeta
v. SPDC
, the Appellant’s contract of employment provided for a notice
period of three months where either of the parties decides to terminate the
contract of employment. The position of the Supreme Court was also followed by
the Court of Appeal in the case of Bemil Nigeria Limited v. Marcus
Emeribe & Ors
 (2009) 3 CLRN 94 at 113 Para 20-30.
Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s
position on the quantum of damages which an employee whose employment has been
wrongfully terminated will be entitled to, the NICN has, in certain cases,
applied its discretion in awarding damages to employees whose employment were
wrongfully terminated by their employers. Two of such cases would be considered
in this paper.
In the case of Mrs. Titilayo
Akisanya v. Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited & 2 Ors
 (Unreported) Suit
No. NICN/LA/40/2012, the NICN in its judgment delivered on 7th April 2016
awarded the sum of N17,368,468.00
representing the Claimant’s annual salary as damages for the wrongful
termination of her employment notwithstanding that her contract of employment
provided for one-month notice in the event of the termination of the contract.
Also, in the case of Mr. John Muir
v. Batelitwin Global Services Limited 
(Unreported) Suit No.
NIC/LA/151/2011, the NICN in its judgment delivered on 13th May 2013, awarded
the sum of US$193,050.00 representing the unpaid salary for the unexpired
period of the Claimant’s contract of employment as damages for the wrongful
termination of his employment notwithstanding that his contract of employment
provided for one-month notice in the event of the termination of the contract.
The pertinent facts ofMr. John Muir v. Batelitwin Global Services Limited are
as follows: the Claimant was employed on a fixed contract for a period of one
year as a Senior Piping Designer. About 4 months after the commencement of his
contract, his employer terminated his employment without notice on the ground
of incompetence and the Claimant challenged the termination of his employment
at the NICN for being null and void. He also claimed the sum of US $ 208,800.00
being the total sum of his salaries from December 2009 to August 2010, amongst
other reliefs, but the NICN only awarded him the sum of US$193,050.00 as
damages for the wrongful termination of his employment.
Interestingly, the Court of Appeal has set
aside the decisions of the NICN in Mrs. Titilayo Akisanya v. Coca-Cola
Nigeria Limited & 2 Ors
 and Mr. John Muir v. Batelitwin
Global Services Limited
 on the ground that the damages which were
awarded to the Claimants in the two cases have no basis in law since they were
based on the exercise of the discretionary powers of the NICN and not on the
settled position of the law regarding the award of damages to an employee whose
employment was wrongfully terminated.
In Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited &
2 Ors v. Mrs. Titilayo Akisanya
 (Unreported) Appeal No. CA/L/661/2016
the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal in its judgment which was delivered
on 17th November 2017 reduced the damages which was awarded to the Respondent
by the NICN from N17,368,468.00 to
the sum of N1,447,373.33 representing
the Respondent’s one month emoluments in lieu of notice.
Also, in Batelitwin Global Services
Limited v. Mr. John Muir
 (Unreported) CA/L/566/2013 the Lagos Division
of the Court of Appeal in its judgment which was delivered on 3rd November 2016
reduced the damages which was awarded to the Respondent by the NICN from
$193,050.00 to the sum of $24,750.00 being the sum commensurate to the
Respondent’s one month salary in lieu of notice of termination of his
employment.
Conclusion
The implication of the Court of Appeal’s
recent decisions in Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited’s case and Batelitwin Global
Services Limited’s case is that the NICN would now be expected to ensure that
damages awarded in cases of wrongful termination of employment are commensurate
with the notice period contained in an employee’s contract of employment, as
against using its discretionary powers to award damages at large.
In addition, Counsel also have a duty to
ensure that they do not file claims for exaggerated reliefs in respect of
lawsuits pertaining to wrongful termination of employment since the Court of
Appeal, which is the final Court on employment related matters, has settled the
issue of the quantum of damages, which an employee would be entitled to, if
his/her employment has been wrongfully terminated.
It should be noted that this article
is for general information only. It is not offered as advice, on any particular
matter, whether legal, procedural or otherwise. If you have any questions about
this article, please contact the author.
Faruq Abbas
Managing Partner at Abdu-Salaam Abbas &
Co.