By Danlami Nmodu
When Abdul rahman H. Ajayi got a letter of employment dated 3rd June 2002 he was joyous and hopeful at the dawn of a bright future.The letter said “We refer to your recent interview with our organization and are pleased to offer you employment with British American Tobacco(Nigeria ) Limited with effect from 1st July 2002.Your designation for the duration of the training programme is :Technical Trainee.”
After working for about ten years,Ajayi resigned from the company and his resignation was duly accepted through a letter dated 25th January 2012 by Abriana Bossman ,the HR Business Partner of the company.
Now the tale of the unexpected :Unknown to Ajayi, his trouble was just about to start.His joy of working with the company has long turned into sorrow .In fact,he is in chain in what experts call modern day slavery. And he has been locked in a legal tussle to free himself from the company’s stranglehold .
Here is how the tale unfolded further:Shortly after securing a new job after leaving British American Tobacco Nigeria,BATN as a contract Manufacturing Engineer with Habanera Nigeria Limited which is an independent contractor to International Tobacco Limited, his former employers sprang into action in a most unexpected manner.
British America Tobacco Nigeria fired a letter to Ajayi titled:Notice of Breachof Contract-Letter of Desist.It said inter alia that his contract with British American Tobacco Nigeria “makes clear and unequivocal provisions that requires(sic) you to refrain from engaging in or taking up employment or similar functions with any person or organization engaged in business that is in competition with the business of BATN within a period of 12 calendar months immediately following the cessation of your employment with BATN”.The letter obtained by Newsdiaryonline.com also referred to Ajayi’s “ continuing obligations” to BATN. His new employer, the International Tobacco Limited was also copied.
Ajayi swiftly contacted Bamidele Aturu & Co Legal Practitioners who equally promptly wrote a letter to the Managing Director,BAT N dated 10th April 2012. Aturu’s 3 –page letter titled : Re-‘Notice of Breach of Contract –Letter of Desist’Issued By Your Organization and Served On Abdulrahman H.Ajayi” debunked the claims of BATN in the letter of desist.Aturu urged the company to among others “withdraw the baseless threats in your letter”.The legal practitioners added that if “ you fail to accede to these demands” fourteen days after receiving the letter of demand “ we have our client’s instruction to take all lawful steps including but not limited to institution of a suit in a competent court of jurisdiction to seek redress on behalf of our client”.
And in fact the case has been in court . In the ensuing suit at the High Court of Lagos State since 2012,Ajayi is the claimant while the British American Tobacco Nigeria is the defendant.He is seeking “A declaration that the contract between the claimant and the defendant terminated upon voluntary resignation of the claimant from the defendant after giving the necessary notice and that the purported ‘continuing obligations’ to the defendant by the claimant or any such similar obligation at all is non -existent, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
“A declaration that the words written ,printed and published by the Defendant in the letter dated 26th of March 2012 , and titled ‘Notice of Breach of Contract-Letter of Desist ‘ and copied the International Tobacco Company to with :’it has come to our notice that you have recently taken up employment with International Tobacco Company Plc, a direct competitor to the business of BATN.This is in flagrant breach of the clear provisions of your continuing obligations under the contract of employment….. … are malicious and defamatory of the claimant.
The claimant is also among others seeking a letter of apology … “withdrawing all the threats made to the claimant and same written to the International Tobacco Company Plc and Habanera Nigeria Limited in the manner of the letter written to the claimant” and “ an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants , their agents ,servants , associates and privies howsoever described and by whatever means from further publishing ,printing or circulating the libellous statements in so far as they concern the claimant.”
The case filed 2012 is still in court and sources close to the long-drawn legal battle say they are hopeful that Ajayi t will get justice and eventual freedom in court.
By Danlami Nmodu