The Federal Government has said the planned strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) over the removal of fuel subsidy and its attendant hardship is in contempt of an order of the National Industrial Court (NIC) barring it from proceeding with the action.
The FG’s position was made known in a statement released by the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Beatrice Jeddy-Agba, on Thursday, July 27. She warned the NLC leadership to desist from treating court orders with disdain.
Recall that the Labour union on Wednesday, July 26, issued a notice to begin a nationwide strike on August 2 to protest the removal of fuel subsidy which has caused a spike in the cost of living across the country. Recall that shortly after the President in his inauguration speech announced the removal of fuel subsidy, the TUC and NLC declared a strike but later dropped the plan at the last minute after a series of meetings with Federal Government. While negotiations with labour leaders were ongoing, the Federal Government approached the National Industrial Court NIC in Abuja and, on June 5, obtained a court order to restrain NLC and TUC from embarking on their planned strike to protest the unilateral removal of fuel subsidy pending determination of the suit.
The court, in its ruling, held that it was empowered by section 7(b) of the NIC Act, 2006, with the exclusive jurisdiction in matters relating to the grant of any order to restrain any person or body from taking part in any strike, lockout or any industrial action. It held that sections 16 and 19(a) of the NIC Act 2006, also empowered it to grant urgent interim reliefs.
The court held that the affidavit of urgency as well as the submission of FG’s lawyer revealed: “a scenario that may gravely affect the larger society and the well-being of the nation at large”.
In a statement released on Thursday, Jeddy-Agba said that going on strike next Wednesday will be a breech of the court order.
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“The attention of the Federal Ministry of Justice has been drawn to media reports indicating that the National President (Joe Ajaero) and Secretary- General (Emmanuel Ugboaja, mni) of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) endorsed a seven-day notice of their intention to embark on a nationwide strike action from 2nd August 2023 if the demands of the labour unions are not met.
It is pertinent to alert members of the NLC and the general public to the pendency of SUIT NO: NICN/ABJ/158/2023 – FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA & ANOR V. NIGERIAN LABOUR CONGRESS & ANOR before the National Industrial Court, wherein His Lordship, Anuwe, J., on 5th June 2023 granted an injunctive order restraining Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress from embarking on the planned industrial action/or strike of any nature, pending the hearing and determination of the pending Motion on Notice, which is also praying for an order of interlocutory injunction for parties to maintain status quo pending the determination of the dispute or issues submitted to the court. The said Motion on Notice is still pending.
It is noted that the issues (removal of fuel subsidy, hike in prices of petrol and consequential increase in cost of living, etc) which precipitated the above court action are the very same issues over which NLC has now issued another strike notice. The NLC has submitted to the jurisdiction of the court and is being represented by the reputable law firm of Femi Falana. It is therefore our minimum expectation that NLC will allow the courts perform their constitutional roles rather than resorting to self-help and undermining the orders of the court.
We note with dismay that this latest strike notice is consistent with the inexplicable disdain which the NLC leadership has visited on the authority of the court in recent times following earlier inciting and derogatory remarks made by the NLC President against the court. Indeed, the avowed penchant of the leadership of the union for casting aspersions on the Judiciary is quite worrisome and concerning.
Aside the above legal inhibition against any strike action of any nature, we also note that both the federal and state governments are engaging with stakeholders to cushion the collateral effect of the removal of fuel subsidy and increment in fuel price. It would be a great act of service to Nigerian workers and the nation’s economy for NLC to explore negotiations rather than embark on any strike action.
We, therefore, urge NLC to allow good reason to prevail by adhering to the time-tested principles of lis pendis and rule of law to avert adverse consequences.”