Last week was dramatic in the on going 7-month old strike with the National Industrial Court, ordering the academics to return to the class, pending the conclusion of negotiation as well as the final determination of the suit filed by the Federal Government following a deadlock in negotiations between it and the lecturers.
It was an expected victory as the lecturers had raised concern over the outcome in a meeting with the leadership of the House of Reps, noting that such outcome would not alter their position without a negotiated agreement. To be expected, the court decision caused an outrage among ASUU and labour community, and the union vowing not to be cowered or back down on their demand. They consequently, appealed the order.
Labour and productivity minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, who was the plaintiff in the suit, in far away New York, U.S. as part of the presidential delegation to this year’s UNGA (UN General Assembly) expressed regret that ASUU, rather than obey the court order, decided to appeal it, thus prolonging the strike and deferring its resolution.
“It is a cardinal principle of jurisprudence that once a court of competent jurisdiction gives an order, the affected parties must obey pending its vacation by a superior court. What they have done by the appeal is to disregard such time tested tradition of law, and it is bad for our country..” he said to the press.
There had been a series of meetings between the parties – the federal government and ASUU, but all have failed to resolve the crisis, in spite of interventions by many stakeholders, including committee of vice chancellors and pro chancellors among others.
Many informed stakeholders, who spoke with Business Hallmark have blamed the federal government for lack of sincere interest in the resolution. Two weeks ago, the federal government dragged ASUU before the Industrial Court, saying it took the decision having explored all options to resolve the crisis to no avail.
On Wednesday, Justice Polycarp Hamman of the National Industrial Court granted the federal government’s application for an interlocutory injunction to restrain ASUU from continuing with the strike.
But Femi Falana, human rights lawyer and senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and Counsel to ASUU, said the court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the case between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Reviewing the judgement on Sunrise Daily, a Channels Television programme, on Friday, Falana stated that this was the first time a case of such nature would be brought before the industrial court. He said due process was not considered and taken by the federal government before filing the case before the industrial court.
“This is the first time in the history of that court that we have been told that the minister can refer a case to the national industrial court without going through the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP),” he said.
“Because the NIC under the current labour law regime in Nigeria is an appellate chamber of the AIP. So, it is an appellate court. It is only when individuals are sacked that you want to challenge your employer or there are intra or inter-union disputes that you approach the national industrial court.
“There must be meditation, conciliation and arbitration under the law. It was wrong to approach the court; we tried to explain to the court, and the court said they would look at that later.
“We made clear to the court and submitted more than six cases where the same court has warned the minister consistently that you cannot come here without originating your case in the IAP if it relates to trade disputes.
“The court so found that this is a trade dispute and that there was no reference to the IAP, but the court in its wisdom decided to intervene, and the only way you can show your dissatisfaction is to approach the appeal court which ASUU has decided to do.”
Recall that immediately the judgement was delivered Falana, said the ruling will be appealed, and that ASUU is going to seek a stay of execution.
ASUU president, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, last Wednesday, a few hours after the industrial court read the order, stated that the union’s leadership would meet to discuss the court’s ruling. Subsequently on Friday, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) decided to appeal after consultation with their counsel and thus appealed the ruling that day.
In the documents filed for the appeal, ASUU is seeking from the court, “1. AN ORDER granting the Applicant leave to appeal against the interlocutory ruling of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria per Honourable Justice P.I. Hamman in SUIT NO: NICN/ABJ/270/2022 between FEDERAL GOVERNMNT OF NIGERIA & 1 OR. VS ACADEMIC STAFF UNION OF UNIVERSITIES delivered on Wednesday 21st day of September, 2022.
“2. AN ORDER staying execution of the order of this Honourable Court per Honourable Justice P.I. Hamman in SUIT NO: NICN/ABJ/270/2022 between FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA & 1 OR. VS ACADEMIC STAFF UNION OF UNIVERSITIES delivered on Wednesday 21st day of September, 2022 pending the hearing and determination of the interlocutory Appeal.
“3. AND ANY OTHER ORDER OR ORDERS this Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance of this case.
“4. AND FURTHER TAKE NOTICE that the appellant/applicant shall at the hearing of this application rely on the affidavit sworn to by Samuel Ameh on behalf of the Applicant.”
The interim injunction directing ASUU members to resume work, followed an application FG filed through its lawyer, Mr. James Igwe.
In the judgement, Justice Hamman averred that the order was both in national interest and for the sake of undergraduates in the country that have been at home since February 14.
He argued that the ongoing strike action was detrimental to public university students that cannot afford to attend private tertiary institutions.
Having rejected and appealed the ruling, the federal government moved again.
Aware of ASUU’s move to appeal the ruling, the federal government is said to be considering the stiff penalty of deregistering the union, a move many have condemned as capable of worsening the crisis.
The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, last Friday issued a stern warning to government not to embark on the deregistering gambit.
The Labour body warned the Buhari administration not to deregister any union, saying such move to withdraw the registration license of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, over non-submission of its audited financial returns for over five year would aggravate the impasse.
It railed against the claim that ASUU had not submitted its audited financial returns to the Registrar of Trade Unions for over five years as required by the law, and insisted that the Union has submitted all its financial reports up till 2021.
NLC alleged that ASUU submitted its financial reports twice, but were deliberately rejected by the federal government so as to prepare the ground for accusations and blackmail.
In the letter to the Registrar of Trade Unions and copied the Minister of Labour and Employment, President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, warned against moves to de-register or withdraw ASUU’s registration license.
NLC in a letter dated September 2022, stated among others, “We understand that ASUU has responded to your query to submit its Annual Financial Report and Audited Accounts within 72 hours. ASUU responded to the query through their letter dated September 9 2022.
“In the letter, the union posited that it had submitted the Annual Financial Returns and Audited Accounts for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. ASUU also averred that the union has now rendered the account for 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 as at 9 September 2022.
“We understand that due to disruptions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, the union was unable to fill these reports immediately the financial documents were prepared and available for filing. We also understand that regardless of the COVID-19 disruptions, the union had paid for statutory required filling fees.
“We also understand that ASUU sent one of their staff and their external auditor to personally deliver the requested financial documents on the 9 of September 2022 but their efforts to submit the documents were rebuffed by your staff who insisted that they were under instructions not to accept any document from ASUU.
“ASUU subsequently sent the requested financial documents through courier services but again the staff in your office refused to receive the Annual Financial Returns and the Audited Accounts from ASUU.
“Given the current stalemate, we write to implore you to use your good offices to accept the Annual Financial Returns and Audited Accounts by ASUU in accordance with the provisions of Section 37(1)of the Trade Union Act CAP TILFN 2004.”
The President of ASUU, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, had earlier written to the Registrar of Trade Unions, intimating him of the development.
On its own, ASUU in a letter dated September 9, 2022, entitled Re: Non-rendition to annual financial returns and audited accounts, Professor Osodeke, among others said, “I wish to draw your attention to the fact that, on receipt of the letter under reference, the Union submitted the Annual Financial Returns and Audited Accounts for 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 to your office.
“Therefore, the union did not fail, neglect or refuse to render its Annual Financial Returns and Audited Accounts as prescribed by the Law. “Meanwhile, the Union has now rendered the account for 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 within the seventy-two (72) hours given by your office as at today 9 September, 2022.”
Professor Kunle Adalemo, a professor of history said “the federal government is not serious about resolving the crisis because the children of the elite in the administration at all arms of the government are schooling abroad. This is worst we have seen.
On his own, Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political scientist said ” Buhari does not care, i can tell you that he doesn’t mind if this thing lingers to the new administration that will come on board next year