The Federal Government appears desperate to lean on any straw to break the resolve of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to call out workers to embark on the nationwide strike planned for Monday against the contentious removal of subsidy on petrol.
Frustrated by the two labour centres’ decision not to honour further invitations for dialogue on the subsidy removal issue, government headed for the National Industrial Court in Abuja seeking an injunction restraining the unions from either embarking or compelling worker to embark on the strike.
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), through Fabian Ajogwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had filed an ex-parte application before the court asking it to restrain both NLC and TUC from carrying out the threat to embark on the strike action next week.
But the leadership of the two labour movements yesterday said they were not aware of the order of any court asking them not to go ahead with the nationwide strike as planned.
A spokesman of the NLC, Chris Uyot, told Premium Times on phone late last night: “I am not aware of any order restraining the NLC from going on the planned strike. We were in the office till we closed. As I am speaking, I am in my house. Everybody has closed.”
Several calls to the phone of the NLC acting Secretary General, Owei Lakemfa, went unanswered. He also did not respond to the text message sent to his mobile telephone at about 6.56 pm.
The TUC President, Peter Esele, also denied knowledge of the injunction.
However, Mr. Lakemfa later issued a statement accused the Federal Government of “purchasing a black market injunction from the National Industrial Court.” He asked Nigerians to ignore rumours that the court had truncated the industrial action, saying “the strikes, mass rallies and protests will go on as scheduled.” (See full text of statement below.)
Meanwhile, at the court, a curious scenario unfolded when a junior officer sent by Mr. Ajogwu to argue the case failed to handle it satisfactorily, a situation that angered the President of the Court, Babatunde Adejumo.
Mr. Adejumo wondered why a Senior Advocate of Nigeria would entrust such a sensitive and important case to a junior official, shortly before the three members of the court retired to their chambers to write their rulings.
At about 5:40 p.m. when they returned to the court, Mr. Adejumo, who delivered the ruling, said that the court had jurisdiction to issue a restraining order since the defendants were yet to commence the strike, pointing out that if Labour is allowed to go ahead, the action would not only compound the conflict, but would also adversely affect economic activities.
The President therefore ended his ruling by issuing an order restraining both the NLC and TUC from going on strike as well as from inciting anyone into embarking on strike.
Before adjoining the case to Thursday January 12th, 2012, Mr. Adejumo ordered the AGF to serve the court’s processes on the defendants by advertising the papers in THISDAY and two other national newspapers.
Government had, in an ex parte application filed at 11:30 a.m., asked the court to issue an order restraining the defendants from embarking or compelling their members to embark on any strike action across the country.
The court however declined jurisdiction on two other reliefs seeking to restrain the defendants from interfering with the exercise of constitutional powers of the executive arm of government in the allocation and use of resources as well as interfering in any way with the executive implementation of the 2012 Appropriation Act.
The AGF, in a 30-paragraph affidavit of urgency deposed to by one Yusuf Moka, had accused labour of not complying with some conditions precedent to the declaration of strike, arguing that the removal of subsidy on petrol was not a dispute that could confer a right on the defendants or their members to embark on strike.
Besides, the AGF said the defendants did not raise any dispute arising from a collective and fundamental breach of contract employment on their part, apart from not also submitting any dispute to arbitration, or served the claimant with a notice of arbitration.
The call for strike by the defendant, the AGF said, was made without formal declaration of a dispute relating to labour relations or employee rights, as they did not conduct any ballot in accordance with the rules and constitution of the trade union at which simple majority of all registered members were given opportunity to vote on whether or not to go on strike.
Read NLC press statement below
NIGERIAN LABOUR CONGRESS
NIGERIANS SHOULD IGNORE ANY BLACK MARKET INJUNCTION 6th January, 2012
There are rumours circulating that the desperate Jonathan administration has purchased a black market injunction possibly from the National Industrial Court (NIC).
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is not aware of any such injunction, we were not served any paper of court appearance, we were not present in court nor were we represented in any capacity. Also, the NLC was not served any court summons nor were we served any court order.
The cretins in the Jonathan administration imagine that by seeking to drag the judiciary in the mud, they can avert the general strikes, rallies and mass protests that will begin on Monday 9th January, 2012.
They cannot make the simple analysis that the whole populace is angry and that Nigerians do not need any group to ask them to protest an evil policy that seeks to impoverish them. The NLC asks Nigerians to ignore this childish ploy and rumour; there is no going back on next week’s protests and shutdown.
The issue of the strikes, protests and against an obnoxious policy, is not and industrial relations one; it is not between an employer and an employee.
Rather it is one between the Nigerian People versus the Jonathan Government. So if the issue was taken before the National Industrial Court, then it is the wrong place to shop for a black market injunction. To obtain an injunction from a court that has no competent jurisdiction is to try playing ping pong with the judiciary. Labour reiterates that the constitutional and fundamental right of Nigerians to protest cannot be annulled.
The NLC asks Nigerians to ignore such rumours; the strikes, mass rallies and protests will go on as scheduled. The NLC advises the Jonathan administration to listen to the people or face their justifiable wrath.
Owei Lakemfa Acting General Secretary