Lagos state says National Industrial Court lacks jurisdiction over doctors' suit

The Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Ade Ipaye, on Tuesday told the National Industrial Court to strike out the suit between the state government and the sacked medical doctors.

Bamidele Aturu, counsel to the dismissed doctors, countered the argument saying that the court has “undoubted jurisdiction” to entertain the suit over the doctors’ dismissal.

Benedict Kanyip, the presiding judge, fixed Thursday, May 24th, for ruling on the case.

At the resumed sitting of the suit in Lagos and in a court room filled to capacity, Mr. Ipaye stated that the Medical Guild, a body comprising of doctors employed by the state, is “an illegal entity” and therefore has no legal capacity to authorize a named person to represent it.

“We submit that the Medical Guild is not a registered trade union.

“It is in fact, a person not known to law, yet the claimants’ suit is wholly predicated on an agreement purportedly entered into between the said medical guild and the state government.

“The law is that the medical guild does not have locus standi either to maintain this action or to enter into a contract as alleged,” Mr. Ipaye said.

Mr. Ipaye went further to say that the jurisdiction pursued by the claimants can only be invoked by a registered trade union.

“Our conclusion is that Dr. Odusote and Dr. Durojaiye cannot competently maintain this suit on behalf of an entity which is non-existent in law.

“Our submission is that once the Medical Guild is struck off, the two claimants cannot by themselves pursue this action in their personal capacity,” Mr. Ipaye said.

Outside the court room and armed with their paper placards, supporters of both parties, who almost clashed outside the court last week, waited silently for the outcome of the court’s proceedings.

About a dozen police officers watched them keenly.

Reacting to the Lagos state Attorney General’s argument, Mr. Aturu noted that Mr. Ipaye’s application was brought “as a technical motion to defeat the arm of justice”.

Initially deciding to start his argument on technicalities, Mr. Aturu faulted Mr. Ipaye’s notice of preliminary objection, filed on Monday, on the grounds that it was signed for the Lagos Attorney General, rather than by the Lagos Attorney General.

Mr. Aturu went further to argue that the court has jurisdiction since there have been series of negotiations on issues of salary between the state and the doctors.

“The first and second named claimants have identified themselves as members of the medical guild,” said Mr. Aturu.

“In the unlikely event that this court finds that the medical guild is a non-judistic body and that there have been no course of dealings between the parties to warrant the recognition of the medical guild as a body that can sue before this court.

“This court should hold that the facts disclosed in the statement of facts relates to labour, employment and conditions of service,” he added.

Mr. Aturu, in between cracking up everyone in the room – except the lawyers and representatives of the state government – with jokes, urged the court to dismiss the respondent’s notice of preliminary objection.

Mr. Kanyip faulted the signing of the notice of preliminary objection on behalf of the state Attorney General noting that cases have been struck out in the past based on it.

On the issue of jurisdiction, the presiding judge termed it a “subject matter basis”.

“Now when you go to the issue of strike, it talks about persons, trade unions and associations,” he told Mr. Ipaye.

“My problem with your argument is: are they to challenge jurisdiction or to defend your action? The moment you say we don’t have jurisdiction, which court do you go to?”

Mr. Ipaye countered, suggesting that the Medical Guild should “first go and register” as a trade union, and then come back to court.

“If I were you I would sit back and watch,” the judge told him.

At the end of the hearing, supporters of the two parties continued from where they stopped last week, outside the court premises.

While the doctor” supporters were calling the state governor names, the pro-Fashola crowd were screaming at the doctors to go back to work.

Police officers stood in between the two groups.

The latter group, who identified themselves as Concerned Lagosians Association, also shared hand bills advising the doctors to “drop their arrogance and humbly plead to Lagosians for forgiveness”.

“They went on strike by themselves, they did not talk to government,” said Emmanuel Omorose, who volunteered to speak on behalf of the group.

“There is more way they can do this thing instead of strike, they can choose some body between them, let some groups of people go to talk to them and not everybody going on strike,” said Mr. Omorose, his breath reeking of alcohol.

Mr. Ipaye did not speak to journalists at the end of Tuesday’s sitting.

Mr. Aturu said it is “unpopular” for the state government to deny knowledge of the doctors.

“What is important is that if they say there is no agreement between the parties, then of course I will tell you that my clients are not fools,” said Mr. Aturu.

“We have documents to show there is a course of dealings between the medical guild and the government.

“And by the time these things come out, some of them will even embarrass the government,” Mr. Aturu said.

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