The Lagos State government received its first setback, Thursday, in the on-going suit against the dismissed medical doctors after a court ruled that it has jurisdiction to entertain the case between both parties.
The National Industrial Court also ruled that although the Medical Guild is not a registered trade union, the doctors who sued on its behalf are “human beings and are capable of suing”.
Benedict Kanyip, the presiding judge, fixed June 19 for an “accelerated” trial between both parties.
Ade Ipaye, the Lagos State Attorney-General, had on Monday filed a preliminary objection asking the court to strike out the case because it lacked jurisdiction.
Mr. Ipaye also stated that “the Medical Guild is an illegal entity” and therefore has no legal capacity to sue.
On Thursday, both Mr. Ipaye and Bamidele Aturu, counsel for the two parties were absent in court; their assistants stood in for them.
In his ruling, Justice Kanyip, the presiding judge, took his time to read out large measures of the constitution which grants the court jurisdiction to hear the suit.
Justice Kanyip acknowledged that the Medical Guild is not a registered trade union, but that it had been doing business with the Lagos State government.
“This court has always permitted non-jurisdistic bodies but only in the context of state branches of national associations,” said Justice Kanyip.
“It is late in the day for the respondent (Lagos state) to call to question the status of the claimant (doctors) when it had already signed an agreement with it in 2009,” he added.
On whether individuals can sue on behalf of a non-registered body, Justice Kanyip held that the action of Olumuyiwa Odusote and Idris Durojaiye, chairman and secretary of the Medical Guild respectively, was “sustainable”.
“Take away the Medical Guild, what you have is two individuals who are human beings.
Whether they will succeed remains the question.
“I will recognize the claimants as capable of suing,” said Justice Kanyip.
There was a rapturous applause in the court at the end of the ruling but the judge was quick to admonish the act describing it as “unethical”.
Outside the court room, members of civil society groups chanted solidarity and victory songs and, for the first time since the hearing began, there was no opposition. Supporters of the Lagos state government were visibly absent.
“It is a victory for the rule of law and for all Nigerians,” said a jubilant Mr. Odusote.
“We are willing to continue in this case for as long as it takes us to get justice,” he added.
On the possibilities of an out-of-court settlement, the doctor stated that negotiations are “still on-going”.
“If we have an agreement before June 19th, we are going to bring the agreement to court for endorsement,” said Dr. Odusote.
“Last time when we had an agreement, we didn’t bring it to court so it was easy for the government to renege on it.
Edamisan Temiye, the chairman of the Lagos chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association, said that the doctors would remain “sacked” until the court decides their fate.
“We are willing to wait it out,” said Dr. Temiye. “June 19, beyond June 19, we are ready.”