ABUJA–The National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting in Abuja, on Friday, declined to hear an application the federal government filed for an order to direct the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to immediately suspend their ongoing strike action.
The court, in a ruling by Justice Polycarp Hamman, refused to hear the application, after it heard from counsel to the striking varsity lecturers, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN.
FG’s lawyer, Mr. James Igwe had at the resumed proceedings in the matter on Friday, attempted to persuade the court to hear the claimants’ interlocutory application for an injunction against ASUU.
He told the court that the matter was not only urgent, but of a great national interest as millions of students have been at home since February 14.
“Section 47 of the Trade Dispute Act gives your lordship the power to direct that no worker should continue to embark on strike pending when the applications are heard and determined”, he argued.
He urged the court to order the ASUU to in the interim, return to the classroom, pending the determination of the suit.
However, counsel for ASUU, Mr. Falana, SAN, opposed the application on the premise that the case was originally slated for further mention.
He contended that since the case was for mention, FG’s application could not be heard for such injunctive order to be issued.
Besides, Falana, SAN, told the court that his clients are in the process of meeting with relevant stakeholders, including members of the House of Representatives on September 20, to find a way to settle the thorny issues.
“We are going out of our way to ensure that this matter is resolved and we appeal to the claimant to corporate with us,” Falana added.
In his ruling, Justice Hamman, agreed with ASUU that FG’s application could not be taken at this stage of the proceedings.
“The matter is for further mention which means hearing cannot take place,” the judge ruled.
He, however noted that the application for an interlocutory injunction, which was accompanied with an affidavit of urgency, would be heard first at the next sitting.
On his part, counsel for the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, drew the attention of the court to an application his client filed to be joined as an interested party in the matter.
Adegboruwa, SAN, further noted that his client also applied for the suit and a similar one it filed to compel FG to honour the agreement it entered into with the striking varsity lecturers, since 2009, to be consolidated in the interest of justice.
He disclosed that one of the reliefs SERAP is seeking from the court, is an order for a stay of further proceedings to enable the court to determine whether or not they should be made a party in the suit.
After he had listened to the parties, Justice Hamman adjourned the matter till Monday for hearing.
Though Mr Debo Ikuesan, who appeared for the NANS President, Umar Lawal, applied for a date for definite hearing of the suit, Justice Hamman however directed him to file process before next Tuesday on whether the NIC has the jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
It will be recalled that ASUU had on February 14, embarked on an initial four weeks strike.
It subsequently extended the strike action indefinitely, on August 29, following the breakdown of negotiations between the aggrieved varsity lecturers and FG.
But the Nigerian government said it wants the court to adjudicate on the propriety or otherwise of the strike.
While ASUU accused FG of not being sincere in its negotiation, the government, through the Ministry of Labour and Employment, approached the court to compel the striking lecturers to return to the classroom.
Specifically, it urged the court to, “interpret in its entirety the provisions of Section 18 LFN 2004, especially as it applies to the cessation of strike once a trade dispute is apprehended by the Minister of Labour and Employment and conciliation is ongoing”.
As well as requested for, “an order of the Court for ASUU members to resume work in their various universities while the issues in dispute are being addressed by the NICN in consonance with the provisions of Section 18 (I) (b) of the TDA Cap T8. LFN 2004”.
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