Justice Rabi Gwandu of the Lagos Division of the National Industrial Court has expressed dissatisfaction over the flouting of his order which restrained the Trade Union Congress (TUC) from holding its 12th Triennial delegates’ conference pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit against it.
Justice Gwandu particularly frowned at the lawyers and parties that were involved, while warning that disobedience to court’s order erodes confidence in the system and failure to check it will breed anarchy.
It would be recalled that the court had at the last sitting restrained the TUC from holding its 12th triennial delegates’ conference or taking any further steps to hold it. The union however proceeded with the conference on July 19 and 20, 2022, in utter disregard for the court’s order.
The judge handed down the retraining order while delivering ruling in a suit filed by the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI) and nine other Associations against the TUC.
TUC, however, claimed that the decision to hold the conference was hinged on another order of the court issued by Justice O. A Obaseki Osaghae of the Abuja Division of the NIC. At the last hearing of the matter, claimants’ lawyer, Timothy Adewale, drew the court’s attention to the flouting of its order, saying he has filed an application for contempt against the defendants.
According to him, the order of the court, stopping the defendants from holding the conference or doing anything whatsoever on the subject of the case until the determination of the substantive suit, was clear and unambiguous. The lawyer also argued that he was shocked that despite the court’s order, the defendants went ahead to hold the conference in violation of the order.
He urged the court to hear the contempt application, adding that unless the defendants obeyed the court order, they will be guilty of contempt of court.
Responding, TUC’s lawyer, Ambassador Sola Iji, told the court that his client’s decision to proceed with the 12th Triennial National Delegates Conference was based on an order by the National Industrial Court, Abuja. Iji stated that the court directed that the conference should be held in line with the provision of the existing Constitution.
Afterwards, Justice Gwandu adjourned the suit to August 24 for ruling on the applications filed by parties seeking to be joined as parties in the suit.
The claimants, in their originating summons, had prayed the court to declare that by the agreements and resolutions reached and ratified at the 11th triennial delegates’ conference of the defendant held on June 28, 2019, at NAF Centre, Abuja, the 1st claimant (ASSBIFI) should produce the next president of the TUC for the year 2022 to 2025.
The claimants also asked for an order, mandating and compelling the defendant to immediately enable the 1st claimant to produce and assume the office of the president of the defendant, in line with the agreement and resolutions reached and ratified at the 11th triennial delegates’ conference in Abuja.
The application was supported by a 27-paragraph affidavit deposed to by the General Secretary of the Pulp Paper and Paper Products Printing and Publishing Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PPAPPPAPSSAN), Benedict Ikegbulam.
He swore that sometimes in 2019, due to the leadership imbroglio and the intricate nature of the situation around the presidency of the TUC, members of the defendant, during its triennial delegates’ conference, constituted an electoral committee chaired by Comrade Augustine Etafo of Construction and Engineering Senior Staff Association of Nigeria and also a deputy president of the Congress to work out modalities for elections into TUC, as a way of resolving the imbroglio and saving the defendant from collapse.
He averred: “That the electoral committee after the national officers’ position were harmonised with the approval of the National Executive Council of the defendant recommended to the defendant the following order of presidency of the defendant to prevent rancour or internal crisis.
“That Food, Beverages, and Tobacco Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (FOBTOB) will take the position of TUC president from 2019 to 2022. That ASSBIFI takes the position of TUC president from 2022 to 2025, and after the tenure of ASSBIFI, the position of the president shall be open to all members to contest, and that these recommendations were approved and ratified.
“The claimants were, however, surprised that the defendant, in preparations for the 12th triennial delegates’ conference, published a special notice, dated February 8, 2022, for positions to be contested (2022 to 2025) at the conference to include the office of the president of the TUC without any regard to the aforementioned motions adopted, ratified and already being implemented.”