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Ngige Floors ASUU, SERAP At Industrial Court

The National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) on Tuesday held that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, acted rightly by referring the dispute between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government directly to it, pursuant to Section 17 of the Trade Dispute Act (TDA), CAP T8 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004.

The Court also dismissed the motion by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), seeking to be joined in the suit between the Federal Government and ASUU over the latter’s recent prolonged strike action.

The bone of contention was the payment of salaries during the eight-month strike action by the lecturers ASUU, the defendant had asked the NICN to strike out the suit on the grounds that the jurisdiction of the court has not been properly activated.

Ruling on the matter, the presiding judge, Justice Benedict Kanyip held that the defendants did not show how the Minister’s referral offended Section 17 of the TDA or how he assumed the role of a judge in his own case, adding that the Minister properly referred the matter to the Court and hence, it was valid.

He said, “The claimant’s affidavit is valid and the defendant’s prayer that the referral of the claimant is dismissed, fails, and I so rule.

“As to whether the referral is invalid, the Minister properly referred the matter to this court. The referral is valid.”

Kanyip dismissed the motion for joinder by SERAP for lack of Locus Standi, saying they are meddlers, interlopers and busybodies.

He awarded a cost of N100,000 against the party seeking to be joined, payable by their counsel, to the claimants, within 30 days and warned that failure to pay the fine would amount to 10 per cent interest per annum pending when it will be paid.

Recall that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige had requested an interlocutory injunction restraining ASUU from the strike in August last year, pending the determination of the substantive suit seeking the interpretation of the Trade Dispute Act (TDA) CAP T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004, as it relates to industrial actions.

Ngige had taken the action, following the failure of dialogue between the union and the Federal Government for the eight months ASUU was on strike to protest the alleged non-implementation of its agreement with the Federal Government. The court had ordered ASUU to suspend the strike and resume work, pending the determination of the suit.

At the hearing of ASUU’s preliminary objection on Tuesday in Abuja, Femi Falana, the defence counsel, informed the court that his response could not be filed on Monday at the court’s registry due to an issue with the internet. He, therefore, sought the leave of court for a short adjournment.

In his response, Benedict Kanyip, the presiding judge, granted Falana’s request and stepped down the matter until 1 pm to enable him properly file his process and serve the claimants’ counsel.

However, when the court resumed, Falana applied for his motion dated and filed September 19, 2022, wherein he sought for the leave of court for an extension, and for his reply on point of law which was filed on Tuesday to be deemed as properly filed. He also told the court that his preliminary objection was premised on the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter.

Citing order 3, rule 6 of the TDA, Falana argued that Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Employment, did not follow due process before issuing the referral to the court.

Falana added that reconciliation steps were not duly followed and that the minister could only approach the court if parties of a trade union could not resolve their differences.

Reacting, James Igwe, counsel to the Federal Government, contended that Falana’s reply which he received five minutes before the court’s proceeding was on the reply of facts and not on law.

He also argued that all the authorities cited by the defence counsel did not have any relevance to his application, and added that the national industrial court has the jurisdiction to entertain the matter.

He also said the minister did not act out of the ordinary as order 3 rule 6 of the TDA conferred on him the power to refer the matter to NICN, and called on the court to strike out the defence counsel’s objection.

In his ruling, Kanyip adjourned the matter till March 28 for the ruling.

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