Chris Steven, Abuja
The Federal Government may have succeeded in averting the impending strike being planned by the Organised Labour over the deregulation of the oil and gas sector as the National Industrial Court (NIC) sitting in Abuja on Tuesday stopped the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) from embarking on a strike action scheduled for Wednesday.
The labour unions had in a communiqué they issued at the end of an emergency meeting the held last Saturday, vowed to embark on a nationwide industrial action should the federal government refuse to reverse the sudden hike in the price of fuel.
However, in a ruling on Tuesday, the NIC President, Justice Babatunde Adejumo, restrained the labour unions from going on strike, pending the determination of a suit the federal government lodged before it.
Justice Adejumo further ordered all the parties to maintain status quo until the legal dispute is settled.
The order followed an ex-parte application that was filed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN.
Determined to abort the planned strike action, the AGF approached the NIC, begging it to restrain the labour unions from “shutting down the nation”.
Placing reliance on section 14 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, FG, insisted that it would not be “in the national interest” for the NLC and TUC to proceed on nationwide strike over the fuel price increase. Malami, SAN, argued that ?no amount of damages could serve as compensation if the labour unions are allowed to shut down the economy.
Contending that the balance of convenience was in favour of the government, the AGF, prayed the court to determine “Whether the respondents (NLC, Trade Union Congress) have complied with the laid down condition precedent for embarking on strike?”. As well as, “Whether indeed there exist in law and in fact the basis of which the respondents’ total closure of the economy can be justified”.
He told the court that the respondents met on Saturday and issued a communiqué wherein it gave government a three-day ultimatum to reverse the decision increasing fuel price.
He said the respondents, aside threatening to shut down the country if government failed to reverse the fuel price increase, equally threatened to close down all government offices, seaport, airports and markets.
The AGF argued that ordinary and law abiding citizens would be subjected to hardship if the respondents were allowed to go ahead with their threat.
He said the government was left with no alternative but to seek the intervention of the court.
Besides, Malami told the court that he got notice of the communiqué on Sunday and quickly filed an originating summons, a motion on notice and an ex-parte application to determine whether NLC’s decision was justified in the circumstance.
He insisted that “great and irreparable damage” would be done against the nation and “ordinary and law abiding citizens”, should the court refuse the ex-parte application.
Meanwhile, though neither NLC nor TUC was represented in court, Justice Adejumo granted the ex-parte motion, even as he ordered the service of all the relevant court processes on the respondents.
The restraining order against the respondents will elapse after seven days.
This came as Federal Government team negotiating with leaders of the Labour Unions was expected to resume talks after an inconclusive meeting from Monday evening to Tuesday morning at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Chris Steven, Abuja