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Falana, Oyebode, Odinkalu Caution FG against Plot to Proscribe ASUU

Falana, Oyebode, Odinkalu Caution FG against Plot to Proscribe ASUU

Gboyega Akinsanmi

A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana; a Professor of International Law, Prof. Akin Oyebode and a Professor of Practice in International Human Rights Law, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu yesterday warned the federal government against its plot to proscribe the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as being speculated.

But the legal experts also warned that such a decision would earn Nigeria the status of a pariah in the international community if the federal government “eventually makes good its plot to proscribe a trade union validly operating within the ambit of national and international laws.”

They issued the warning in separate conversations with THISDAY yesterday, emphasising that the federal government lacked the power to proscribe ASUU and other trade unions under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

Speculations were rife that the federal government might be plotting to wield the big stick against ASUU for failing to call off a protracted strike after it offered the union N50 billion and N100 billion in two tranches.

In a statement he released to THISDAY yesterday, Falana observed that ASUU’s right to organise is guaranteed under Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.

He also cited the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention No 87 of the International Labour Organisation Convention, which refrained the federal government from banning or suspending trade unions.

He said the Government of Nigeria “has ratified the ILO Convention. It is pertinent to note that parties to the Convention are obligated to ensure the right of both employers and employees to join an organisation of their choice and free from any influence of authorities which belong to the core principles of the ILO.”

Under the 1999 Constitution, Falana said: “To ban ASUU, the federal government will have to amend the fundamental right of citizens to freedom of association enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution.

“It is a special amendment, which requires the resolution of four-fifths of members of the National Assembly and approved by a two-thirds majority of members of not less than 24 Houses of Assembly. 

“In addition, the federal government will withdraw its ratification of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention No 87of the International Labour Organisation.

“The anti-democratic forces urging the Buhari administration to ban ASUU should be made to realise that a democratic government lacks the competence to abrogate the fundamental rights of citizens outside the ambit of the 1999 Constitution. 

“Those who are berating ASUU for alleged recalcitrance should advise the federal government to accord priorities to the funding of tertiary education,” the senior lawyer said.

Lamenting the federal government’s approach to managing its dispute with ASUU, Oyebode said it was unfortunate that Nigeria is under an irresponsible, reckless and incompetent government.

He said: “I was the Legal Adviser to ASUU Negotiation Team in 1991 when Prof. Attahiru Jega was chairing the union. The military did not even think of proscribing the union. The right to strike is a fundamental human right, which is sacrosanct.

“No society that wants to be seen to be democratic will abandon that particular right. It is like you do not like the message, but you want to kill the messenger.

“In international law, ILO Conventions 87 and 98 recognise the right to recognise and collective bargaining. Nigeria is ruled by incompetent leaders that it does not want to acknowledge that agreements are sacrosanct.

“A country that does not care about the sanctity of agreements will treat its trade union. This is a sad day for Nigeria that we can be poorly governed. We have almost gone back to the status of pariah,” the professor of international law said.

Like Oyebode, Odinkalu observed that the federal government lacked the power to proscribe ASUU, though said the only option before the government “is to approach the National Industrial Court to get an order against the ASUU strike.”

He said: “Is it possible for the federal government to proscribe ASUU? I do not see it happen. The only way to possibly do that is to declare ASUU a terrorist organisation. At that point, the federal government will be acting as a terrorist organisation.

“Whether you agree with what ASUU is doing or how they are doing it, there is no way ASUU can be lawfully proscribed under the national and international laws.

“If the federal government wants to seek an order against the ASUU strike, it has to go to the National Industrial Court and establish its case against the union. The idea of proscribing ASUU is rather far-fetched as a legal proposition.”

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