*Claim federal government suppressed material facts, misled judge
Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have asked the National Industrial Court, Abuja, to set aside its interim order that stopped the two bodies from embarking on their planned industrial action on June 7, against the removal of fuel subsidy by the Tinubu administration.
Last Monday, the Industrial Court asked the unions to halt the planned strike pending the hearing and determination of the ex parte motion filed by the federal government against the strike.
The presiding judge, Olufunke Anuwe, said the federal government was able to show that the planned strike was capable of disrupting activities in the health and education sectors.
But the NLC and TUC in a Motion on Notice dated June 7, filed June 8, by their lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, are claiming that the suit by the federal government and the reliefs sought offend the lucid provisions of Section 254C (1) (f) of the 1999 Constitution and section 7(6) of the National Industrial Court Act 2006, and thus, the ex-parte order should be set aside.
The defendants claimed that they and their members have a right to go on strike under the Trade Unions Act, the Trade Disputes Act, the ILO Convention and under several international treaties that the 1st Claimant/Applicant is a signatory to.
“By virtue of Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, Nigerian workers have the fundamental right to protest against policies of the government considered inimical to their interests. The plaintiffs suit is lacking in bona fide, as it was filed to harass, irritate and embarrass the Defendants/Applicants, which constitutes an abuse of judicial process,” said NLC and the TUC.
While stating that the federal government suppressed material facts before the court and thereby misled the court in granting the exparte reliefs sought and obtained, the respondents argued: “In the circumstances and under established judicial authorities, as well as extant rules of the court, the claimants suit as presently constituted against the defendant is liable to be dismissed or struck out for want of jurisdiction and the ex parte order set aside.”
In a 16-paragraph affidavit in support of the Motion on Notice marked: NICN/ABJ/158/2023, the defendants recalled that when former President Goodluck Jonathan abruptly removed subsidy on January 1, 2012, Tinubu and other leaders of his party, including former President Muhammadu Buhari led the occupy Nigeria protest until the policy was reversed.
“That the protesters of 2012 had insisted that the government must build/revamp refineries, tackle corruption and cut costs before removing the subsidy of PMS.
“That in September, 2020, an industrial dispute arose over the decision of the 1st Claimant/Applicant to deregulate the downstream oil sector of the petroleum industry inter alia.
“That Bi-Partite meeting to address and resolve the issues between the FGN and the 1st and 2nd Defendant/Applicant herein were held on September 15, 24 and 27, 2020.
“That in a bid to resolve the trade dispute inter partes, the parties to the dispute then (and the current trade dispute) signed a joint communiqué/agreement on Sunday 27th September, 2020.
“That further to paragraph 9 above, it was agreed that the NNPC shall expedite the rehabilitation of the nation’s four refineries located in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna and to achieve 50% completion for Port Harcourt by December 2021, while timelines and delivery for Warri and Kaduna will be established by the inclusive steering Committee.”
Deponent of the affidavit, Comrade Emmanuel Ugboaja, disclosed that to ensure commitment and transparency to the processes and timelines of the rehabilitation exercise, the management of NNPC had offered to integrate the national leadership of NUPENG and PENGASSAN into the Steering Committee already established by the Corporation.
“That to our utmost chagrin, the Technical Committee, which I was a member of, never took off and the government frustrated all the initiatives to give life to the agreement.
“That we were thus taken aback when the claimants without honouring the agreements in EXHIBIT SA1 decided to scrap subsidy without honouring previous agreements, which stipulated conditions precedent to such policy implementation of removing subsidy.
“That as a legal practitioner and trade unionist of over three decades, I know as a fact that this Honourable Court is an appellate body over trade disputes and such disputes must first go through the process of part 1 of the TDA.
“That further to 12 above, I know as a fact that the claimants are bound to first refer the instant dispute trade to the Industrial Arbitration Tribunal before approaching this Court,” they submitted.