The National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting in Abuja, yesterday, adjourned the suit the Federal Government filed to challenge the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, till September 16.
The court, presided over by Justice P. I. Hamman, okayed the suit for further mention, even as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, applied to be joined as an interested party in the matter.
SERAP, through its lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, told the court that it recently instituted a similar suit with a view to compelling the Federal Government to honour the agreement it entered into with the striking varsity lecturers since 2009.
Adegboruwa said: “My lord, we filed a similar suit on September 8, asking this court to compel the Federal Government to honour an agreement it willingly entered into with ASUU. That matter is still pending.”
He said the decision of the organisation to file a joinder application to be made a party in the counter suit by Federal Government was to forestall the duplicity of outcomes concerning the industrial dispute.
Consequently, Adegboruwa urged the court to consolidate the two suits, stressing that they were of the same subject matter.
However, Federal Government’s lawyer, Mr. Tijjani Gazali, SAN, opposed SERAP’s application for the two suits to be consolidated.
Gazali further contended that the joinder application by SERAP was premature since the Federal Government’s suit was only slated for mention.
On his part, counsel for ASUU, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, said he was not opposed to the application by SERAP.
In a bench ruling, Justice Hamman upheld Federal Government’s argument that SERAP’s joinder application was premature as the substantive suit was not yet ripe for hearing.
The court, however, ordered all the parties to ensure that they filed and exchanged all the necessary processes before the next adjourned date.
Speaking to newsmen shortly after the proceedings ended, ASUU, through its lawyer, Falana, accused Federal Government of adopting dilatory tactics to unnecessarily prolong the strike.
Flanked by the ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke, and other officials of the union, Falana noted that Federal Government employed the same strategy during the prolonged dispute it had with resident doctors.
He said: “The point is that they (government) are yet to put their house in order. The government has not been able to make a case for the intervention of the court, hence the basis of adjournment.
“This is not the first time the government has adopted this rather dilatory tactics that have a way of prolonging strike.
“We were here last year when you had the resident doctors’ strike. It was the same approach. They (government) said the resident doctors won’t be paid, but at the end of the day, government had to pay them, and that is what happens all the time, ”Falana added.
It will be recalled that ASUU had on February 14, embarked on an initial four weeks strike.
It subsequently extended the strike indefinitely on August 29, following the breakdown of negotiations between the aggrieved varsity lecturers and FG.
But the Nigerian government said it wanted the court to adjudicate on the propriety or otherwise of the strike.
While ASUU accused FG of not being sincere in its negotiation, the government, through the Ministry of Labour and Employment, approached the court to compel the striking lecturers to return to the classroom.
Specifically, it urged the court to “interpret in its entirety the provisions of Section 18 LFN 2004, especially as it applies to the cessation of strike once a trade dispute is apprehended by the Minister of Labour and Employment and conciliation is ongoing.”
It also requested for “an order of the court for ASUU members to resume work in their various universities, while the issues in dispute are being addressed by the NICN in consonance with the provisions of Section 18 (I) (b) of the TDA Cap T8. LFN 2004.’’