The National Industrial Court of Nigeria in Abuja has fixed Monday for the hearing of a suit filed by the Nigerian government against the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the union’s ongoing strike. The judge, H.I Hamman, adjourned the suit on Friday after hearing both parties’ comments. The judge had earlier on Monday ordered the federal government and ASUU to file and exchange their written submissions and fixed today, Friday, for a further mention of the case.
However, at Friday’s proceedings, the Nigerian government’s lawyer, James Igwe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), appealed to the court to immediately go on with the hearing of the suit as it is a “matter of national interest.”
He had filed an interlocutory application seeking an order to restrain ASUU from continuing with its ongoing strike “pending the hearing and determination of substantive suit.”
But the counsel for ASUU, Femi Falana, another SAN, objected to the court hearing on the grounds that the suit was only scheduled for today, Friday, for mention and not hearing. The judge, therefore, adjourned the hearing for the interlocutory injunction until Monday, 19 September.
Earlier, the lawyer to the Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Ebun-olu Adegboruwa, also a SAN, urged the judge to hear his client’s application to be joined as a second defendant in the case filed against ASUU by the Nigerian government. Mr Adegboruwa, therefore, asked the court to strike out its earlier suit on the same issue of strike and allow it to be joined in the federal government’s suit.
The ASUU’s referenced suit filed on 12 September sought to compel the federal government to honour its agreements with the union. The government’s counsel, Mr Igwe, objected to the application for the hearing of the ASUU’s application to be joined as a party in the newer suit, saying he was only served with the application around 5 p.m. on Thursday. The judge, H.I Hamman, granted the application to strike out the earlier suit and adjourned SERAP’s application to be joined with ASUU as a defendant in the federal government’s suit to next Friday.
When its efforts to get ASUU to return to class failed, the Nigerian government through the Ministry of Labour and employment referred the dispute to the NICN. ASUU embarked on an initial four weeks strike on 14 February, demanding the government to honour the agreements it had entered with the union. After several meetings without resolution, ASUU continued to extend its strike by a certain period until 29 August when it extended the strike indefinitely. In its referral, the government wants the court to determine the legality or otherwise of the strike. It also wants the court to determine whether ASUU members are entitled to emoluments for the period they have been on strike.
“It asked 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,” a statement from the Ministry of Labour said on Sunday.
The Nigerian government added that it wants the court to adjudicate on the propriety or otherwise of the strike.
“It asked 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.”
The government also “requested 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.”