By Glory Abuh-Adejoh/Joan Nwagwu
Abuja, Sept. 21, 2022
The National Industrial Court on Wednesday restrained the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) from continuing the strike it embarked on Feb .14.
Delivering judgment, Justice Polycarp Hamman, held that the court determined the application based on issue two as formulated by the claimants.
“The ASUU by themselves, members, agents, servants or anyone privy to them is hereby restrained from taking further step or taking any action or otherwise any strike action pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit..
“The court in addition finds merit in the application for Interlocutory injunction brought by the claimants,” he held.
Hamman further said that in granting an injunction, certain requirements such as existence of legal rights, balance of convenience, conduct and evidence of damages and loss needed to be met by the applicant seeking reliefs.
He also discountenanced the argument of Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, counsel to ASUU, on the issue that Mr. Okechukwu Wampa was not qualified to depose to the claimant’s affidavit.
Falana had argued in the defendant’s counter-affidavit that Wampa’s deposition was based on hearsay.
The court said that Wampa being a legal officer employed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and deployed to the Ministry of Labour and Employment as a legal adviser could depose in the issue and could offer legal advise in the matter.
He resolved the issue citing section 115 (1) (2) of Evidence Act, 2011 and section 12(2) of NICN Act,2006.
The court while addressing the issue of competency of the referral as raised by Falana, ruled that the issue will be delved into when taking the defendant’s preliminary objection application and during the hearing of the substantive suit
The judge added that the balance of convenience tilted to the claimants based on paragraph 3,5,6 and 7 of their affidavit.
He said the paragraphs which cited the plight of students who ought to have graduated still in school as the result of the strike and the claimants who owns the public universities that are on strike as balance of convenience.
The court also ruled that the intellect of students who have been out of school for several months equated irreparable loss and damages were the facilities that have been dormant for months.
The court also discountenanced the argument of the defendant which submitted that the urgency of the matter was self- induced.
Falana in his submission had prayed the court for an accelerated hearing in the suit instead of granting an interlocutory injunction.
The court however differed that it was not self-induced as parties had been in negotiation all the while until the defendant declared the strike as indefinite on Aug.29.
The court therefore held that the conduct of the claimants were not reprehensible.
The court in conclusion stated that granting an injunction was at the discretion of the court, that the court however found the application meritorious on the strength of section 256 of the Constitution, section 18(1e) of the Trade Disputes Act and section 17 of the NICN proceeding, as shown by the claimants
The court made no order as to cost and added that the case will be sent back to the president of the court to be reassigned as the court ends its vacation by Sept.27.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Minister of Labour and Employment on behalf of the Federal Government had filed the matter before the court by way of referral instrument to resolve the issue of the ongoing strike by ASUU.
Also joined as a claimant in the suit is the Minister of Education.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government says it will continue to negotiate with ASUU in spite of Wednesday’s court ruling restraining the union from continuing with its seven-months-old strike.
The National Industrial Court of Nigeria on Wednesday in Abuja ordered the striking lecturers to return to the classroom following a suit filed by the Federal Government.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, made Federal Government’s position known when he hosted visiting members of the Nigerian Association of Medical and Dental Academics.
“The court ruling does not preclude us from going on with further negotiation and consultations,’’ he said.
ASUU began its strike to demand that the Federal Government revisits some agreements signed between them in 2009 and also to improve on varsity funding and payment of earned allowances.
The lecturers also want the Federal Government to shelve its Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) in paying lecturers’ salaries.
The Federal Government uses the IPPIS platform to pay its employees.
They demanded that rather than its IPPIS, government should adopt the University Transparency and Accountability Solution, the payment platform designed by the universities themselves to pay lecturers.
The minister told his visitors that the Industrial Court’s ruling was in the best interest of Nigeria and its people.
According to him, the ruling is a win-win for government, for students, for lecturers and for all Nigerians.
“It is a no victor, no vanquished.
“You doctors in academics are for now members of ASUU, but you are here; even though you have dissociated yourselves and you are working.
“We want to thank you for working and teaching your students,’’ the minister said.
He noted that pro-chancellors of universities had met with President Muhammadu Buhari and made some demands that included topping up government’s offer and seeing whether there could be some bailout.
Ngige added that the president had assured that he would consult with stakeholders on the request.
The minister also commended the House of Representatives for intervening in the ASUU imbroglio.
Ngige said that he was happy that the Speaker, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila also assured that principal officers of the House would meet with President Buhari over the strike.
He explained that whatever money that would be approved to meet some of the demands would go into the 2023 budget.
“Since the House has showed interest now, it is good and wonderful. When they bring that proposal, the Executive will not have any problem.
“ASUU should also know that this is a step in the right direction. All these things have been promised them by the Minister of Education at their last meeting.
“For me, they should do the needful and go back to the classroom,’’ the minister said.
Ngige said government would soon direct vice-chancellors to reopen the universities in compliance with the order of court.