FG vs. ASUU: Court to deliver judgment May 30

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The National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) has postponed judgement on the substantive action filed by the Federal Government (FG), which challenges the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)’s eight-month strike, for May 30.

Hon. Justice Benedict Kanyip, the presiding judge, declared the date for judgement on Thursday, after the parties in the case adopted their written addresses in the referral NICN/ABJ/270/2022, as previously directed by the court.

Remember that at the previous hearing on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, Kanyip, the President of NICN, granted the defendants (ASUU) seven days to file a reply on point of law to the Federal Government’s (claimants’) substantive motion.

The application, alongside affidavit in support, was served on ASUU and their lawyers since September last year, but they did not enter any defence, despite the seven days the court granted them last week to do so.

When the matter came up on Thursday, the lead counsel to ASUU, Femi Falana SAN informed the court that they filed an appeal before the Court of Appeal, challenging its ruling on March 18, which validated the referral made by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment.

Falana said since they appealed the ruling, the court should stay action on the matter, pending the determination of the appeal.

Responding, Justice Kanyip told Falana that by Rule 47 of NICN procedure, an appeal does not translate to stay of execution.

According to him, it is better to give a bad judgment than to give a good judgment in delayed time in labour matters.

Kanyip accused Falana of trying to stall the case, knowing full well that the court ordered at the last hearing that all the parties would adopt written addresses at the next adjourned date (May 11).

On his own part, counsel to the Federal Government, Sen. Ita Enang, urged the court to disregard the notice of appeal by ASUU, since the record of the court stated that the parties were coming to adopt their written addresses.

Enang said since the suit is not being challenged, the court should enter judgment in favour of the Federal Government.

In his ruling, Justice Kanyip rejected the request by Falana for stay of proceedings and ordered that the matter should proceed.

Kanyip however noted that a case before the Court of Appeal is not for the court (NICN) to decide.

Making his final submission, Falana told the court to rely on its own records, the six issues raised for determination particularly issues five and six, pertaining to the legality of the ASUU strike, as well as exhibits and evidence in the determination of the matter.

He urged the court to look at the reliefs sought by the claimants, mainly of which, the court has granted. He told the court not to sit as an appellate court over its own decision.

After hearing the submissions of counsels in the matter, Justice Kanyip reserved judgment for May 30.

The orders sought by the Federal Government include that the eight-month ASUU strike did not follow the law, in which case, making it an illegal strike. The government is also asking the court to declare that ASUU having embarked on strike at that time, were not entitled to any payment as provided by the law in Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act, TDA, 2004 “No Work, No Pay” policy and ILO principles on the right to strike.

In a related development, Justice Kanyip has referred the suit brought by ASUU against the Federal Government to the Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre.

Joined as first and second defendants in the matter are the Minister of Labour and Employment, and the Registrar of Trade Unions. ASUU wants the court to compel the defendants to accept their annual audited accounts, which they earlier turned down and to restrain them from deregistering the union.

The judge referred the matter suo moto, sequel to an application by ASUU, asking for the transfer of the matter to the ADR Centre of the Court.

The Federal Government vehemently opposed the application, insisting on the ligitation of the matter.

Before referring the matter to the ADR Centre, Kanyip struck out a preliminary objection and counter affidavit brought by the Government against ASUU’s application.

Falana had drawn the attention of the court to the objection and counter affidavit of the government against the application his clients made, asking for ADR.

Justice Kanyip saw the move by the Federal Government as an attempt to stall the case, prompting Enang to withdraw the objection, although he made it clear that the Government did not consent to the ADR.

Consequently, Justice Kanyip struck out the objection and adjourned the matter to June 21 for the parties to report back for settlement or further hearing, depending on the outcome of the 21 days ADR.

Another application by ASUU against the registration of two new academic unions in the university system was also adjourned to June 21 for hearing.