Ahead of the planned strike action and protest by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress from Monday over the recent hike in electricity tariff and fuel price, the Nigeria Police Force has said it will enforce the law on the matter.
Despite two court injunctions restraining the unions and their affiliates from proceeding with the strike, the labour unions on Friday said that they would go ahead with the strike and protest from Monday as they had yet to be served the court orders. The labour unions had said they would only shelve the planned strike if the Federal Government reversed the recent hikes.
The National Industrial Court in Abuja had on Thursday granted an order of interim injunction restraining the unions from disrupting, restraining, picketing or preventing the workers or ordinary Nigerians from accessing their offices to carry out their legitimate duties on September 28, 2020, or any other date.
Justice Ibrahim Galadima, who also issued an interim order restraining the labour unions from embarking on the strike action, gave the ruling following an ex parte application filed by a group, Peace and Unity Ambassadors Association, through their counsel, Sunusi Musa.
The court also granted an order compelling the Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General, Department of State Services, to provide protection for workers engaged in their legitimate duties from any form of harassment, intimidation and bullying by the officers, agents or privies of the unions pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
Meanwhile, barely 24 hours after the ruling, the judge on Friday issued another order restraining the unions from going ahead with the strike, following an ex parte application by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
The Federal Government of Nigeria and the AGF are the plaintiffs in the second suit marked NICN/ABJ/257/2020. The ex parte application was signed by the AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
In their reaction on Saturday, however, the police said they would be guided by the position of the law on the matter.
Force spokesperson, DCP Frank Mba, in his response to questions from on Saturday, simply said, “What does the law say in this circumstance? We would enforce the law. That is the only thing I can say.”
The meeting between the labour unions and the Federal Government had been adjourned till Monday following the failure of the two parties to reach a compromise on the matter.
Meanwhile, lawyers have said the police lacked the power to stop the union members from staging their planned protest.
The police had on several occasions disrupted protests and in some instances arrested some of the protesters.
Among several examples, armed policemen from the Lagos State Police Command on September 9 arrested several protesters and journalists during a protest against the hike in electricity tariff and fuel price. They also dispersed protesters at Ojuelegba area of the state.
But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Chino Obiagwu, said on Saturday that the police had no power to stop the labour unions’ planned protests or strike.
He added that the police could not confer on themselves the duty to enforce the court order restraining the labour unions from going ahead with the strike when the procedure for such had been stipulated in law.
He said, “The court order, according to media report, is about NLC going on strike, it has nothing to do with protest. The court did not say citizens should not go out to protest, it said the labour should not go on strike. So, it is a trade dispute. It is not a criminal matter. The police have no business in trade disputes. It is for the Nigerian government to go to court to obtain an order against whoever they believe has disobeyed the court order.”
The senior advocate explained that the only way to enforce court judgment “is to approach the court for the issuance of Form 48 and Form 49 and proceed judicially”.
He added, “The court will then make an order that the person who is in contempt of court be arrested; that is when the police will step in. It is not for the police to on their own say they want to enforce the order. Where has that happened?
“The Sheriff and Civil Processes Act provides for how court orders are enforced. In the case of All Nigerian People’s Party vs Inspector-General of Police, the Court of Appeal has said you don’t need a police permit to protest because the right to freedom of assembly and association is inherent. The ANPP was one of the parties that merged to form the All Progressives Congress coalition; they were the one that went to court.”
Another lawyer and activist, Inibehe Effiong, also argued that the police lacked the power to stop the labour from protesting as no court could have issued any order to stop any Nigerian from protesting.
Effiong said, “I do not think any court in Nigeria can give an injunction against people from protesting. That will be an affront to the constitution. If by Monday the police or the State Security Services say they are acting in furtherance to the order of the court to stop members of the labour movement from coming out to get their members to protest the hike in pump price and electricity tariff, it will be a flagrant attack on the constitution.
“There is no institution in Nigeria that can stop Nigerians from exercising their rights that have been granted them by the constitution.”
The lawyer also contended that the labour unions were justified to go ahead with the strike if they had not been served with the court order stopping the industrial action.
He, however, advised that if the labour leaders had been served with the court order, they should first take steps to have the order vacated.
Effiong, who expressed reservations about the court orders stopping the strike, noted that such orders had not always been effective in stopping similar industrial actions in the past. He advised that “the judiciary should be sensitive to these issues, so that it does not put itself in a position where it would become a subject of public ridicule”.
Also, human rights activist and lawyer, Mr Jiti Ogunye, said inasmuch as court orders were bound to be obeyed, he wondered how the police would force workers who stay away from work to go to work.
Ogunye said, “As a lawyer, I have always questioned the appropriateness of dashing to court to obtain an ex parte order of interim injunction and use it as a tool of mischief or a tool to truncate a noble and just process.
“Our courts are courts of law; their decisions must be respected; their orders must be obeyed. However, our courts cannot behave like an ostrich and court disobedience of their own orders by granting orders like this in an obviously political situation like this.
“Workers are saying they want to go on strike and they are restraining them and those orders are expected to be obeyed. I am not saying as a lawyer that those orders should not be obeyed, but it will be interesting to see how the police will enforce the order. Will they go into the houses of people who do not want to go to work and compel them to go to work?”
The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, on Saturday met with the leadership of the NLC and TUC in Abuja as part of moves to avert the nationwide industrial action.
Fayemi was also quoted as saying he would meet with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on the issue.
These were contained in a statement titled, ‘Final Communiqué,’ issued by the Head, Media and Public Affairs of the NGF, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo.
The statement read, “The Nigeria Governors’ Forum and the Nigeria Labour Congress are on the path to resolving the impasse occasioned by the threat by workers to embark on industrial action if the Federal Government does not rescind the recent decisions to increase the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit and electricity tariff in the country.
“The NGF chairman said no one who was conversant with the prevailing situation in the country would disagree with labour and its demands, as it were, but he pleaded that governors be given time to consult more broadly with the various stakeholders, including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, the Vice-President and the President. This he said would be top priority for the NGF and promised to head straight to the presidency once the meeting was over.”
Bello-Barkindo explained that Fayemi spoke for the NGF while the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, who was accompanied by the TUC President, Quadri Olaleye, and the NLC General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboajah, spoke on behalf of organised labour. The Director General of the NGF, Mr Asishana Okauru, was also at the meeting.
Fayemi explained that governors decided to wade into the ongoing negotiations with a view to broadening consultations and assisting to bring the impasse to an end, thus averting the impending strike action.
He pleaded with the NLC that the timing of the action could aggravate an already worsening situation if not averted, adding the issues were not irreconcilable.
The NGF chairman emphasised that the plight of workers in the country was already unbearable and that any action embarked upon by the union at this time would worsen their situation as was highlighted in the communiqué issued by governors after their first emergency meeting on Thursday.
The NLC President was quoted as saying the Federal Government violated the time-tested global process of dialogue as he thanked the NGF chairman for his efforts, saying, “When the cost of PMS rises, the cost of everything in the country rises with it. I praise you for showing a good grasp of this matter and I believe that if they had widened the mechanism for consultation and involved people like you, we wouldn’t have come to this path.
The NGF chairman said, “Our President who is always on the side of workers will not be averse to the issues being raised and I’m hopeful for an amicable settlement on the issues highlighted.”
The Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, is also set to wade into the planned strike by the labour unions.
According to a notice sent to journalists on Saturday night, the Speaker would meet with leaders of the major labour unions on Sunday (today).
You must be at work from Monday, FG tells workers
The Federal Government has warned all federal civil servants on Salary Grade Level 12 and above as well as those on essential services to be at work from Monday despite the industrial action declared by labour unions.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only civil servants on SGL 12 and above as well as those on essential services are working while others are advised to work from home.
The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Folasade Yemi-Esan, in a circular dated September 25, 2020 asked those civil servants still working to shun the industrial action. The circular which was addressed to all ministers, permanent secretaries as well as heads of government’s agencies and parastatals was titled, ‘The Nigerian labour unions planned industrial action.’
It read, “Sequel to the call by the labour unions for workers to embark on industrial action from Monday, September 28, 2020, the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation wishes to inform all public servants that the Federal Government team is currently engaging with the labour unions with a view to resolving all contentious issues and avert the planned industrial action.
“Furthermore, it is important to note that there is a court injunction granted by the National Industrial Court (Suit No. NICN/ABJ/253/2020) on September 24, 2020 restraining the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria from embarking on any form of industrial action pending the hearing and determination of a motion on notice.
“Accordingly, all officers on Grade Level 12 and above and those on essential services are hereby strongly advised to be at work to perform their official duties.”
‘Strike action will bring more hardship on ordinary Nigerians’
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, also said at a meeting with online publishers in Lagos that the government was appealing to the organised labour to shelve the strike because it would “only bring more hardship on ordinary Nigerians.”
He explained that the increase in the price of fuel would benefit Nigerians in the long run.
He added, “Ordinary citizens are not the beneficiaries of the subsidy on petroleum products that have lasted for years. Between 2006 and 2019, a total of N10.4tn was spent on fuel subsidy, most of which went to fat cats who either collected subsidy for products they didn’t import or diverted the products to neighbouring countries, where prices are much higher.
“I want to assure Nigerians, through you, gentlemen of the press, that the government is not insensitive to their plight. As a matter of fact, the full deregulation of the petroleum sector and the service-based electricity tariff adjustment will in the long run benefit the ordinary people.”
Mohammed also added that it would be grossly irresponsible for the government to continue to borrow to subsidise electricity tariffs especially when the sector had been privatised.
Ignore proposed labour strike, IPMAN tells oil marketers
The Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria on Saturday asked its members to ignore the proposed industrial action as it also asked the labour leaders to jettison the planned strike, saying the deregulation of the oil sector was an inevitable decision with more merits for the majority of the people in future.
IPMAN’s spokesperson, Yakubu Suleiman, said in a statement in Abuja, “Members of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria across the country have therefore been directed to ignore the directive by the NLC.
“The National Executive Council of IPMAN wants to inform the general public that IPMAN will not be part of the strike the NLC is calling, since our association is not part of the NLC.”