Lawyers and civil society organisations (CSOs) have called for the arrest of labour leaders for disobeying a court order restraining them from embarking on the ongoing nation-wide strike.
The strike called by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) enters into its second day today. The workers are protesting last week’s brutalisation of the NLC president, Mr Joe Ajaero, in Imo State and the failure of the federal government to meet some of their demands arising from President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s removal of fuel subsidy.
The president of the Nigeria Industrial Court (NIC), Justice Benedict Kanyip, had restrained the labour union and their affiliates from embarking on strike. However, while declaring the strike, Mr Ajaero said the industrial action was in protest against “the persistent and egregious violations of the rights and privileges of workers in Imo State by the state government.”
But to the CSOs, the unions and the leaders should always ensure that they obey the law despite provocation and misgovernance. The CSOs who spoke to LEADERSHIP are Transparency International (TI), the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), and the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG).
Speaking through their leader, Awwal Musa Rafsanjani, the CSOs said even though the last resort of any industrial dispute was strike, but that in cases where there are court issues, it should be obeyed. “We are running a constitutional democracy even though we are dealing with people who don’t respect the constitution.
“NLC/TUC should not be carried away by the lack of obedience to court orders by politicians. They should not play to the antics of people in authority. We must always ensure that we obey the court order.
“CSOs and the union leaders should not fail to obey court orders. The NLC/TUC should not create a room where court judgements are not obeyed. We should not be tempted into carrying out actions that will discredit the union,” Rafsajani said, adding that even though the government does not show genuine concern on the plight of the workers and the hardships in the land, unions should not play into their hands.
“Let us not follow these restless law breakers. There is a genuine cause and if there is a court order, let’s comply with it,” Rafsajani added. Another CSO, Patriotism Awareness Forum (PAF), has equally faulted the ongoing nationwide strike in defiance to a subsisting lawful court order.
PAF, in a statement signed by its convener, Nelson Ekujumi, and co –convener, Peter Claver Oparah, said the action of the trade centres can be viewed as a brutal affront on democracy and the rule of law. It asked the government to weigh in and stop the rash, contemptuous acts of the NLC/TUC.
The Patriotism Awareness Forum pointed out that the Inspector general of police (IGP) had launched an investigation into the alleged attack on Ajaero in Owerri, on 1st November, 2023, by persons whose identity are unknown.
They said: “We wonder how labour can be a judge in its own case through its unilateral decision of going on strike in a matter that is supposed to be investigated and prosecuted according to the laws of the land.’’ They warned that the present leadership of the organised labour stands to imperil the collective Nigerian workers’ interests in the pursuit of narrow interests.
The group wondered why the NLC and TUC deliberately disregarded the order of the court and embarked on a politically motivated strike just to satiate their ego and push their unpopular political interests.
“While it’s an indisputable fact that this strike is an affront against an order of the National Industrial Court (NIC) restraining the labour centres from embarking on industrial strike, we see the decision of the NLC and TUC to still go ahead with a most unpopular and contempt of court order strike, as a brazen and reckless affront to our democracy and the rule of law.”
The CSO lamented that the NLC under the leadership of Joe Ajaero had degenerated into a petty, trivial and unserious political group, whose resort to illegality and lawlessness portends an impending ruination of labour unions, for which it must take the blame for.
LEADERSHIP reports that some senior lawyers have also called for the arrest of labour leaders in the country for going ahead with the planned industrial action in defiance of a valid court order, adding that no one is above the law.
Some of them who spoke to LEADERSHIP called on the federal government to commence contempt proceedings against them. A senior advocate of Nigeria, Mr Abdul Balogun, said Nigeria is a country governed by law and should not be allowed to degenerate into a lawless nation.
He said, “The attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice knows what to do with those who flagrantly flouted a lawful court order. “Disobedience to lawful order of court is a serious offence and I expected that the labour leaders should be made an example for those who deliberately disobey court order, including the government and its agencies.”
Another lawyer, Bashir A. Salam, described the action of the labour leaders as uncalled for, saying the strike could have been averted, if the federal government and the Union had been sincere to each other since negotiation started.
“When you talk about disobedience to court orders, the courts have not helped matters in bringing perpetrators to book because government institutions flout court orders at will. “Government and its agencies should lead by example because they choose and pick which government court orders should be obeyed,” Salaam said. Another lawyer, Mr Paul Oiza, condemned the action of labour, saying that its leasers should be made to face the consequences of disobeying a lawful court order.
“It’s time we respect institutions rather than those who occupy them. In Nigeria, we respect those who occupy offices more than the office and this is the kind of thing you will get when even government fails to respect the rule of law,” he said.
Court Order, Affront On Workers’ Rights, Say Union Leaders As Strike Grounds Nigeria
Meanwhile, the former NLC general-secretary, Dr Peter Ozo-Esson, said despite the court order, labour movement remains a tool to save Nigeria from assault on people’s rights. In a telephone chat with LEADERSHIP yesterday, the former labour leader lamented that the industrial court had become a lackey of the executive arm of government.
He said, “The right of a worker to strike is what distinguishes him or her from a slave. The degree to which the Industrial Court of late has become a willing tool of the executive arm of government, even exculpating the fundamental human rights of citizens and workers to protest government policy, is a huge affront on the prospects for democratic development in our country.
“It is, therefore, a civic duty of all citizens to resist this unfortunate trend. Yes, I support the strike. In my days of ASUU activism and leadership, we had cause to resist such court orders. In my time at the NLC, there were a number of times we had to go on strike and protest even after court orders,” he said.
Electricity Workers Join Action Today
The National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) has directed its members to commence mobilisation to ensure compliance with the directive of the Nigerian labour unions to embark on a nationwide strike. A notice signed by Dominic Igwebike, acting general secretary of the union, urged the withdrawal of services nationwide from 0.00 hours on Tuesday.
“Concerning the NLC NEC meeting of today: 13th November 2023 and the joint communique from NLC and TUC dated 7 November 2023 on nationwide withdrawal of service on 14th November 2023 if the government refused to address the issues raised from the shortfall of the atrocious event in Imo State on the 1st of November 2023, we affirm that the nationwide strike will commence as stipulated on Tuesday 14th November 2023.
“To this effect, all national, state and chapter executives are requested to start mobilising our members in total compliance with this directive,” read. However, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) has refuted reports that there will be a national blackout due to the ongoing protest by the organised unions.
In a statement, head of Public Affairs at TCN, Ndidi Mbah, said, “We hereby note that the nation’s grid is intact and supplying bulk electricity to distribution load centres nationwide. “As of when issuing this statement, the TCN National Control Centre Osogbo which controls bulk power transmission nationwide was actively operational. “We would appreciate that reports are made with a sense of responsibility not just to cause panic,” it said.
Labour Blocks NASS Entrances, Locks Out Staff
The organised labour under the auspices of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) yesterday blocked all entrances to the National Assembly Complex, Abuja, in compliance with the strike embarked on by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). PASAN officials enforcing the industrial action locked both the main and annex gates of the National Assembly, preventing staff from accessing their offices.
Lawmakers and management staff were forced to use an alternative route as they passed the adjoining gate between the National Assembly Complex and the Presidential Villa to enter the premises. Workers who turned up for work but were turned back faulted the officials of the union for not informing them earlier that they were going to join the strike only for them to be told so on arrival at the Complex.
Strike Records Compliance In States
In Sokoto, there was full compliance by civil servants to the strike directive. Our correspondent who monitored the level of compliance in the state reports that banks within the metropolis also closed their doors to customers. The story was not different at the Federal Secretariat in the state, the state secretariat, both at Usmanu Farouk Secretariat and that of Gingiya Five Star.
In Kano State, the Audu Bako Secretariat was placed under lock by the unionists as early as 7am with green leaves hanging on the gate signifying the strike action. Within the premises of Audu Bako Secretariat are not only the government ministries and parastatals but also some courts, including the Court of Appeal, Kano Division, and the Kano State House of Assembly.
Students were turned back by striking teachers.
In Kwara State, All government offices, including ministries and agencies were completely shut yesterday as workers in the state stayed away from their places of work as directed by the NLC. At the Governor’s Office which houses the offices of the secretary to the state government, the head of service and ministry of justice, a few workers reported for duty.
All public schools were also shut as both the teachers and students did not come to school. However, some commercial banks in Ilorin, the state capital, opened for operations and nobody disturbed them. The state chairman of the NLC, Comrade Murtala Olayinka expressed satisfaction with the civil servants’ level of compliance with the NLC directive.
Plateau State workers, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerians Universities (SSANU), UNIJOS chapter, and others complied with the NLC directive.
Anthony Joro, SSANU chairman, UNIJOS chapter, told our correspondent on phone that the university unions had complied with the directive. He said later in the day UNIJOS will be shut in full compliance with the NLC directive.
In the same vein, commercial banks in Jos and Bukuru Metropolis also complied with the NLC directive. ASUU chairperson, Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike branch, Ebonyi State (FUNAI ASUU), Comrade Louis Omenyi, yesterday said violators of the indefinite strike would be sanctioned in accordance with the constitution.
In Niger State the organised labour in the state also complied with the directive on national strike. LEADERSHIP observed in Minna that most government offices were shut but there was no compliance by the informal sector and the commercial banks as directed. It was observed that all the banks were open for business, but the electricity workers in the state complied.
There was a rowdy session involving the protesting members of the Akwa Ibom state chapter of the NLC and officials of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) at the IBB Way office, Uyo, yesterday as the picketing members of the organised labour tried to enforce the strike.
However, the mild drama ended when the NLC enforcement team succeeded in forcing out the workers, locked the premises, leaving the stranded ad-hoc staff and agents milling outside the gate and still attending to customers coming to pay their bills.
Apart from few banks that offered skeletal services along Abak Road, public schools, including tertiary institutions, airport, civil service and other public institutions were all shut by the rampaging NLC protesters, who also barricaded and shut out civil servants at the Idongesit Nkanga Secretariat.
Public secondary school and primary school pupils in Ekiti state were sent back home as the nationwide strike declared by the NLC and TUC commenced yesterday. Some affiliate unions like ASUU, NUT, ASUSS and others joined the industrial action which recorded partial compliance.
It was observed that few civil servants that came later returned home after hearing about the statement issued by the state council of the NLC directing all workers in the state to join the strike. At the Alex Ekwueme Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki AE-FETHA, few nurses and consultants were seen carrying out skeletal services as most of the administrative staff joined in the industrial action.
The state chairman of NLC, Prof Egwu Oguguo, was also seen by LEADERSHIP monitoring the level of compliance of the industrial action. Despite the directive issued to workers by the leadership of NLC and TUC to embark on strike, our investigations as of the time of filing this report showed that the workers shunned the order.
Ajaero Holds 2 National Strikes, 2 Warning Strikes In 9 months
Year 2023 again witnessed a dawn of a new beginning in Nigeria’s labour movement when Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the then national president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) who served two terms between 2015 and 2023, transited power to Comrade Joe Ajaero, the new NLC president.
Ajaero, who took over the leadership of the Pascal Bafyau Labour House on February 8, 2023, made it clear in his inaugural speech that NLC under his administration shall continue in its tradition of ensuring that Nigerians are protected from all anti- people policies.
There is no doubt that the NLC president inherited numerous labour-government crises that even predated his tenure, however he was about to be tested as he came into office when the Central Bank of Nigeria naira redesign policy and fuel scarcity were biting Nigerian workers hard.
Timeline Of Labour Strikes Under Ajaero
By March 13, 2023, NLC gave the federal government an ultimatum to end the fuel and cash scarcity experienced by Nigerians following the Central Bank of Nigeria’s naira redesign policy. Despite the threat to picket CBN offices nationwide, the labour centre on March 28, 2023, shelved the action following negotiations with the government and relative availability of cash at the period.
On the 2nd of June, 2023, NLC also directed all affiliates to commence mobilisation for a nationwide strike by Wednesday, 7th June, 2023 over the removal of the fuel subsidy by President Bola Tinubu on May 29. However by the evening of 6th June, NLC shelved the planned strike while explaining that it recognised the willingness of the government for continuous engagement and to offer reasonable palliatives in due course to cushion the effect of its policies.
On August 2nd, 2023, NLC began nationwide protest to press home its opposition against the fuel subsidy removal while maintaining that the government’s conduct suggested it did not intend to commit itself to the MoU it signed with NLC and TUC.
Hours after the nationwide protest, organised labour met with President Bola Tinubu and described the meeting as fruitful. The meeting also marked the beginning of talks over palliative measures to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal on workers.
On September 5, 2023, NLC again embarked on a two-day nationwide warning strike to show discontent with the federal government over its failure to establish essential structures to address the widespread suffering of Nigerians occasioned by the fuel subsidy removal.
Both NLC and TUC also threatened to embark on indefinite strike on October 3, 2023 after saying that the federal government was grandstanding and stalling on all avenues to peaceful dialogue with organised labour on ways to save Nigerians from the huge hunger and suffering experienced across the nation as a result of the hike in the price of petrol.
However, the October 3 planned strike was shelved after an overnight meeting between organised labour and the federal government that produced a 15-point Memorandum of Understanding signed by both parties.
On November 1st, 2023, NLC began another strike in Imo State over the failure of the state government to address its long-standing grievances and violation of workers’ rights. The strike however abruptly came to an end following the brutalisation of Comrade Joe Ajaero.
November 14 2023: NLC and TUC began a nationwide strike over the battering of Ajaero and other labour leaders by suspected agents of the state and security operatives in Imo State. The strike came after the federal government failed to address the six-point demands in the aftermath of the brutalisation of Ajaero in Imo State. The strike also began despite a court order restraining labour from embarking on any form of strike.
In June 2023, the NLC had raised concern over frequent issuance of ex-parte injunctions to restrain it from lawfully protesting against negative policies of government. Ajaero, who described the order as a weapon against the interests of Nigerian workers, explained that such order remains contrary to workers’ rights as contained in the provisions of ILO Conventions, Trade Union Act, Trade Dispute Act, the 1999 Constitution as well as the African Charter on Human Rights and other legal instruments.