By Chibuike Nwabuko
Abuja (Sundiata Post) – The National Industrial Court on Wednesday invoked Section 18 of Trade Dispute Act and ordered the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to end its seven-month-long strike.
In his ruling, Justice Polycarp Hamman said he was invoking Section 18 of Trade Dispute Act, which allows the court to order an end to strike when national interest is at stake.
The Federal Government sued ASUU following its inability to reach an agreement with the union. The government has insisted it will not pay the university workers for the period they were not at work.
The government, through its counsel, James Igwe, had prayed the court for an interlocutory injunction restraining ASUU from taking further steps as regards the strike, pending the determination of the substantive suit.
”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,” the judge ruled.
Justice 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 dismissed the argument of Femi Falana, SAN, counsel to ASUU, on the issue that Okechukwu Wampa was not qualified to depose to the claimants’ affidavit.
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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 advice 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 considered 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 as well as the facilities that have been dormant for months.
The court also dismissed 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 August 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, and 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 September 27.
Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige, on behalf of the Federal Government, filed the matter before the court by way of referral instrument to resolve the ongoing strike by ASUU.
Also joined as a claimant in the suit is the Minister of Education Adamu Adamu.