NLC, TUC Protests As Tinubu’s Administration Threatens Union Leaders With Lawsuit Over Indefinite Strike

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NLC, TUC Protests As Tinubu’s Administration Threatens Union Leaders With Lawsuit Over Indefinite Strike

The National Deputy President of the Trade Union Congress, Tommy Etim, on Thursday, berated moves by the Federal Government to hamstring the Organised Labour from embarking on an indefinite nationwide strike from Tuesday, using the courts.

Etim stated that labour leaders would not succumb to any threat by the government, noting that they were ready to go to prison in their fight for better lives for Nigerian workers.

The TUC deputy president said this against the backdrop of the warning by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, that the proposed strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress and TUC was in contravention of a subsisting court order restraining the unions from declaring an industrial action.

 The NLC and TUC Tuesday announced an indefinite strike with effect from October 3, 2023, to protest the alleged failure of the Federal Government to provide post-subsidy palliatives for workers and implement policies that could alleviate the sufferings of the masses after the removal of the fuel subsidy. (204) Reviews Hilda Baci’s Record-breaking Marathon Cooking

The unions had also directed their state chapters and affiliates to mobilise for the shutdown of critical facilities and infrastructure, including airports, seaports, electricity grids and fuel supply across the country.

 However, the AGF in a letter addressed to the counsel to the NLC and TUC, Femi Falana, SAN, reminded them that it was as a result of the disobedience to the order that the Ministry of Justice filed a contempt proceeding against the labour leaders.

He added that the ministry withdrew the suit following the intervention of President Bola Tinubu and the National Assembly.

But the TUC Deputy President waved off the AGF’s warning, saying the contempt threat would not make the organised labour shelve their planned walkout, noting that the labour leaders were ready to be jailed for their convictions.

He stated, ‘’It is a threat but power belongs to the people. Let them carry all of us to the prisons. I can only answer by saying the end justifies the means. If that is what they want, let’s see what will happen on the 3rd of October. The good thing is that Nigeria is our country. If he had packed all the Nigerian people into prison, there would have been no problem.

‘’If the government wants to put us in prison, let them put us in prison. Going to prison is not a death sentence. After all, even a (former) president passed through the prison. Didn’t (Segun) Obasanjo go to prison? We are used to threats and it is not going to deter us, we are not cowards.

‘’We are working for the country and if the government feels it wants to put us in prison because we are working for the country, so be it. Let the end justify the means.’’

Falana could not be reached for comments on Thursday but senior lawyers in separate interviews with The PUNCH aligned with the AGF and advised the NLC and TUC to respect the order of the court.

Lawyers React

Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, argued that the labour unions would be in contempt of the court and Section 287 of the Constitution, which enjoined every person or group to obey the order of the court.

 He added, “Where the order of the court is being ignored, it is an invitation to anarchy. What they should do is to have that order set aside before they can embark on any industrial action.

‘’So, to do so (embark on strike) will amount to contempt of court which they may face. I think they should do something about the order, and either appeal against it and then ask for a stay of the order, or get it set aside by the Appellate Court or that same court.”

Speaking in the same vein, Rasheed Adegoke, SAN, underscored the importance of respecting judicial orders.

The appropriate thing to do, he counselled, was to apply for the order to be set aside or appealed.

He held that disobeying a court order could lead to contempt charges which he said is a grievous offence.

Adegoke said, “Once there is an existing court order, it is binding on all persons and authorities concerned. Where they fail, refuse or neglect to obey the court order, the AGF can bring them to court for contempt and that is a grievous offence because it undermines the integrity of the court.

“It equally destabilises the judicial system otherwise where everybody feels that he’s right and courts are wrong, choosing not to obey the court order is a licence to resort to self-help and the implication is that others can behave the same way.

‘’What we will have is a society not regulated by the rule of law; that means there will be a breakdown of law and order.  The appropriate thing to do is to apply to set aside that order or go on appeal against it.”

“The palliative is not a party matter; it is for Nigerians. Please, do not share it through your party structure as we heard that many governors are sharing it through party structure. It is not the right thing to do,’’ he admonished.

Governors Beg NLC

The National Economic Council on Thursday said state governors would negotiate with organised labour in their respective domains to avert the nationwide strike slated for Tuesday.

It also appealed to the unions to reconsider their stance, warning that such an exercise would devastate Nigeria’s economy, currently grappling with double-digit inflation, forex shortages and low oil production.

Addressing State House correspondents after the 136th NEC meeting, which was held at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja, the Plateau State Governor, Caleb Mutfwang, said, “Labour is represented in all the 36 states and the FCT and NEC is appealing that discussions should continue at the state levels because there will be peculiarities as to the issues to be addressed concerning the demands of labour. Therefore, dialogue is the way to go.”

Relating the NEC’s appeal to journalists after the monthly meeting, the governor explained that the council was aware of the strike notice issued by the national leadership of the NLC and TUC.

He said, “The Council noted further the implication of this strike for the economy and the nation and thus urged members to continue to engage with the leadership of their respective states and to appeal to them to shelve the action and continue on the path of dialogue with the federal government. This is the appeal of Council.”

Explaining the grounds for NEC’s appeal further, Mutfwang noted that most first-term governors inherited a striking labour force and have only managed to get them back to work recently.

Meanwhile, in his opening address at the NEC meeting titled, ‘Planning for Stability: Our Agenda for Economic Growth in 2024,’ Vice President Kashim Shettima reminded the governors and other council members that the weight of the tough decisions to rescue Nigeria’s economy depended on their cooperation and goodwill.

He noted that what has set Tinubu apart as a leader ‘’is the courage to embark on fixing the country’s economy through bold reforms.’’

Identifying stability as a significant priority in the 2024 economic agenda, the VP said, “It took courage to embark on fixing an economy hindered by decades of political lip service. But that has set President Bola Ahmed Tinubu apart: his bold reforms to reposition the economy and save it from further erosion.”

Shettima said the federal, state, and local governments must remain committed to re-evaluating their priorities, streamlining processes, and making bold decisions reflecting key social issues, including social protection, social investment and nutrition.

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