Strike: Labour Adamant, Shuns Parley with FG

Hope of the Federal Government averting the planned strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) dimmed yesterday after the unions shunned a last-minute parley with government officials on the issues at stake.

It denied claims by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), that the planned strike would amount to violation of a court order.

Counsel to organised labour, Femi Falana (SAN), advised government to reopen negotiation with his clients while President Bola Tinubu and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, yesterday appealed to labour to reconsider its position and shelve the planned action “in the interest of the masses.”

The federal authorities had called an emergency meeting yesterday with representatives of labour to sort out their differences.

The Chief of Staff to the President, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, and Labour and Employment Minister, Simon Lalong, were supposed to lead the FG delegation, only for labour to stay away.

Lalong was sighted in the CoS’s office in preparation for the meeting up till about 5:30pm while the expected Labour leaders were nowhere to be found.

Sources close to the office of the Chief of Staff said the meeting had been rescheduled for this weekend.

One of the sources said: “They had to disperse since the NLC and TUC people didn’t show up. There must have been a reason and I believe they would have communicated their reasons to those waiting for them.

“I learned though that the meeting has been rescheduled for sometime during the weekend, but I don’t know when precisely.”

Labour had accused government of lack of seriousness, saying its planned strike action is on account of the current economic downturn.

Reacting yesterday to claims by Fagbemi that Labour would be acting in violation of a subsisting court order if it proceeded with the planned strike, the NLC said there was no such order in existence.

President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, said in a statement that what Fagbemi called a subsisting order had lapsed “due to non-diligent prosecution”.

“We are shocked that Mr Lateef Fagbemi is referring to a restraining order issued on June 5 through motion ex parte which the Ministry of Justice in a formal statement had said lapsed due to non-diligent prosecution,” Ajaero said.

“Which order could Fagbemi be talking about here? We demand to know.

“We similarly find it necessary to remind Fagbemi that equating a restraining order to a perpetual injunction will do no small damage to our legal/judicial system.

“For once, we find it appropriate to reveal to the world that the court refused to sit during the pendency of the order to take our response to that order!

“Even though we would not want to be drawn into details here, representatives of the Federal Government on the National Steering Committee are on record to have said in the Villa that their mandate did not extend to subsequent increments after the one of N187–N537 thus differentiating between the issues for which the order (that has since run out of time) was issued.

“There are two ministerial portfolios whose offices constitutionally do not admit partisanship in the discharge of their duties. These are the Minister of Labour and Employment, and Minister of Justice. In addition to their regular duties, they are expected to play the umpire role.

“But here we find a Minister of Justice whose first major outing is not only an open partisanship but has descended into the arena with his robe and wig, losing in the process the umpire status!

“To gag us, to bind us, to tie us to the pole for life without a chance to hear us out will constitute not just malicious conduct but grievous injury to our fundamental human rights as enshrined in the 1999 constitution (as amended).

“We refuse to be gagged. We also want to remind those in power of their own history when they were out of power!

“We find it pathetic that Mr Fafgbemi strives to operate from the high moral ground by advising ‘Labour Unions on the need to protect the integrity of courts and observe the sanctity of court orders.’

“Who is causing more injury to the sanctity of the courts? Those seeking to convert a restraining order obtained under the cover of the night to a perpetual injunction or the victims of this terrorism?”

But counsel to NLC and TUC, Femi Falana, believes the deadlock can still be reversed.

He therefore wants government to reopen negotiation with his clients.

Falana, in his response to Fagbemi’s claim that the planned nationwide strike would amount to “a violation of the subsisting order and a disregard to the dignity and integrity of the court,” said negotiation between the two parties broke down after government obtained the ex parte order.

His words:”You will agree with us that since the ex parte order was procured by the Federal Government at the National industrial Court on June 5, 2023, negotiations in respect of the subject matter of the proposed strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress ought to have been concluded.”

He said while the organised labour are not inclined to join issues with the minister over the alleged disobedience of the court order by Nigerian workers, they are “compelled to advise the Federal Government to resume negotiations with the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress in the interest of industrial peace in the country.”

President Tinubu and Sultan Abubakar said in Abuja that a strike at this time would not serve the best interest of the masses.