Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) has cautioned the Organised Labour against disrespecting the June 5 order issued by the National Industrial Court, which restrained both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) from proceeding on any industrial action over fuel subsidy removal and related issues.
The two labour bodies had, Tuesday, said their members would commence an indefinite strike from October 3, 2023 to protest the economic hardship Nigerian workers are facing as a result of the removal of fuel subsidy by the federal government.
But in a letter dated September 26 and sent to the NLC and TUC through their counsel, Femi Falana (SAN), AGF Fagbemi argued that the planned indefinite strike scheduled for October 3 was a violation of the subsisting order and a disregard to the dignity and integrity of the court.
Fagbemi appealed to Falana to prevail on his clients to respect the order of the court and allow room for ongoing negotiations between parties on ways out of the challenges associated with the fuel subsidy removal.
He said from the tone of the communique issued by the NLC after its National Executive Council meeting August 31 and the September 26 joint communique by the Presidents of the NLC and TUC, it was clear that “the proposed strike action is premised principally in furtherance of issues connected with the removal of fuel subsidy, hike in fuel price and consequential matters of making provisions for palliatives and workers welfare.”
“These are undoubtedly issues that have been submitted to the National Industrial Court for adjudication. Therefore, the proposed strike action is in clear violation of the pending interim injunctive order granted on 5th June 2023 restraining both Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress from embarking on any industrial action/or strike of any nature, pending the hearing and determination of the pending motion on notice.
“We wish to reiterate that a court order, regardless of the opinion of any party on it, remains binding and enforceable until set aside. It is the expectation of the public that the labour unions would lead in obedience and observance of court orders and not in its breach.
“It is, therefore, the earnest expectation of this office that your distinguished law firm will advise the labour unions on the need to protect the integrity of courts and observe the sanctity of court orders.
“Consequently, you are kindly requested to impress it upon the organized labour unions to note the fact that their proposed strike action is in gross breach of the subsisting court order, as well as the appropriateness of addressing their grievances/demands within the ambit of the law.
“Hence, the need for them to be more accommodating and show greater appreciation of the effect of the order of the court, by shelving the strike action.
“The foregoing will afford parties more room for further mutual engagements, for a holistic and sustainable resolution of all outstanding issues on this matter in the overall national interest,” the letter reads.
Copies of the letter were also sent to Minister of Labour and Employment, the Chief of Staff to the President, the National Security Adviser, the Inspector General of Police, and the Director General of State Security Service.
In a related development, the National Economic Council (NEC) Thursday, also appealed to the leadership and members of the NLC and TUC to shelve their planned nationwide strike.ò.
Addressing State House correspondents at the end of the 136th NEC meeting chaired by Vice President Kashim Shettima in Abuja, Plateau state Governor Caleb Mutfwang said the council appealed to the labour centres to explore dialogue in pressing home their demands.
He said there was the need for the organised labour to give the federal government more time to unveil its planned palliatives for the workers.
“The National Economic Council (NEC) deliberated on the planned indefinite strike by the National leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to proceed on an indefinite strike on October 3, 2023.
“The council noted further the implications of the planned strike on the economy and the nation and thus urged members to continue to engage with the leadership of their respective states.
“It appeals to them to suspend the action and to continue on the path of dialogue with the federal government. This is the appeal of the council.
“We also believe that President Bola Tinubu will be addressing the nation on October 1, and some of the concerns of labour will be appropriately addressed in the president’s speech.
“It is therefore important to note that it’s a federation issue, so whatever happens the labour is represented in all the 36 states and the Fedeal Capital Territory (FCT)
“And NEC is appealing that discussion should continue at the state levels because there will be peculiarities as to the issues to be addressed concerning the demands of labour and therefore dialogue is the way to go,” he said.
Also speaking, Minister of Budget and National Planning Atiku Bagudu said the NEC expressed support for the eight-point agenda of President Tinubu, noting that it has the key to the country’s development.
“The meeting appreciates all the eight-point agenda of President Bola Tinubu and his investment drive around the world and measures he has taken so far,” he said.
Bagudu said the NEC was satisfied with the collaborations between the central and state governments, and appealed to the sub-nationals to explore opportunities that now abound in the energy sector in line with the new Electricity Act.
“In particular, the meeting agreed that there should be vigorous implementation of key resolutions in collaboration between the States and the Federal government.
“One of the resolutions highlighted is the energy sufficiency for sustainable economic development, government at all levels should promote the migration of heavy duty industry system form fossil fuel to gas infrastructure as well as acknowledging that the new Electricity Act empowers States and individuals to participate in all components of the energy sector,” he said.
In his opening address at the NEC meeting titled, “Planning for Stability: Our Agenda for Economic Growth in 2024,” Vice President Kashim Shettima identified stability as one of the primes in the economic agenda of the Tinubu administration for the year 2024.
He said government at the federal, state and local government levels must remain committed to reevaluating their priorities, streamlining processes and making bold decisions that would reflect key social issues, including social protection, social investment and nutrition.
Shettima told governors and other NEC members that the weight of the tough decisions to rescue Nigeria’s economy depends on their cooperation and goodwill.
The VP said what had set President Tinubu apart as a Nigerian leader is the courage to embark on fixing the country’s economy through bold reforms.
“It took courage to embark on fixing an economy hindered by decades of political lip service. But that’s what has set President Bola Ahmed Tinubu apart: his bold reforms to reposition the economy and save it from further erosion,” he said.
No going back, NLC insists
Despite the pleas and words of caution, the NLC said labour would press on with its planned industrial action, noting it had no agreement whatsoever with the federal government on the scheduled strike.
In a statement signed Thursday by the Head of Information and Public Affairs of the Congress, Comrade Benson Upah, the NLC said discussion with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Simon Lalong, was nothing but a waste of time.
“We do not have any agreement with the government to suspend the planned strike action, neither do we have any date for a meeting with government that may lead to the suspension of the proposed strike.
“While we do not intend to demean or minimise the office of the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, this matter is beyond the Ministry. This should have been obvious to them during our most recent meeting.
“Secondly, while we appreciate the role played by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Barrister Simon Lalong in securing the release of the executives of the National Union of Road Transport Workers from unlawful/ illegal police detention, we take exception to the Ministry describing these executives as factional leaders.
“They were lawfully elected into office. We still find it necessary to advise the police and those elements behind their travails to desist from this despicable and shameful conduct. They are advised to retrace their steps,” the statement said.