BY – Oluwafunmilayo Ogedengbe
The Federal Government has withdrawn its contempt charge filed against the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, and their leaders for going against a court order restricting them embarking on any form of strike.
The Organised Labour had defiled the court order by going on a nationwide protest to kick against the removal of fuel subsidy, with its attendant hardship on the people in the country.
The NLC President, Joe Ajaero had also accused the Federal Government of being out of touch with reality and anomalous with the hardship and suffering that most Nigerians are going through now, after President Bola Tinubu’s address to the nation.
The development comes four days before the expiration of the ultimatum by NLC to the government to withdraw the contempt summons or face indefinite nationwide strike.
They accused the Ministry of Justice and the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) of allowing themselves to be used as “anti-democracy” agents.
Recall that the organised labour had met with President Bola Tinubu and reached an agreement to end the one-day protest. This came with agreements that the Federal Government would approve labour awards and expedite the implementation of subsidy palliative.
Despite the agreement the Ministry of Justice sued the organised labour for court contempt, a development that angered labour leaders who later announced plans to begin a nationwide strike on August 14.
However, barely five days after the Federal Ministry of Justice took the action, it backtracked on Monday by withdrawing the contempt suit.
The ministry, in a letter dated August 7, 2023, and addressed to the Nigeria Labour Congress through their counsel, Femi Falana SAN, said the contempt proceedings filed against the congress for embarking on a nationwide protest last Wednesday was no longer valid.
The letter to Messrs Falana & Falana’ Chambers, Counsel, to NLC, Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mrs B.E. Jeddy-Agba, said: “The attention of the Federal Ministry of Justice has been drawn to the Communiqué issued by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, on August 3, 2023, wherein NLC announced the suspension of its nationwide protests and criticised the contempt summons issued by the National Industrial Court (“Court”), amongst other issues.
“Kindly recall the exchange of correspondence between the Ministry and your Office on the need for compliance with the extant court orders, restraining industrial action of any kind on the part of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress. The position of the Ministry was informed by the need to safeguard the integrity of the court and prevent avoidable service disruption or damages to public facilities.
“However, despite these exchanges/interventions, the labour unions on 2nd August 2023 proceeded with the industrial action through public protests which led to disruption of work and the eventual pulling down of the gate of the National Assembly. The foregoing prompted the Ministry to initiate contempt proceedings by filing Form 48 on the same 2nd August 2023 in accordance with Section 72 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act and Order 9 Rule 13 of the Judgment (Enforcement) Rules. It is trite that issuance of Form 48 is just the starting point in contempt proceedings which will only crystalize upon the issuance of Form 49 and the consequential committal order.
“Upon the intervention of His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the decision of the labour unions to call off their industrial action after meetings with the President and leadership of the National Assembly, this Ministry did not proceed further with the contempt proceedings, which would have required the issuance of Form 49 within two days of the issuance of Form 48. “It is self-evident that the non-issuance of Form 49 as of 4th August 2023, renders the contempt proceedings inchoate.
“You may therefore wish to advise or guide the labour unions on the practice and procedure of contempt proceedings, particularly to the effect that the issues or concerns raised by NLC in its communiqué on the proceedings have been overtaken by events.”
It is however still unknown if the NLC still plans to embark on the protest come August 14, but Falana noted that the decision rests on the labour leaders.