ASUU Files An Appeal Against Court Ruling
The lingering crisis between the Federal Government and members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) appears to have no end in sight, as the union announced yesterday its intention to appeal the order of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) directing the suspension of its seven-month strike.
Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, the union’s national president, said that efforts are being made to appeal the ruling. He stated that while the judge has the right to render his decision, the union has the right to appeal.
The Federal Government had taken the university lecturers to court, seeking an order compelling them to end their strike and return to work.
On behalf of the Federal Government, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, referred the matter to the NICN in order to resolve the industrial action.
Mr James Igwe (SAN), FG’s counsel, urged the court to grant the government’s request, arguing that the seven months already lost due to the strike could not be regained.
Citing section 18 (1) (e) of the Trade Dispute Act 2004, Igwe argued that a worker should not go on strike when a matter is already before the court, so he urged the court to order the lecturers to end their strike and return to work.
Although ASUU argued, through its counsel, Femi Falana (SAN), that the Federal Government’s request for an accelerated hearing was unnecessary because there was no urgency in the matter because the strike had lasted seven months, the court agreed with the government’s submission by issuing an injunction barring the lecturers from continuing the strike.
The court, in a ruling by Justice Polycarp Hamman, barred ASUU from continuing with the strike until the case was resolved.
Because Justice Hamman is on vacation, he ordered that the case file be returned to the president of the Industrial Court for reassignment to another judge.
While urging members to remain calm, Osodeke stated that the union has already filed an appeal against the court ruling.
In the same vein, the union urged members and Nigerians to remain united in a terse statement issued by the Chairman of Lagos Zone, Adelaja Odukoya, even as it suggested that the order would be vacated.
Part of the statement reads: “Our President, Emmanuel Osodeke, has urged members, students and stakeholders to remain calm as there is no cause for alarm on the back to work order by NICN.
“Our lawyer is filing an appeal and stay of execution of the judgment. Members should remain resolute and strong. A people united can never be defeated. Solidarity without compromise.”
In the main time, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) have issued statements in response to the industrial court order.
NANS stated that it rejected the Federal Government’s “black market” judgment against ASUU. According to Giwa Temitope, National Public Relations Officer of NANS, the judgment betrayed equity because the government should not have brought ASUU before the industrial court at all.
He stated that the only way to end the strike is for the government to meet the union’s demands, which it willingly agreed to with ASUU..
“As an association, NANS is disturbed to read the news of the judgment because we believe that it is not right. Ordinarily, the Federal Government should not have dragged ASUU to court. We want to state categorically that the court cannot force ASUU back to the classroom.
“And, as it stands today, we maintain that the court has not resolved the problem and we reject the ruling in its entirety. The court could have directed the FG to pay rather than directing lecturers to go back to classrooms,” Temitope said.
This was confirmed by the body’s Southwest Coordinator, Emmanuel Olatunji Adegboye, who stated:
“The fact that they had to drag ASUU to court is a signal that this government cannot handle crisis. And we want to state categorically that the court cannot force members of ASUU back to lecture theatres.”
National Coordinator of ERC, Hassan Soweto, said the court verdict is unfair and shameful, saying it confirms his belief that “the judiciary is simply an arm of the apparatus of the capitalist state, just as the police and the army.”
In response to the court order, he urged the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to declare a 48-hour nationwide warning strike.
He said; “At this stage, all we can say is that our solidarity with ASUU on its resolve to fight for adequate funding of public universities remains unshaken despite the court order.”
Due to the NICN ruling, the Congress of University Academics (CONUA) has urged Vice Chancellors of public universities to reopen the institutions for academic activities to resume.
According to the group’s National Coordinator, Niyi Sunmonu, this has become necessary because the court is one of the country’s recognized tools of democratic engagement.
Sunmonu stated that because CONUA members have not been on strike, reopening the universities will allow students to resume their studies, alleviate restlessness among students who have had their studies interrupted, and facilitate the restoration of peace in the country.
In reaction to the judgement, an Abuja-based lawyer, Douglas Ogbankwa, convener of Vanguard for the Independence of the Judiciary, said that while he received the court verdict with mixed feelings, the order, which is the current one, must be obeyed by ASUU before they can take preventative steps to ventilate their position.
“The comments by ASUU that they will not obey the court order amounts to contempt of court. As ministers in the temple of justice, our duty as lawyers is to ensure that orders of courts are obeyed.
He stated that ASUU, as a legal entity, must work within the confines of the law, obey the order, and, if dissatisfied, take legal action to overturn or discharge the same.
Another lawyer, Godwin Ogboji, stated that because the industrial court that rendered the decision is the court of first instance, ASUU can legally appeal the decision and seek an injunction pending appeal or a stay of execution.
“The consequence of any of these applications is that the strike will continue pending the determination of their appeal, which can be further taken to the Supreme Court.”
He urged ASUU to consider the interests of students who have been forced to stay at home for nearly eight months due to the government’s refusal to do the necessary.
According to Akamihe Ephraims, a lawyer, while ASUU is required by law to obey the court order, “you can force a horse to the river but you can’t force it to drink. Assuming public universities are immediately re-opened, I doubt if the order can make ASUU lecturers who have not been paid their salaries for seven months running to start delivering lectures to students immediately.
“Even if by providence they find themselves in the classrooms, I doubt if they’ll be able to impart knowledge if these issues are not immediately resolved.
“The government appears content that public universities are shut down so long as it does not affect them and their children. I think they only started taking them serious when students joined the strike last week and started blocking highways and threatened to picket airports, which affects their movement.”
Mr. Femi Aborisade, an Ibadan-based labor activist and human rights lawyer, called the decision a miscarriage of justice. He stated that the strike is a protest against a series of collective agreements that have not been implemented since 1992. Collective bargaining agreements are enforceable under section 254C(1)(J)(i) of the Constitution.
“The Federal Government should be honourable and do the needful by implementing agreements willingly entered into since 1992. That is the way to resolve the dispute meaningfully. Court orders directing lecturers to resume cannot resolve the dispute. It can only suppress one of the parties.”
Meanwhile, Dr Salihu Lukman, National Vice Chairman, Northwest of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), has backed the court’s decision. In response to the development, he stated that lecturers owed it to their students who were subjected to the strike to sacrifice their seven-month salaries.
According to Lukman, the verdict serves as a wake-up call to the Ministry of Labour and Productivity to avoid a repeat of the ASUU strike in accordance with existing laws and regulations.