Olalekan Adetayo, John Alechenu, Okechukwu Nnodim, Adelani Adepegba, Ade Adesomoju, Leke Baiyewu, Tunde Ajaja, Oladimeji Ramon and Tope Omogbolagun
Ahead of the planned strike action and protest by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress from Monday over the recent hike in electricity tariff and fuel price, the Nigeria Police Force has said it will enforce the law on the matter.
Despite two court injunctions restraining the unions and their affiliates from proceeding with the strike, the labour unions told Saturday PUNCH on Friday that they would go ahead with the strike and protest from Monday as they had yet to be served the court orders. The labour unions had said they would only shelve the planned strike if the Federal Government reversed the recent hikes.
The National Industrial Court in Abuja had on Thursday granted an order of interim injunction restraining the unions from disrupting, restraining, picketing or preventing the workers or ordinary Nigerians from accessing their offices to carry out their legitimate duties on September 28, 2020, or any other date.
Justice Ibrahim Galadima, who also issued an interim order restraining the labour unions from embarking on the strike action, gave the ruling following an ex parte application filed by a group, Peace and Unity Ambassadors Association, through their counsel, Sunusi Musa.
The court also granted an order compelling the Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General, Department of State Services, to provide protection for workers engaged in their legitimate duties from any form of harassment, intimidation and bullying by the officers, agents or privies of the unions pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
Meanwhile, barely 24 hours after the ruling, the judge on Friday issued another order restraining the unions from going ahead with the strike, following an ex parte application by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
The Federal Government of Nigeria and the AGF are the plaintiffs in the second suit marked NICN/ABJ/257/2020. The ex parte application was signed by the AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
In their reaction on Saturday, however, the police said they would be guided by the position of the law on the matter.
Force spokesperson, DCP Frank Mba, in his response to questions from one of our correspondents on Saturday, simply said, “What does the law say in this circumstance? We would enforce the law. That is the only thing I can say.”
The meeting between the labour unions and the Federal Government had been adjourned till Monday following the failure of the two parties to reach a compromise on the matter.
Police lack power to stop labour’s protest, strike – Lawyers
Meanwhile, lawyers have said the police lacked the power to stop the union members from staging their planned protest.
The police had on several occasions disrupted protests and in some instances arrested some of the protesters.
Among several examples, armed policemen from the Lagos State Police Command on September 9 arrested several protesters and journalists during a protest against the hike in electricity tariff and fuel price. They also dispersed protesters at Ojuelegba area of the state.
But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Chino Obiagwu, said on Saturday that the police had no power to stop the labour unions’ planned protests or strike.
He added that the police could not confer on themselves the duty to enforce the court order restraining the labour unions from going ahead with the strike when the procedure for such had been stipulated in law.
He said, “The court order, according to media report, is about NLC going on strike, it has nothing to do with protest. The court did not say citizens should not go out to protest, it said the labour should not go on strike. So, it is a trade dispute. It is not a criminal matter. The police have no business in trade disputes. It is for the Nigerian government to go to court to obtain an order against whoever they believe has disobeyed the court order.”
The senior advocate explained that the only way to enforce court judgment “is to approach the court for the issuance of Form 48 and Form 49 and proceed judicially”.
He added, “The court will then make an order that the person who is in contempt of court be arrested; that is when the police will step in. It is not for the police to on their own say they want to enforce the order. Where has that happened?
“The Sheriff and Civil Processes Act provides for how court orders are enforced. In the case of All Nigerian People’s Party vs Inspector-General of Police, the Court of Appeal has said you don’t need a police permit to protest because the right to freedom of assembly and association is inherent. The ANPP was one of the parties that merged to form the All Progressives Congress coalition; they were the one that went to court.”
Another lawyer and activist, Inibehe Effiong, also argued that the police lacked the power to stop the labour from protesting as no court could have issued any order to stop any Nigerian from protesting.
Effiong said, “I do not think any court in Nigeria can give an injunction against people from protesting. That will be an affront to the constitution. If by Monday the police or the State Security Services say they are acting in furtherance to the order of the court to stop members of the labour movement from coming out to get their members to protest the hike in pump price and electricity tariff, it will be a flagrant attack on the constitution.
“There is no institution in Nigeria that can stop Nigerians from exercising their rights that have been granted them by the constitution.”
The lawyer also contended that the labour unions were justified to go ahead with the strike if they had not been served with the court order stopping the industrial action.
He, however, advised that if the labour leaders had been served with the court order, they should first take steps to have the order vacated.
Effiong, who expressed reservations about the court orders stopping the strike, noted that such orders had not always been effective in stopping similar industrial actions in the past. He advised that “the judiciary should be sensitive to these issues, so that it does not put itself in a position where it would become a subject of public ridicule”.
Also, human rights activist and lawyer, Mr Jiti Ogunye, said inasmuch as court orders were bound to be obeyed, he wondered how the police would force workers who stay away from work or go to work.
Ogunye said, “As a lawyer, I have always questioned the appropriateness of dashing to court to obtain an ex parte order of interim injunction and use it as a tool of mischief or a tool to truncate a noble and just process.
“Our courts are courts of law; their decisions must be respected; their orders must be obeyed. However, our courts cannot behave like an ostrich and court disobedience of their own orders by granting orders like this in an obviously political situation like this.
“Workers are saying they want to go on strike and they are restraining them and those orders are expected to be obeyed. I am not saying as a lawyer that those orders should not be obeyed, but it will be interesting to see how the police will enforce the order. Will they go into the houses of people who do not want to go to work and compel them to go to work?”