NLC, TUC, ASUU, others defy court order as they begin strike

The NLC had on Monday announced the commencement of the industrial action from midnight of Monday, 13 November, in defiance to a restraining order issued by the National Industrial Court in Abuja on Friday.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and its affiliates including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), on Tuesday, began a nationwide strike, in defiance to a restraining court order barring them from embarking on the industrial action.

The two major labour unions, NLC and TUC, had declared the strike, following the brutalisation of the NLC president, Joe Ajaero, in Imo State on 1 November. Mr Ajaero was attacked in Owerri, the state capital, during an NLC protest against the Imo State government over alleged maltreatment of workers in the state.

The unions on Monday directed their members to down tools across the country as from Tuesday.

This is despite the restraining order issued by the National Industrial Court, in Abuja, on Friday, stopping the labour unions from embarking on the strike.

The interim order issued by the court followed an ex-parte request by the Nigerian government through the office of Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, due to the Labour unions’ threat to embark on strike.

Ignoring the court order, ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke, a professor of soil science, on Monday, directed compliance with the strike declaration by NLC and TUC in a letter to ASUU zonal coordinators and branch chairpersons across the country.

“As an affiliate of NLC, all members of our union are hereby directed to join this action of NLC to protect the interest of Nigerian workers and the leadership of the union. Zonal coordinators and branch chairpersons should immediately mobilise our members to participate in the action,” ASUU President, Mr Osodeke, wrote in a letter to zonal and branch chairpersons of the union.

When PREMIUM TIMES asked Mr Osodeke if he was aware of the subsisting court order stopping the strike, he said the question should be directed to the NLC which called for the strike.

“Call the NLC, ASUU did not declare a strike, NLC declared the strike. Call NLC,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday morning.

But the NLC’s head of information, Benson Upah, did not respond to phone calls and messages sent to his line requesting for comments, as of the time of filing this report.

The labour unions had, on Monday, refused to acknowledge the court order while directing their members to withdraw their services as from Tuesday.

FG’s reactions

Meanwhile, the presidency has called the strike an illegal and unwarranted act, describing it as a blackmail of the government.

A statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Information & Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, on Monday, said the government was still at a loss as to why labour would punish a whole country of over 200 million people over a personal matter involving the NLC President.

On Monday, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation similarly advised the unions against the strike, asking them to respect the subsisting court order, which it said had been served on them.

The office urged the unions not to embark on what it described as a contemptuous act after being served with the court order.

This is not the first time the five-and-a-half-month-old administration of President Bola Tinubu is accusing the labour unions of contempt of court over declarations of strike.

The federal government, through the AGF office, has been locked in legal battles with the NLC and TUC leaders over the strikes the unions have declared on different occasions in protest against Mr Tinubu’s announcement of fuel subsidy removal in May.

In August, the AGF filed a contempt suit seeking to have the labour union leaders jailed for defying an earlier order of the National Industrial Court in Abuja that restrained them from embarking on strike over the fuel subsidy removal.

It has become customary for the federal government to rush to the National Industrial Court to obtain ex parte restraining orders stopping major workers’ unions from embarking on nationwide strikes.

Since the time of the immediate-past President Muhammadu Buhari administration, the federal government has, on countless ocassions, obtained court orders to stop the strikes declared by doctors, health workers, ASUU and NLC with TUC.

But the unions often accuse the federal government of resorting to court actions as an armtwisting strategy against them, while making no tangible commitment to meet their demands.