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The National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), Abuja Division has adjourned hearing to May 11 on the application brought by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), asking for the transfer of the suit it instituted against the Federal Government to the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) centre of the court.

The suit, NICN/ABJ/303/2022, ASUU vs. the Minister of Labour and Employment and the Registrar of Trade Unions (RTU), is challenging alleged threat by the Federal Government to withdraw ASUU’S certificate of registration for not rendering annual financial returns and audited accounts for five years.

Section 37(1) of the Trade Unions Act CAP TI LFN 2004, makes it mandatory that every registered trade union in Nigeria must submit its annual audited accounts to the Registrar of Trade before June 1 every year. The penalty for a breach of this law is withdrawal or the cancellation of the certificate of registration by the RTU, as a union cannot be collecting check-off dues from members without submitting annual report.

When the matter came up before the President of NICN, Hon. Justice Benedict Kanyip on Wednesday, the counsel to the Federal Government, James Igwe SAN, said he just saw the application of ASUU that morning and needed time to reply to it.

Justice Kanyip said he thought they agreed the previous day that Igwe should go and consult his clients and report back on Wednesday.

Responding, Igwe said he just received the application Wednesday morning and going by its contents, he needed time to make a formal reply.

Consequently, Justice Kanyip adjourned the matter to May 11, the same date for the hearing of the substantive application brought by the Federal Government against ASUU over its eight-month strike.

Recall that the counsel to ASUU, Marshal Abubakar representing Femi Falana SAN, had on Tuesday informed the court that they filed an application to refer the case brought by the union against the government to the ADR Centre.

Responding, Igwe said they did not see any application.

He recalled that the last time the court heard the matter on March 28, the claimants said they were ready to call their witnesses on the next adjourned date.

He said he needed time to see the ASUU application so that he could carry his clients along in making a decision on the matter, as he was merely a counsel on the matter.

Justice Kanyip said if the claimants asked for arbitration, then his hands were tied.

Igwe said he was not averse to conciliation which his clients even mooted abinitio before ASUU went to court to pre-empt the consequences of the lack of transparency in the members check-off dues.

He asked for at least one day to consult with his clients before taking a decision one way or the other on the matter.

Making further submissions, Marshal told the judge that he has powers suo moto to refer the matter to the ADR Centre.

Justice Kanyip however cautioned Marshal against imputing his wish on him.

“I didn’t say I want to settle you people. You are the person asking for it. Don’t impute what you want on me.”

Arguing further, Igwe said: “Their application is not before the court. I am one of the people who encourage arbitration. He didn’t listen to me. I am not unmindful of the fact that the court can refer it suo moto, but I am asking for time to be served with the application and then look at it. It is not my responsibility to decide. I cannot make a decision as a counsel. Doing the reverse is breaching the trust reposed on me by my clients.”

Similarly, Justice Kanyip had also on Tuesday, granted ASUU seven days to file a reply on point of law to substantive application of the Federal Government on the prolonged strike of the union. The Federal Government had in September last year filed an application and affidavit in support, which was served on ASUU and their lawyers since September last year.

The matter, NICN/ABJ/270/2022, was for definite hearing on Tuesday, but ASUU did not file counter affidavit on any of the processes in that respect despite an order of court in March this year, directing all the parties to file their processes before the hearing date.

Consequently, Igwe craved the indulgence of the court to move the pending application of the Federal Government, which was granted.

Igwe moved the motion and indicated his willingness to reply to ASUU’s processes in one hour or one day since the matter borders on the interest of the nation.

The court granted ASUU seven days to reply on point of law and adjourned the matter to May 11 for all the parties to adopt their written addresses.

The Federal Government is asking the court to make certain orders, including that the eight-month ASUU strike did not follow the law, in which case, making it an illegal strike. The government is also asking the court to declare that ASUU having embarked on strike at that time, were not entitled to any payment as provided by the law in Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act, TDA, 2004 “No Work, No Pay” policy and ILO principles on the right to strike.

Olajide Oshundun
Director, Press and Public Relations