The National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) has ordered the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to go back to work immediately. The order was made in Abuja on Wednesday by Justice Polycarp Hamman granted the government’s application for interlocutory injunction.
The order followed the granting of an injunction sought by the counsel to the federal government through its counsel James Igwe, counsel who had prayed the court for an interlocutory injunction restraining ASUU from taking further steps as regards the strike, pending the determination of the substantive suit.
ASUU has been on strike since February 14 accusing the federal government of reneging on previous agreements on matters such as increased funding of universities and increasing lecturers’ salaries among other issues.
Several meetings between ASUU and the federal government have ended in a deadlock.
The federal government’s counsel, James Igwe, had applied for an interlocutory injunction to restrain ASUU from continuing with the strike pending the determination of the referral by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige.
He also dismissed the argument of Femi Falana, counsel to ASUU, that the interlocutory injunction should be dismissed and the court should instead grant an accelerated hearing for the referral earlier filed by Ngige.
Delivering judgment, Justice Polycarp Hamman, held that the court determined the application based on issue two as formulated by the claimants.
”The ASUU by themselves, members, agents, servants or anyone privy to them is hereby restrained from taking further step or taking any action or otherwise any strike action pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit..
”The court in addition finds merit in the application for Interlocutory injunction brought by the claimants,” he held.
Hamman further said that in granting an injunction, certain requirements such as existence of legal rights, balance of convenience, conduct and evidence of damages and loss needed to be met by the applicant seeking reliefs.
He also discountenanced the argument of Mr Femi Falana, SAN, counsel to ASUU, on the issue that Mr Okechukwu Wampa was not qualified to depose to the claimants affidavit.
Falana had argued in the defendant’s counter-affidavit that Wampa’s deposition was based on hearsay.
The court said that Wampa being a legal officer employed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and deployed to the Ministry of Labour and Employment as a legal adviser could depose in the issue and could offer legal advise in the matter.
He resolved the issue citing section 115 (1) (2) of Evidence Act, 2011 and section 12(2) of NICN Act,2006.
The court while addressing the issue of competency of the referral as raised by Falana, it ruled that the issue will be delved into when taking the defendant’s preliminary objection application and during the hearing of the substantive suit
The judge added that the balance of convenience tilted to the claimants based on paragraph 3,5,6 and 7 of their affidavit.
He said the paragraphs which cited the plight of students who ought to have graduated still in school as the result of the strike and the claimants who owns the public universities that are on strike as balance of convenience.
The court also ruled that the intellect of students who have been out of school for several months equated irreparable loss and damages were the facilities that have been dormant for months.
The court also discountenanced the argument of the defendant which submitted that the urgency of the matter was self- induced.
Falana in his submission had prayed the court for an accelerated hearing in the suit instead of granting an interlocutory injunction.
The court however differed that it was not self-induced as parties had been in negotiation all the while until the defendant declared the strike as indefinite on Aug.29.
The court therefore held that the conduct of the claimants were not reprehensible.
The court in conclusion stated that granting an injunction was at the discretion of the court, that the court however found the application meritorious on the strength of section 256 of the Constitution, section 18(1e) of the Trade Disputes Act and section 17 of the NICN proceeding, as shown by the claimants
The court made no order as to cost and added that the court will be sent back to the president of the court to be reassigned as the court ends its vacation by Sept.27.
News Agency of Nigeria ( NAN) reports that the the Minister of Labour and Employment on behalf of the Federal Government had filed the matter before the court by way of referral instrument to resolve the issue of the ongoing strike by ASUU.
Also joined as a claimant in the suit is the Minister of Education (NAN)