Falana says NLC’s planned protest, strike is lawful
Human rights lawyer Femi Falana says the Nigeria Labour Congress and its affiliates can proceed on the Aug. 2 strike and protest as planned, saying the exercise does not translate to contempt of court.
This is contained in a letter from the Falana Falana Chambers, solicitors to the NLC, by Sam Ogala, titled “Re- NLC in contemt of Court” and addressed to the Permanent Secretary/ Solicitor-General, Federal Ministry of Justice on July 28.
According to the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the decision of Nigerian workers to participate in peaceful rallies is for the interest of the masses and to protest the worsening economic crisis in the country.
“You were reported to have accused the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress of treating the order of the National Industrial Court with contempt.
“Contrary to your unwarranted allegation, the Nigeria Labour Congress does not intend to disobey the ex parte order of the National Industrial Court.
“And to the effect that “the defendants/respondents are hereby restrained from embarking on the planned Industrial Action/or strike of any nature, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice dated June 5.”
Falana added that the National Industrial Court or any other Court had not granted an order of interim, interlocutory or perpetual injunction restraining Nigerian workers from participating in peaceful rallies convened by the NLC.
He argued that it was the constitutional right of Nigerian workers to protest peacefully and cannot by any stretch of imagination be classified as an industrial action or strike of any nature.
“It is pertinent to draw your attention to the case of Inspector- General of Polic vs Nigeria People Party (2008) of where the Court 12 WRN 65, where the Court upheld the fundamental right of Nigerians to protest without police permit in the leading judgment of the Court, Justice Adekeye.
“This includes the right to demonstrate, and the right to protest on matters of public concern are rights which are in the public interest and that which individuals must possess, and which they should exercise without impediment as long as no wrongful act is done.
“If as speculated by law enforcement agents, that breach of the peace will occur, our criminal code has made adequate provisions for sanctions against breakdown of law and order.
“So that the requirement of permit as a conditionality to holding meetings and rallies can no longer be justified in a democratic society.”
He added that, finally, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are part of democratic rights of every citizen of the country.
“Our legislature must guard these rights jealously as they are part of the foundation upon which the government itself rests.
“Having advised the NLC and its allies to conduct the rallies peacefully, you may wish to advise the Nigeria Police Force to comply with section 83(4) of the Police Establishment Act 2020.
“Where a person or organisation notifies the police of his or its intention to hold a public meeting, rally or procession on a public highway or such meetings in a place where the public has access to.
“The police officer responsible for the area where the meeting rally or procession will take place shall mobilise personnel to provide security to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession,” he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the National Industrial Court in Abuja on June 5, restrained the NLC and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, from embarking on their planned strike to protest the unilateral removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government.
The court, in a ruling that was delivered by Justice O. Y. Anuwe, barred the two organizations from proceeding with the strike action, pending the determination of a suit that was brought before it by FG.
NAN reports that the court held that the interim order, as well as the substantive suit, should be immediately served on both the NLC and the TUC, which were cited as defendants/respondents in the suit marked: NICN/ABJ/158/2023, even it fixed the matter for hearing on June 19.
The court order followed an ex-parte application that FG filed through the Federal Ministry of Justice.
FG’s lawyer, Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiru, who moved the application, maintained that the proposed strike action was capable of disrupting economic activities, the health sector and the educational sector.
FG further tendered Exhibits FGN 1, 2 and 3, which were notices from the NLC, TUC and the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, to their members, asking them to withdraw their services with effect from Wednesday, June 7.
The court, in its ruling, held that it was empowered by section 7(b) of the NIC Act, 2006, with the exclusive jurisdiction in matters relating to the grant of any order to restrain any person or body from taking part in any strike, lockout or any industrial action.
It held that sections 16 and 19(a) of the NIC Act 2006, also empowered it to grant urgent interim reliefs.
The court held that the affidavit of urgency as well as the submission of FG’s lawyer revealed: “a scenario that may gravely affect the larger society and the well-being of the nation at large”.
NAN also reports that on July 27, the federal government said the planned strike by the NLC over the removal of fuel subsidy and its attendant hardship is in contempt of an order of the national industrial court.
Solicitor-General of the Federation Beatrice Jeddy-Agba, in a statement on the issue, warned the NLC leadership to desist from threatening court orders with disdain.
The NLC, on July 19, issued a notice to begin a nationwide strike on Aug. 2 to protest the removal of fuel subsidy amid an astronomical hike in the pump price of petrol resulting from the policy announced by President Bola Tinubu at his inauguration on May 29.
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