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How proposed NLC strike may affect presidential election petition

By Joseph Onyekwere (Lagos) and Bridget Chiedu Onochie (Abuja)  
06 June 2023   |   4:20 am
As labour unions warm up for industrial action against the recent petroleum subsidy removal, many Nigerians and of course, observers from across the world are wondering about its likely implications for the ongoing election petition at the tribunal.

JUSUN

As labour unions warm up for industrial action against the recent petroleum subsidy removal, many Nigerians and of course, observers from across the world are wondering about its likely implications for the ongoing election petition at the tribunal.
  
This was as the judiciary workers, whose responsibilities and statutory duties are critical to Justices of the Petition Tribunal, are equally determined to join their colleagues in the strike scheduled to commence on Wednesday, June 7, if the ongoing dialogue between trade unions and the Federal Government fails to yield the desired result.
  
In the said letter to the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) dated June 3 and signed by M.J Akwashiki for the General Secretary, all branches and chapters of the union across the country were requested to mobilise for a nationwide action and withdraw their service with effect from Wednesday.
  


Electoral law stipulates that the tribunal has a maximum of 180 days within which to deliver its judgment, some lawyers have viewed the constitutional and social implications of the strike and suggested that if the impending strike is not nipped in the bud, it may have a ripple effect on the election petition tribunal.
  
An Election Tribunal must also deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of filing of the petition. An appeal from a decision of an Election Tribunal or Court must be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of the delivery of the judgment of the tribunal or court.
  
In view of the prevailing situations, lawyers have viewed the two sides of the proposed strike, especially with regard to the timely conclusion of the assignment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT).
  
In his reaction, the Dean, Faculty of Law, Redeemer’s University, Ede, Prof. Bukola Akinola stated that an unbiased determination of the various cases instituted in the various election petition tribunals across Nigeria remains vital to the country’s democratic history and development.
  
“The history of issues before the various election petition tribunal is what has led the National Assembly, INEC, Political Parties, CSOs and others, to seek for harmony as regards the time within which election petition should be heard and determined. Furthermore, the evolution of the 180 days within which an election petition should be heard and determined exists to curb the tendency of an incumbent whose election is being challenged to have stayed far too long in the office under contention.
  
“However, prior to the fifth Alteration to the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999, the provisions of the Public Holidays Act and the Interpretation Act are to the best of my knowledge, the laws that would directly affect the time elasticity as far as computation of time is concerned aside from the constitution and the Electoral Act 2022.
  
“As far as industrial action is concerned; judicial workers are part of the larger Trade Union affiliates in Nigeria. As a result, they are duty-bound to join the strike action. However, as a matter of national importance, it is my view that the election petition should continue with their sittings without any interruption from the Labour movement.
  
“In the light of the above reasoning, force majeure and strike actions are no longer countenanced going by the passage into law of the fifth Alteration to the Constitution. In essence, every other enactment is subject to the constitution whether it is the Public Holidays Act, Interpretation Act or the Trade Disputes Act. In essence, the period of the industrial action would not be counted for the purpose of computing the 180 days within which the election petition should be heard and determined,” Akinola stated.
  
Also speaking, a Port Harcourt-based constitutional lawyer, Chief Festus Oguche, believes that the proposed strike action will likely be one of the protests that will welcome the brand new administration, which is only a few days old onto the streams of governance.
  
He wondered how a new administration deliberately plunged itself headlong into a confrontation with the constituents right from the first day of its inauguration.
  
“It piques anybody that the pronouncement by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu could be described as a Freudian slip, as immediately upon that, NNPCL moved in to declare prices of petroleum products.
  
“The later clarification from the Presidency that it was meant for implementation on a subsequent date leaves no one with any shade of doubt that the whole thing was premeditated. But the question that would evoke curiosity becomes why an incoming President would want to court such controversy on a very sensitive matter right from the onset of his administration and at the inauguration ground of all places.
 

“While one wonders at the recklessness of that hasty decision, it becomes imaginable whether officials gave themselves a pat on the back for their savvy and smartness, or are regretful of the inconsiderate action. But in spite of this though, the infamous decision of the government has now become the rallying point for national discourse and the national constituents are supportive of the strike action.

“In other words, the groundswell of public opinion stands in condemnation of the subsidy removal which has drastically affected average homes and families in the country.”
  
Oguche added that opposition to the policy stand in defiance of social, political, partisan and primordial considerations, which is a rare situation in the country.
 
According to him, the unanimity of the critical popular mass has somewhat pitched the government against the people and so, industrial action becomes inevitable for the people to ventilate their air of mistrust and low public confidence that has become the lot of the new government.
  
“A hard stance or resort to harassment and intimidation of labour leaders or protesters on the part of the government would be senseless, and I will not vouch for the popular acceptance of a judicial option. Indeed, that would out rightly be rejected judging from the mood of the people.
  
“This leaves the government with the only reasonable and viable option of choosing dialogue and it must put its first foot forward in that direction and stand steadily on that ground without shifting its gaze one bit. I know that at the end, sound reason would prevail in all the rubble of noise and distraction which the new government created for itself and which it appears to relish.
  
He, however, noted that when matters, which have reached a point of protest, see an olive branch in the form of a dialogue dangling, parties should disembark from their high horses and take formidable positions in the valley of reality.
  
According to him, dispute resolution is founded on two-way streams, and usually, parties meet themselves halfway. He warned that the economic implications of a long drawn nationwide strike action are manifold and the earlier it is resolved, the better for everybody.
  
“We are currently in an economy that inhabits all the negative indices of hyperinflationary trends, the near sectoral deaths, poor monetary and inchoate fiscal dispensation that should spell doom for any country, but for the resilience of the Nigerian economy.
  
Adding: “It will affect the ongoing tribunal sittings though, as the adjudication on the election petitions will be put on hold as long as the strike action lasts. The constitutional duration for the sitting of the tribunal remains intact within the period as it will not be counted as long as the strike action lasts and the tribunals will resume their normal sittings when the strike action is called off.
  
“But this unsavoury trend should have been avoided if the new administration had applied more calculative and discreet action on the matter. It is gravely unwise for a new administration to take off from a scorched and sordid ground.”
  
But Prof Edoba Omoregie (SAN) appears to hold a contrary view. In his reaction, he stated that the strike would not affect the election petition. He also suggested a virtual proceeding where it becomes difficult to meet physically.
  


“The Tribunal will continue sitting irrespective of any strike. If it is impossible to physically sit, it can adopt virtual means to sit. The Supreme Court has held that virtual court proceedings are as valid as physical or in-person court proceedings”, he said.
  
Also speaking, a rights activist and Abuja-based lawyer, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, stated that while it is the right of judiciary workers to embark on strike as empowered by the constitution, it is not the best option to ventilate grievances.
  
He also believed that just as workers have rights to strike actions, litigants equally have the right for their matters brought before the court to be heard. “So, we are talking about the rights of everybody. Workers have the right to strike; litigants too have rights.
  
“So, it is a case of two rights competing with each other. But when it comes to election petitions, it is statutory and constitutional.

The constitution defined the way and manner of proceedings of election petitions. Besides, the petition also has its own limitations.

Now, the question we should ask ourselves is the benefit of a strike that will prevent litigants from ventilating their grievance, particularly when the matter is time-bound. I feel that Nigerians should do the needful so that things will work well,” Ajulo stated.