The National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting in Abuja, has slated Wednesday to rule on an application the Federal Government filed for an interlocutory order to compel the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to call off its ongoing strike action.
Justice Polycarp Hamman adjourned the application for ruling after he entertained arguments from both counsels to FG, Mr James Igwe and that of ASUU, Mr Femi Falana, SAN.
FG’s lawyer, Igwe, had at the resumed proceedings in the matter on Monday, prayed the court to order the striking varsity lecturers to in the interim, return to the classroom, pending the determination of the suit.
He maintained that the matter was not only urgent but of great national interest as millions of students have been at home since February 14.
“Sections 47 of the Trade Dispute Act gives your lordship the power to direct that no worker should continue to embark on strike pending when the applications are heard and determined”, he argued.
Igwe said there was need for the matter to be expeditiously determined to enable university students to return to school.
According to him, since the dispute between FG and lectures is already before the court for adjudication, it would be proper and in the interest of justice for the strike action to be called off.
On his part, ASUU’s lawyer, Mr. Falana, SAN, said the union was currently meeting with stakeholders to ensure an amicable resolution of all the thorny issues.
Falana, therefore, appealed to the government to cooperate with the union to resolve the issue.
Besides, he faulted a referral the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige forwarded to the court for an order to compel ASUU to return to work.
The senior lawyer argued that such referral amounted to a directive from the Minister to the court.
He maintained that neither a Minister nor the President could wield such powers as to control a court of competent jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, before he gave FG the nod to move its application for interim injunction, Justice Hamman, waved aside a preliminary objection that ASUU filed against it.
The judge held that the preliminary objection was not ripe for hearing, adding that rules of the court made provision for such objection to be heard alongside the substantive suit.
It will be recalled that ASUU had on February 14, embarked on an initial four weeks strike.
It subsequently extended the strike action indefinitely, on August 29, following the breakdown of negotiations between the aggrieved varsity lecturers and FG.
However, FG, said it wants the court to adjudicate on the propriety or otherwise of the strike action.
While ASUU accused FG of not being sincere in its negotiation, the government, through the Ministry of Labour and Employment, approached the court to compel the striking lecturers to return to the classroom.
Specifically, it urged the court to, “interpret in its entirety the provisions of Section 18 LFN 2004, especially as it applies to the cessation of strike once a trade dispute is apprehended by the Minister of Labour and Employment and conciliation is ongoing”.
As well as requested for, “an order of the Court for ASUU members to resume work in their various universities while the issues in dispute are being addressed by the NICN in consonance with the provisions of Section 18 (I) (b) of the TDA Cap T8. LFN 2004”.