Home News Subsidy Removal: Justice ministry disagrees with Falana, restates warning against NLC strike

Subsidy Removal: Justice ministry disagrees with Falana, restates warning against NLC strike

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Falana
Falana

The Federal Ministry of Justice has restated its warning against the plan by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) to embark on a nationwide strike in protest against the hike in petrol pump prices resulting from the removal of fuel subsidy by the federal government.

The NLC had last Wednesday threatened to begin a nationwide strike, amid skyrocketing prices of food, as well as crucial goods and services in the aftermath of the subsidy removal.

The Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Beatrice Jedy-Agba, re-echoed the federal government’s warning against the strike in a letter addressed to the lawyer of the Labour union, Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

Mrs Jedy-Agba had last week, in the wake of the threat by the NLC to go on strike, warned the union against taking such steps, which, she said, would amount to a violation of a court order.

The official, whose ministry represents the federal government in court, referenced an order issued by the National Industrial Court in Abuja on 5 June, restraining the organised Labour comprising the NLC, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and their affiliates from embarking on strike over subsidy removal.

Falana’s argument

Mr Falana had written to Mrs Jedy-Agba to say the actions being planned by his clients were not contemptuous of court.

He said his clients planned to embark on a peaceful rally to protest against the subsidy removal and that no court order was stopping such.

In his letter dated 28 July, Mr Falana cited a judicial authority affirming the right of Nigerians to protest without the need to obtain a police permit.


“It is pertinent to draw your attention to the case of Inspector-General of Police 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,” the letter read in part.

It added: “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.”

Justice Ministry’s response

But replying to Mr Falana in a letter dated 31 July, Mrs Jedy-Agba insisted that the workers’ right to protest was not in contention.

She also said her earlier statement did not accuse the workers of contempt, but only brought their attention and that of the public to the pendency of a suit on the subject matter they were planning to protest about.

However, she said the planned actions of the union, whether as a protest or a peaceful rally, were inappropriate in as much as they were planned to protest against fuel subsidy removal, which, she said, was the central issue pending before the court.

“Parties are expected to maintain the status quo even in the absence of a restraining order,” she stated.

She noted that the NLC had threatened “to embark on a nation-wide action to force the government (employer) to agree to its demands. Furthermore, the participation of workers in the protest will result in restriction, or limitation on, or a delay in the performance of work.”

“The foregoing, inclusive of the purported peaceful protest (in view of its intended aims or purposes), undoubtedly amounts to an industrial action.

 

“It is incumbent on your law firm to sensitise the labour unions that peaceful protests are no justification for disrupting or shutting down essential services, which is tantamount to a strike action,” Mrs Jedy-Agba stated.

‘Unions’ plans go beyond peaceful rally’

She also disagreed with Mr Falana on the true nature of actions planned by the NLC and other affiliate unions.

According to her, the communique and comments credited to them in the media show that the union planned to go beyond peaceful protests.

“From the communique, it is apparent that the current move by NLC goes beyond peaceful protest by issuing a seven-day ultimatum for government to meet its demands and also embark on a nation-wide action to compel government to reverse alleged anti-worker policies.

“Furthermore, uncontroverted media reports have established that NLC is not planning a peaceful protest but intending to ground the government by endangering public peace, instilling fear in the masses, precipitating further crisis,” she stated.

The official also quoted Assistant General Secretary of NLC as saying: “Nigerians should be prepared. That’s what we are saying. Being prepared means you have to stock food in your house and be economical with your movement at this particular point in lime so as to avoid being stranded…”

She went on to add that the Nigeria Union of Petroleum & Natural Gas Workers and National Union of Electricity Employees “confirmed that they were working towards grounding supply of fuel and the national electricity grid.”

She cited a quote from the remarks of the Acting General Secretary of NUEE treating that the union would participate in the industrial action and as such, “all workers in the power sector will join the mass protest on Wednesday, 2 August 2023.”

Mrs Jedy-Agba said the actions threatened by the workers were part of the steps the court had ordered them not to take.

“We reiterate that the interim order clearly restrained NLC from embarking on industrial action of any nature. It is common knowledge that strike is only a form of industrial action,” she said, adding, “Based on the foregoing, you may wish to advise your clients accordingly.”

Strike

NLC had last Wednesday issued a notice to begin a nationwide strike on 2 August 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 29 May.

Both the TUC and the NLC had declared a strike in the wake of the announcement of the major policy shift but later dropped the plan at the last minute after a marathon of meetings with the federal government.

 

 

While negotiations with the Labour leaders were ongoing, the federal government approached the National Industrial Court in Abuja and, on 5 June, obtained a court order to stop the strike.

The Labour leaders dropped the strike plan in succumbing to the court order and the promise by the government to implement some palliative measures.

Despite their frantic efforts to have the court order set aside, the judge, Olufunke Anuwe, rather reaffirmed it on 19 June.

The application by Labour to have the court lift the order banning the strike was still pending in court as of when the NLC declared a new strike on 24 July (last week Monday).

Meanwhile, the committee set up by the government to negotiate with the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) on subsidy removal has not made much progress.

A few days after the President removed the fuel subsidy, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) announced a new price regime ranging from N537 to N600 per litre of petrol.

On 18 July, the NNPCL further pushed the price to N617 per litre, saying market forces informed it.

Prices of goods and services, including food and transport fares, have skyrocketed in response to the hike in pump prices across the country, adding to the economic woes of millions of Nigerians struggling to meet their basic needs.

Many have resorted to trekking long distances to reduce the cost of transportation.

Read Justice Ministry’s letter in full

SOLICITOR-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION AND PERMANENT SECRETARY

FEDERAL MINISTRY OF JUSTICE
PLOT 71B
SHEHU SHAGARI WAY, MAITAIMA ABUJA NIGERIA

Ref.No.: NJ/CIV/ABJ/316/32
Date: 31 July 2023

MESSRS. FALANA & FALANA’S CHAMBERS 22 Mediterranean Street,
Imani Estate,
Maitama,
Abuja.

RE: NLC NOT IN CONTEMPT OF COURT

Please refer to your correspondence dated 28 July 2023 as it relates to the proposed nation-wide action by the Nigerian Labour Congress.

2. This Ministry has perused the said correspondence, which clearly misconstrued the reported position of this Ministry, and we deem it fit to put the issues in their proper perspective as follows:

a) Parties are expected to maintain the status quo even in the absence of a restraining order. However, there was no threat of contempt of court in the clarification provided by this Ministry. Undoubtedly, drawing the attention of NLC and the public to the pendency of the order cannot be equated with threats.

b) The issue of peaceful protests and police permit are also not in contention; however, you may wish to be guided by the contents of the Communique issued by the National Executive Council of NLC at the end of its meeting of 27 July 2023. The decision or projected cause of action by NLC are directed principally in furtherance of issues connected with hike in fuel price and consequential matters of palliatives and workers welfare. We assert that it is grossly inappropriate to lead public protest in respect of issues relating to or connected with fuel price increase, which are currently before the court.

c) From the Communique, it is apparent that the current move by NLC goes beyond peaceful protest by issuing a seven-day ultimatum for government to meet its demands and also embark on a nation-wide action to compel government to reverse alleged anti-worker policies.

d) Furthermore, uncontroverted media reports have established that NLC is not planning a peaceful protest but intending to ground the government by endangering public peace, instilling fear in the masses, precipitating further crisis. To buttress the above, the Assistant General Secretary of NLC, stated thus: “Nigerwans should be prepared. That’s what we are saying. Being prepared means you have to stock food in your house and be economical with your

movement at this particular point in lime so as to avoid being stranded…”

e) In the same vein, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum & Natural Gas Workers and National Union of Electricity Employees confirmed that they were working towards grounding supply of fuel and the national electricity grid. The Ag. General Secretary of NUEE stated thus: “The NUEE is an affiliate of the NLC and I’ve told you that we will join the strike action. The issue is that if there’s a deadlock between labour and the government; that means that the mass protest is stull going on, and definitely electricity workers, as an affiliate of the NLC, will partake in the mass protest. So, all workers in the power sector will join the mass protest on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. It is binding on every staff member to join the strike action. So, if it results in a blackout, the only option is for the government to listen to us if ut wants power to return.”

We reiterate that the interim order clearly restrained NLC from embarking on industrial action of any nature. It is common knowledge that strike is only a form of industrial action. NLC has expressed intention to embark on a nation-wide action to force the government (employer) to agree to its demands. Furthermore, the participation of workers in the protest will result in restriction, or limitation on, or a delay in the performance of work. The foregoing, inclusive of the purported peaceful protest (in view of its intended aims or purposes), undoubtedly amounts to an industrial action.

g) It is incumbent on your law firm to sensitise the labour unions that peaceful protests are no justification for disrupting or shutting down essential services, which is tantamount to a strike action.

Based on the foregoing, you may wish to advise your clients accordingly.

Please accept the assurance of my esteemed regards.

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