The National Industrial Court (NIC), sitting in Abuja, will today, Wednesday, deliver a ruling on an interlocutory application filed by the Federal Government for an order to compel the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU), to call-off its seven months’ old lingering strike.
At the end of arguments canvassed by counsel to the parties, the presiding judge, Justice Polycarp Hamman, adjourned the application for ruling. While James Igwe appeared for the Federal Government, ASUU was represented by Femi Falana.
Making his submissions during yesterday’s proceedings, counsel to the Federal Government, Igwe, urged the court to order the striking varsity lecturers to, in the interim, return to the classroom pending the determination of the suit.
He insisted that the matter was not only urgent but of great national interest as millions of students have been at home since February 14. The lawyer submitted that “Section 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”.
Igwe said there was need for the matter to be expeditiously determined to enable university students to return to school. He argued that since the dispute between the Federal Government and lecturers 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.
Counsel to ASUU, Femi Falana, said the union was meeting with stakeholders to ensure an amicable resolution of all the thorny issues. He, therefore, appealed to the Government to cooperate with the union to resolve the issue. He equally faulted a referral for an order to compel ASUU to return to work forwarded to the court by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige. In addition, Falana 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, Justice Hamman had earlier waved aside a preliminary objection filed by ASUU against the suit, on the grounds that it was not ripe for hearing. The judge held that the rules of the court made provision for such objection to be heard alongside the substantive suit.
Recall that ASUU had on February 14, embarked on an initial four weeks strike. The Federal government had, through the Ministry of Labour and Employment, approached the court to compel the striking lecturers to return to the classroom.