Annoyed that the National Industrial court through provocative ex parte injunctions in favour of the Federal government against organised labour unions has undermined her integrity, frontline civil society body:- Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has called for vigilance by the hierarchy, to stem off encroachments on its independence by the executive arm of government.
HURIWA spoke against the backdrop of what it called incessant exparte injunctions purportedly meant to restrain the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress from declaring Industrial dispute since the emergence of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on May 29th 2023.
This is contained in a Press statement dated 15th November 2023 and signed by HURIWA National Coordinator,
Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko.
The Rights group wondered how else workers would bargain collectively for improved conditions of service since the current government arbitrarily removed subsidy on petroleum products, if the National Industrial Court now constituted itself into a cog in the wheel of Progressive and constructive dialogues between workers and government.
Reminding the court system in Nigeria on the need to safeguard Judicial integrity and to push back vigourously against the massive incursions and interference of the executive arm of government, HURIWA said: “In the immortal words of the late jurist, justice Niki Tobi (1992) Justice of the Supreme court as he then was, ‘ex parte in our adjectival laws means proceeding brought on behalf of one interested party without notice to and in the absence of the other party. This means that the application for interim ‘injunction brought ex-parte is heard by trial Judges in the absence of the adverse party’. HURIWA believes that the granting of ex parte orders of injunction seems to be totally inconsistent with the principles of fair hearing.
The Rights group expressed dismay that “emerging trends from the National Industrial Court is dangerously pointing towards the erroneous impression that the specialised court system was established for the sole purpose of intimidating, harassing and muzzling the organised labour unions in the Country from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights as workers, and impedes the use of collective bargaining which is a global best practice”.
HURIWA therefore called for caution on the part of the National Industrial Court, noting that if the negative and obstructive trends continue, and Nigerians lose confidence in the specialised court, it would imply that the National Industrial Court has made workers to embrace armed struggles which would not augur well for Industrial harmony.
It added that the frequent abuse of the principle of justice, fairness and equity as provided for in section 36(5) of the Constitution, is dangerous to the growth of constitutional democracy in the Country.
HURIWA also cited the position of respected senior lawyer Chief Afe Babalola who warned court system in Nigeria thus: “To permit any interference with or usurpation of the authority of the court, as aforestated, will be tantamount to striking at that bulwark which the constitution in any democratic state or society gives and guarantees to the citizens in terms of fairness to him against all arbitrariness and oppression. The preservation of and non-interference with, the independence of the judiciary and the jurisdiction of the court are so important, if not indispensable, that most constitutions have specifically and expressly provided that neither the legislature nor the executive shall enact or purport to make any law that oust or purports to oust the jurisdiction of a court of law or judicial tribunal established by law”.
The Association went down memory lane on the emergence of the National Industrial Court to show that the specialised court has come a long way before it assumed the status of a superior court of record in the Nigerian constitution, thus: “There are also some specialist courts established after Nigeria’s independence in 1960. For example, the national Industrial Court (NIC) was established in 1979 by the Trade Dispute Act. Section 19 provides:There shall be a National Industrial Court for Nigeria (in this part of this Act referred to as “the Court” ) which shall have such Jurisdiction and powers as are conferred on it by this or any other Act with respect to the settlement of trade dispute, the interpretation of collective agreements and matters connected therewith”.
The Rights group quoting the work of the erudite lawyer Chief Afe Babalola reminded the hierarchy of the court system in the country that “the unfortunate omission created a loophole which parties often exploited to challenge the jurisdiction of the NIC and thereby hampered its effectiveness. The defect, accordingly was apparently cured by the Trade Dispute (Amendment) Decree 1992, which legislation expressly made the NIC a superior court of record. It can be seen from the foregoing that the role of a strong and independent judiciary in Nation-building cuts across of every segment of the society or the Nation’s life as can be seen in relation to the role proactive and progressive of the NIC as a specialist court in Nigeria” the statement read.
HURIWA further cautioned the National Industrial Court against behaving contrary to the Bangalore Principles which are intended to establish standards for ethical conduct of judges all around the world, even as the Rights group emphasised that the Bangalore Principles are designed to provide guidance to judges and to offer the judiciary a framework for regulating judicial conduct.
The Rights group added that the Bangalore Principles’ six core values of Independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality, competence and diligence, are recognized.