FG Backtracks, Withdraws Contempt Suit Against Labour, NLC Considers Strike Suspension

The Federal Government on Monday withdrew its contempt suit filed against leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress for masterminding a nationwide anti-subsidy removal protest on August 2, 2023.

This came barely five days after the Federal Ministry of Justice sued the organised labour leaders for allegedly going against a court order barring them from leading the nationwide protest.

Recall that the National Industrial Court had barred the organised labour from embarking on strike action but human rights lawyer and counsel to the organised labour, Femi Falana, insisted the union was within its constitutional authority to proceed with the protest.

The organised labour met with President Bola Tinubu on Wednesday evening, and reached an agreement to suspend the one-day protest. The development followed agreements that the Federal Government would approve labour awards and Fasttrack the implementation of subsidy palliative.  

Not minding the agreement, the Federal Ministry of Justice dragged the organised labour to court for court contempt, a development that angered labour leaders who later announced plans to commence a nationwide strike on August 14.  

However, the Justice Ministry on Monday disclosed that government had backpedalled on continuing with the contempt suit.

This was contained in a letter by the ministry, dated August 7, 2023, and addressed to the NLC through their counsel, Femi Falana, signed by the Permanent Secretary, Beatrice Jeddy-Agba.

The ministry said the contempt proceeding filed against the labour leaders was no longer valid as the proceedings were filed before the interventions of the President and the National Assembly.

The letter read, “The attention of the Federal Ministry of Justice has been drawn to the Communique issued by the Nigeria Labour Congress on 3 August 2023 wherein NC announced the suspension of its nationwide protests and criticised the contempt summons issued by the National Industrial Court (*Court”), amongst other issues.

See Also: FG Describes NLC Proposed Strike As Illegal

“Kindly recall the exchange of correspondence between the Ministry and your Office on the need for compliance with the extant court orders, restraining industrial action of any kind on the part of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress. The position of the Ministry was informed by the need to safeguard the integrity of the court and prevent avoidable service disruption or damages to public facilities.

“However, despite these exchanges/interventions, the labour unions on 2nd August 2023 proceeded with the industrial action through public protests which led to disruption of work and the eventual pulling down of the gate of the National Assembly. The foregoing prompted the Ministry to initiate contempt proceedings by filing Form 48 on the same 2nd August 2023 in accordance with Section 72 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act and Order 9 Rule 13 of the Judgment (Enforcement) Rules.”

The letter further read, “It is trite that issuance of Form 48 is just the starting point in contempt proceedings which will only crystalise upon the issuance of Form 49 and the consequential committal order. Upon the intervention of His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the decision of the labour unions to call-off their industrial action after meetings with the President and leadership of the National Assembly, this Ministry did not proceed further with the contempt proceedings, which would have required the issuance of Form 49 within two days of the issuance of Form 48.

“It is self-evident that the non-issuance of Form 49 as at 4th of August 2023, renders the contempt proceedings inchoate. You may therefore wish to advise or guide the labour unions on the practice and procedure of contempt proceedings, particularly to the effect that the issues or concerns raised by NLC in its communiqué on the proceedings have been overtaken by events.”

When contacted on Monday as to whether the NLC would go ahead with its planned strike, Falana noted that the decision rests on the labour leaders.

Obiajulu Joel Nwolu

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