Planned NLC Protests Not In Violation Of Court Order – Falana Replies AGF 

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Kemisola Oye 

COUNSEL to Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), Femi Falana (SAN) has said that the proposed public protest of the organised labour movement scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday (27 and 28 February 2024) is not contemptuous of the two ex parte orders of the National Industrial Court(NIC). 

Mr Falana was reacting to a letter addressed to him by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Lateef Fagbemi. in his capacity as the counsel to the two labour organisations.

Mr Fagbemi had said the proposed protest was contemptuous of a court order, urging the organised labour to shelve the action.

However, Mr Falana believes the issue of contempt does not arise as the NLC has challenged the jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court to entertain the substantive case.

He stated this in a letter dated 24th February 2024 addressed to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Lateef Fagbemi (SAN).

The letter was titled: RE: MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING REACHED BETWEEN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA AND THE TRADE UNION CONGRESS (TUC) AS A RESULT OF DISPUTE ARISING FROM WITHDRAWAL OF SUBSIDY ON THE PRICE OF PREMIUM MOTOR SPIRIT (PMS) ON MONDAY THE 2ND DAY OF OCTOBER, 2023″.

Mr Falana further submitted that the National Industrial Court has not restrained the members of the NLC from exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression to protest against the excruciating economic pains being experienced by the masses. 

To support his argument, he cited the case of Inspector-General of Police v All Nigeria Peoples Party (2008) 12 WRN 65, where the Court of Appeal upheld the fundamental right of Nigerians to protest on matters of public interest without a police permit.

In the leading judgment of the court, Olufunmilayo Adekeye JCA (as she then was) held inter alia: “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 would occur, our criminal code has made adequate provisions for sanctions against the breakdown of law and order so that the requirements of a permit as a conditionality to holding meetings and rallies can no longer be justified in a democratic society.

“Since freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are part of the democratic rights of every citizen of Nigeria, the Court of Appeal further held that, “the legislature must guard these rights jealously as they are part of the foundation upon which the government itself rests.”

Mr Falana said the National Assembly has consequently ensured that the right of aggrieved citizens to protest peacefully for or against the government is protected. 

He said Section 83(4) of the Police Establishment Act 2020, stated “Where a person or organisation notifies the police of his or its intention to hold a public meeting, rally or procession on a public highway or such meetings in a place where the public has access to, the police officer responsible for the area where the meeting, rally or procession will take place shall mobilize personnel to provide security to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession.

While we have advised the members of the NLC to conduct the rallies scheduled for 27-28 February 2024 in a peaceful manner, we urge you to use your good offices to direct the Inspector-General of Police to provide adequate security to the conveners and participants in the protest in line with the provisions of Section 83(4) of the Police Establishment Act.

Having withdrawn the contempt proceedings filed against the NLC and TUC for embarking on public protest on 2 August 2023, you ought not to have threatened the NLC with contempt of court over its plan to hold rallies from 27-28 February 2024 against the astronomical cost of living in the country”, he contended. 

Mr Falana recalled that following the removal of fuel subsidy by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on 29 May 2023, the Federal Government commenced negotiations with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) as the subsidy removal policy had brought untold hardship to Nigerians.

He said while the negotiations were in progress, the Federal Ministry of Justice rushed to the National Industrial Court to file Suit No NICN/ABJ/158/2023 between the Federal Government of Nigeria & Anor. v Nigeria Labour Congress & Anor in respect of the same issues.

He said on 5 June 2023 the Honourable Justice Yemi Anuwe granted the application of the Federal Government for an ex parte order to restrain the NLC and TUC from embarking on strike against the removal of fuel subsidy. 

Although both the NLC and TUC complied with the ex parte order, they promptly filed an application to set aside the same for want of jurisdiction.

 

Eighteen-Eleven Media 

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