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Reason why Court ordered ASUU to call off 7-month long strike

The National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting in Abuja, yesterday, ordered the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to call off its seven-month-old strike and return to their classrooms.

But ASUU in a swift reaction said it would appeal the ruling today.

The court order in a ruling delivered by Justice Polycarp Hamman followed an application the Federal Government filed for an interlocutory order to compel ASUU, which embarked on strike since February 14, to return to the classroom.

The Federal Government’s lawyer, Mr James Igwe, had prayed the court to order the striking varsity lecturers too, in the interim, return to work pending the determination of the substantive suit before the court.

He maintained that the matter is not only urgent but also of great national interest as millions of students had been at home for over seven months.

“Section 47 of the Trade Dispute Act, TDA, 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 argued.

He contended that under section 18(1)E of the TDA, employees could not continue a strike when a matter was already referred to the industrial court for adjudication.

Igwe said there is a need for the matter to be expeditiously determined to enable university students to return to school, adding that failure to call off the strike will cause irreparable damage not only to the students but also to the nation.

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According to him, since the dispute between the Federal Government and lecturers is already before the court for adjudication, it will be proper and in the interest of justice for the strike to be suspended.

In his ruling, Justice Hamman held that the application is meritorious and deserved to be granted by the court.

While dismissing objections ASUU raised through its lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, the court held that the strike is detrimental to public university students that could not afford to attend private tertiary institutions.

“The balance of convenience tilts in favour of the applicant. I hold that this application is meritorious and this application is granted,” Justice Hamman ruled.

The court, thereafter, issued an order restraining ASUU, “whether by themselves, members, agents, privies or howsoever called, from taking further steps and doing any act in continuance of the strike, pending the hearing and determination of the suit filed.”

It, however, declined to award costs against ASUU as the Federal Government had demanded.

It will be recalled that ASUU had embarked on an initial four weeks strike to press home its demands that included improved funding for universities, as well as a review of salaries for lecturers.

It therefore extended the strike indefinitely on August 29, following a breakdown of negotiations between the union and the government.

While ASUU accused Federal Government of being insincere in its negotiation, the government, through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, approached the court to order the striking lecturers to resume to the classroom.