In a bold defiance of a court injunction, labour unions in Nigeria, led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), have continued their nationwide strike for the second consecutive day. This industrial action is rooted in the recent brutalisation of NLC President Joe Ajaero in Imo State and unmet demands following President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s removal of fuel subsidies. Despite the restraint order issued by Justice Benedict Kanyip of the Nigeria Industrial Court (NIC), the unions pressed forward, citing ongoing violations of workers’ rights in Imo State as their primary grievance.
Civil society organisations (CSOs), including Transparency International (TI), the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), and the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), have strongly criticised this move. Awwal Musa Rafsanjani, representing these organisations, emphasised the importance of adhering to the rule of law, especially in a constitutional democracy like Nigeria. Rafsanjani urged labour unions not to mirror the government’s disregard for court orders, highlighting the risk of discrediting the union’s cause by such actions.
Similarly, the Patriotism Awareness Forum (PAF) has condemned the strike, labelling it a serious affront to democracy and the rule of law. PAF’s leaders, Nelson Ekujumi and Peter Claver Oparah, have called for government intervention to address this blatant contempt of court orders.
On the legal front, several senior lawyers have joined the chorus calling for the arrest of labour leaders. Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Abdul Balogun, and others have urged the government to commence contempt proceedings, underscoring that no one, including labour leaders, is above the law. Lawyer Bashir A. Salam pointed out that both the government and labour unions are culpable in this escalating situation, often choosing which court orders to obey.
Contrastingly, former NLC General-Secretary Dr Peter Ozo-Esson has defended the strike, arguing that the right to strike is fundamental to distinguishing a worker from a slave. He criticised the Industrial Court for becoming too compliant with the executive arm, thus jeopardising democratic development in Nigeria.
As the strike continues to paralyse activities across the nation, the debate intensifies around the balance between obeying legal injunctions and fighting for workers’ rights. The situation remains tense, with potential legal actions looming over the labour leaders, even as they stand firm in their resolve to protest perceived injustices.
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