The National Industrial Court, NIC, in Abuja, has directed the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to suspend its over seven-month old strike action.
The court issued the order in a ruling that was delivered by Justice Polycarp Hamman on Wednesday.
The ruling followed an application the Federal Government filed for an interlocutory order to compel ASUU which embarked on strike action since February 14, to return to the classroom.
FG’s lawyer, Mr. James Igwe had prayed the court to order the striking varsity lecturers to in the interim, return to work, pending the determination of the substantive suit before the court.
He maintained that the matter was not only urgent, but of a great national interest as millions of students have been at home for over seven months.
“Sections 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 action, when a matter is already referred to the industrial court for adjudication.
Igwe said there was need for the matter to be expeditiously determined to enable university students to return to school, adding that failure to call off the strike would cause irreparable damage to not only the students but also to the nation.
According to him, since the dispute between FG and lectures is already before the court for adjudication, it would be proper and in the interest of justice for the strike to be suspended.
In his ruling, Justice Hamman held that the application was 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 action was detrimental to public university students that cannot 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 action, pending the hearing and determination of the suit filed.”
It however declined to award cost against ASUU as FG had demanded.
It will be recalled that ASUU had embarked on an initial four weeks strike to press home its demands that included an improved funding for universities, as well as a review of salaries for lecturers.
It subsequently extended the strike action indefinitely on August 29, following the breakdown of negotiations between the union and the government.
While ASUU accused FG of not being sincere in its negotiation, the government, through the Ministry of Labour and Employment, approached the court to compel the striking lecturers to return to the classroom.