TEXT OF A PRESS CONFERENCE
HELD BY THE HON. ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND COMMISSIONER FOR JUSTICE, RIVERS STATE, PROF. ZACCHAEUS ADANGOR
AT GOVERNMENT HOUSE, PORT HARCOURT ON STAURDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2020 ON THE LEGAL ASPECTS OF THE THREATENED STRIKE ACTION BY ORGANIZED LABOUR IN RIVERS STATE
Sometime on or about the 16th day of March, 2020 the Rivers State Councils of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria issued a “Notice of Seven (7) Days Ultimatum for the Commencement of an Indefinite Strike Action in Rivers State by the Organized Labour”. See Annexure “A”.
From the Notice of Seven (7) Days Ultimatum (Annexure “A”), the indefinite strike action was scheduled to commence midnight of Monday, 23rd March, 2020.
It is important to mention that in issuing the Notice of Seven Days Ultimatum for the Commencement of Strike Action in Rivers State, the Rivers State Councils of the Nigeria Lacour Congress and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, failed, refused and/or neglected to fulfil the condition precedent for the declaration of strike action as prescribed in sections 4, 6 and 18 (1) (a) of the Trade Disputes Act, Cap. T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
Consequently, the Government of Rivers State through the Honourable Attorney-General instituted Suit No. NICN/PH/41/2020 (Attorney-General Rivers State v. Comrade Beatrice Itubo, JP) at the National Industrial Court Port Harcourt by way of Originating Summons seeking the interpretation of the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act, Cap. T8 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004 and the Trade Unions Act, Cap. T14 LFN 2004 in relation to the threatened strike action by the defendants. The Honourable Attorney as claimant seeks declaratory and injunctive reliefs against the defendants on records.
Given the extreme urgency of the matter, the Attorney-General also filed an Ex-parte Application for interim injunction restraining the defendants in Suit No. NICN/PH/41/2020 from commencing, embarking on or proceeding with the strike action. The Ex-parte Application was heard and granted by the Honourable Court on 23rd March, 2020 and the Court issued an interim Order of Injunction restraining the defendants either by themselves or through their servants, agents, privies, officers or otherwise howsoever called from embarking on a strike action on Monday, 23rd March 2020 or any other day thereafter pending the hearing and determination of the substantive Motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction filed in the suit. The Honourable Court also restrained the defendants from interfering with the provision of service and other works by their members in the civil service of the Rivers State Government pending the hearing of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction. See Annexure “B”.
By the agreement of the parties, the Originating Summons in the said suit was heard by the Honourable Court on the merits on Thursday July 23, 2020 and judgment in the suit has been reserved to Tuesday, September 29, 2020.
Surprisingly, while Suit No. NICN/PH/41/2020 is still pending and the Interim Order of Injunction issued therein still subsisting, the defendants therein acting in collusion and concert with the national leadership of the Organized Labour (NLC and TUC) issued another threat of fresh strike action in Rivers State based on the same grounds canvassed in Annexure “A” and without complying with the mandatory statutory procedure for commencing strike action under the provisions of the Trade Dispute Act.
In the face of the overt and unmitigated illegality, the Government of Rivers State being one committed to the observance of the Rule of Law, again approached the National Industrial Court of Nigeria sitting in Lagos (as a Vacation Court) vide Suit No. NICN/LA/305/2020 (Attorney-General Rivers State v. Nigerian Labour Congress & 5 Ors) seeking the interpretation of the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act and Trade Unions Act in relation to the threatened strike action in Rivers State by the national and State Councils of NLC and TUC. See Annexure “C”.
The claimant also applied for an Order of interim injunction restraining the defendants from embarking on a strike action in Rivers State on 5th, 6th or 7th September, 2020 or any other date whether earlier or later pending the hearing of the motion on Notice for Interlocutory Injunction.
The trial Court after hearing extensive legal arguments from the Honourable Attorney-General of Rivers State granted an Order of Interim Injunction restraining all the defendants on record whether by themselves or through their servants, agents, privies, officers or otherwise howsoever called from embarking on a strike action in Rivers State on 5th, 6th or 7th September, 2020 or any other date whether earlier or later, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction filed in then suit AND/OR from stopping, hindering, preventing, disrupting or interfering in any manner whatsoever with the provision of service and other works by their members in the civil and public service of Rivers State pending the hearing of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction. See Annexure “D”. The Honourable Court also ordered that the Order of Interim Injunction, the Originating Summons and other processes issued in the suit be served on the defendants through publication in two (2) national Newspapers circulating in Nigeria and thereafter fixed Tuesday 8th September, 2020 as the return date.
That I can confirm that all the defendants have been duly served with the enrolled Order of Interim Injunction and they cannot purport to claim ignorance of it. The affidavits of service have been duly filed in the registry of the court. See VANGURD NEWSPAPER of Thursday, September 3, 2020 at pages 24-30 and DAILY SUN NEWSPAPER of Thursday, September 3, 2020 at pages 14-20.
It is important to mention that in law, once an Order is issued by a Court of Law, the party against whom the order is issued is legally bound to comply with the terms of the Order until same is set aside and it is not open to him to disobey the Order. The only remedy available to him is to apply either to the same court to vacate/vary the order or appeal against same to a higher court.
That is also not open to a party against whom an Order has been made by a court of law to determine whether or not the Order was validly made. That power appertains to an appellate court and the appellate Court does not share that power with the party against whom the Order was made.
In the circumstance, the defendants in Suit Nos. NICN/PH/41/2020 and NICN/LA/305/2020 are bound to comply strictly with the terms of the subsisting Orders of interim injunction issued by the court and they are bound to refrain from carrying out or purporting to carry out, embark upon or proceed with the strike action in Rivers State whether on 8th day of September, 2020 or on any earlier or later date.
That every disobedience of an Order of Court constitutes Contempt of Court and the Court that issued the Order possesses both statutory and inherent powers to punish for disobedience of its Order by committing the party in default to prison until he purges himself of the contempt. This is the settled principle of our law.
The Organized Labour is therefore warned against any act of overt or subtle disobedience of the subsisting Orders of the National Industrial Court because there shall be consequences for disobedience.
That we will be moving the Honourable Court on the return date to issue FORM 48 (Notice of Consequences of Disobedience to Court Order) for service on the defendants.
Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor, MCIArb, ksc
Hon. Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Rivers State