By Danlami Nmodu
The Federal Government has called on Mr Femi Falana, SAN to sensitise Labour on the fact that peaceful protests are no justification for shutting down essential services as the workers’ unions have resolved to carry out.
The position of the FG was contained in a reply to Falana’s chambers by Mrs. B.E. Jedy-Agba, OON, mni, Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Justice.
In a detailed response to Falana’s letter, the Solicitor General of the Federation said inter alia, “It is incumbent on your law firm to sensitize the labour unions that peaceful protests are no justification for disrupting or shutting down essential services, which is tantamount to a strike action.”
FG’s reply addressed to Messrs. Falana and Falana’s chambers in Abuja sighted by Modus Operandum is titled: “RE: NLC NOT IN CONTEMPT OF COURT”.
It reads thus: “Please refer to your correspondence dated 28 July 2023 as it relates to the proposed nation-wide action by the Nigerian Labour Congress.
” This Ministry has perused the said correspondence, which clearly misconstrued the reported position of this Ministry, and we deem it fit to put the issues in their proper perspective as follows:
“a) Parties are expected to maintain the status quo even in the absence of a restraining order. However, there was no threat of contempt of court in the clarification provided by this Ministry. Undoubtedly, drawing the attention of NLC and the public to the pendency of the order cannot be equated with threats.
“b) The issue of peaceful protests and police permit are also not in contention; however, you may wish to be guided by the contents of the Communique issued by the National Executive Council of NLC at the end of its meeting of 27 July 2023. The decision or projected cause of action by NLC are directed principally in furtherance of issues connected with hike in fuel price and consequential matters of palliatives and workers welfare. We assert that it is grossly inappropriate to lead public protest in respect of issues relating to or connected with fuel price increase, which are currently before the court!
“c) From the Communique, it is apparent that the current move by NLC goes beyond peaceful protest by issuing a seven-day ultimatum for government to meet its demands and also embark on a nation-wide action to compel government to reverse alleged anti-worker policies.
“d) Furthermore, uncontroverted media reports have established that NLC is not planning a peaceful protest but intending to ground the government by endangering public peace, instilling fear in the masses, precipitating further crisis. To buttress the above, the Assistant General Secretary of NLC, stated thus: “Nigerians should be prepared. That’s what we are saying. Being prepared means you have to stock food in your house and be economical with your movement at this particular point in time so as to avoid being stranded…”
“e) In the same vein, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum & Natural Gas Workers and National Union of Electricity Employees, confirmed that they were working towards grounding supply of fuel and the national electricity grid. The Ag. General Secretary of NUEE stated thus: “The NUEE is an affiliate of the NLC and I’ve told you that we will join the strike action. The issue is that if there’s a deadlock between labour and the government; that means that the mass protest is still going on, and definitely electricity workers, as an affiliate of the NLC, will partake in the mass protest. So, all workers in the power sector will join the mass protest on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. It is binding on every staff member to join the strike action. So, if it results in a blackout, the only option is for the government to listen to us if it wants power to return.”
“f) We reiterate that the interim order clearly restrained NLC from embarking on industrial action of any nature. It is common knowledge that strike is only a form of industrial action. NLC has expressed intention to embark on a nation-wide action to force the government (employer) to agree to its demands. Furthermore, the participation of workers in the protest will result in restriction, or limitation on, or a delay in the performance of work. The foregoing, inclusive of the purported peaceful protest (in view of its intended aims or purposes), undoubtedly amounts to an industrial action.
“g) It is incumbent on your law firm to sensitize the labour unions that peaceful protests are no justification for disrupting or shutting down essential services, which is tantamount to a strike action.
The reply concludes “Based on the foregoing, you may wish to advise your clients accordingly.
“Please accept the assurance of my esteemed regards”
Those copied include National Security Adviser; Director-General, State Security Services and Inspector-General of Police.