The President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, NICN, Justice Benedict Kanyip, has explained why the Owerri division of the court remained shut for over five months.
He said the Owerri branch of the court was shut down to safeguard the life of both the resident judge and staff of the court in Imo state.
Justice Kanyip spoke at a special court sitting the NICN held to mark its 2022/2023 legal year.
It will be recalled that the court which has the exclusive jurisdiction to handle matters relating to any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from workplace, had on June 4 ordered the closure of its division in Imo State, following an attack and abduction of three of its staff members.
The court had in a statement that was signed by its chief registrar, Mr. Olurotimi Williams Daudu, directed all staff of the judicial division to “stay away from work until further notice.”
Speaking on the issue on Wednesday, the NICN president, Justice Kanyip, said the decision was taken, “when the safety of the resident judge and staff could no longer be guaranteed”.
He said: “It is unfortunate that the division is still shut down given that we are yet to receive the security guarantees that we asked for.
“I acknowledge that all persons of goodwill in the state including the local and national Bar Association have appealed to us to have the division reopened. We are giving these appeals serious consideration. Once we agreed on the parameters for reopening the division, we will do that”.
Besides, Justice Kanyip said the court performed well in the last legal year, though he expressed concern that the court’s arbitration mechanisms were not being utilised.
“From available record, between the third quarter of 2020 to the second quarter of 2021, the court had 6,277 cases in its docket across the country with Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Ibadan leading in that order in terms of caseload.
“Of these cases, 1,700 were disposed of. And between the third quarter of 2021 and second quarter of 2022 the court had 6,349 cases and disposed of 2,408 of those cases.
“I must state that Owerri and Makurdi divisions have joined in the divisions with over 500 cases in the docket.
“We shall continue to strive to attain excellence by improving on the justice delivery mechanisms within the limits of law.
“We will continue to improve on the objectives of the court, i. e. easy, affordable and quick dispensation of labour justice that meet global standards,” Justice Kanyip added.
In his remarks, the attorney-general of the Federation and minister of justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, commended the NICN for putting the nation’s interest above other considerations in its handling of the dispute between the Federal Government and the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
Malami, who was represented by the head, Civil Appeals, Federal Ministry of Justice, Tijani Gazali, SAN, noted that the court had on many occasions, saved the country from undue crisis through its deft handling of labour disputes.
While reiterating FG’s determination to improve the welfare of judges, Malami, challenged stakeholders in the Judiciary, particularly the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to lead the fight to ensure that state governments comply with constitutional provision guaranteeing financial autonomy for the Judiciary
He said: “Speaking of the court’s pronouncements in recent times, particularly in the wake of industrial actions embarked upon by both the National Association of Resident Doctors and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, suffice to say, that indeed, the legal status of any strike action, let alone a protracted one, raises very crucial questions of law, and the approach with which the judges of the National Industrial Court have dealt with the related issues, in making better provision for promoting harmonious relations between workers and their employers is quite laudable.
“Recall the court’s role in putting an end to the recent strike action embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors, wherein the learned trial judge ruled, amongst others, that no amount of money will be enough to compensate for the loss of lives that will be occasioned in the event that the strike is sustained any further.
“Also valiantly calling to bear the inviolable duty of the court, is your Lordships’ recent decision in the application for interlocutory order filed by the Federal Government in (Suit no: NICN/ABJ/270/2022), for the industrial action to be halted, pending the determination of the substantive suit seeking the court’s inquiry and adjudication on the legality or otherwise of the ongoing prolonged strike action by the Associated Staff Union of Universities.
“Learned judge in fact, did well to consider the balance of convenience, in according utmost importance to the value of education vis-a-vis both the short and long term effects of its deprivation on the lives, values and wellbeing of students in public universities.
“We thank your Lordships for the well, considered decision to order the Academic Staff Union of Universities to return to lecture rooms, in the paramount interest of the education and tutelage for our teeming youths and in fact, in the overall, best interest of the nation,” Malami added.
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