Since February 14, students have endured the longest industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Classroom activities have been put on hold owing to the Federal Government’s refusal to meet their demands, including issues relating to the funding of universities and lecturers’ salaries and allowances.
This long-drawn battle between the Federal Government and ASUU has resulted in a series of events in the past few weeks. On September 12, the federal government approached the National Industrial Court (NICN) sitting in Abuja, requesting an order for the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to resume while the dispute is being addressed. 9 days later, the industrial court ordered university lecturers to return to work pending the resolution of their dispute with the government.
With the Federal Government dragging the striking union to the industrial court, and also the court’s decision to make striking lecturers return to the classrooms, students were hopeful their long wait was over.
The joy of resumption was cut short, after ASUU decided through its lawyer, Femi Falana, to appeal the lower court’s ruling and ensure that they remain at the war front, against the government that has refused to pay attention to education, the bedrock of a country’s development.
A report by Dataphyte revealed that in the last six years, Nigeria had allocated a sum of 4.68 trillion naira to its educational sector. Another research report by BudgIT revealed that Nigeria’s budget for the educational sector in the year 2021 should have been within the range of N2.03trillion to N2.7trillion instead of N1.09 trillion allocated by the Federal Government, a figure which is not up to the recommended 15 percent of a country’s total budget as stipulated by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO).
The ASUU/Federal Government drama still unfolds as the appeal court, yesterday, ordered ASUU to comply with the industrial court’s ruling, discontinue the strike, and return to the classroom. Another trophy in the bag for the Federal government.
The court, however, granted the application on the condition that the union obeys the ruling of the lower court pending the determination of the substantive suit, with seven days to file the appeal.
A few hours after the appeal court ruling, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke -the ASUU president- while revealing their next line of action said consultations are ongoing within the association.
Approaching the apex court should be the next in their pursuit of justice. However, the legality of such a move seems doubting, as explained by an Abuja-based lawyer, Qudus Alalafia.
Alalafia said the Court of Appeal is the final court for the hearing of any appeal arising from the decision of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.
“As of today, the Court of Appeal is the final court for the hearing of any appeal arising from the decision of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.
“A court of law can only be expressly made a final court by the statute that created it, or by any other law where necessary. No court can be a final court by mere implication. Stated differently, a court of law can be clothed with the power of finality only by an express provision to that effect and not by implication.
“In this case, section 240 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that appeals shall lie from the decisions of the National Industrial Court to the Court of Appeal. And section 243(4) of the 1999Constitution (as amended) states that without prejudice to the provisions of section 254C(5) of the Constitution, the decision of the Court of appeal in respect of any appeal arising from any civil jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court shall be final.”
“Thus, section 243(4) of the constitution unequivocally makes the Court of Appeal the final court in respect of any civil appeal from the decision of the National Industrial Court. See also the case of Skye Bank Plc v. Iwu (2017) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1590) 24.”
“In essence, what gives the court to hear any application is the jurisdiction of the court to hear the whole suit/appeal and the Supreme Court of Nigeria having been insulated or shielded from receiving appeals that arose from the jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria cannot validly hear any application in respect of any issue that deals with same.”
He also noted that ASUU can maintain their stand if only they comply with the decision of the Court, then go back to ventilate their appeals before the Court of Appeal.