A National Industrial Court of Nigeria sitting(NICN) in Lagos has ordered the reinstatement of the operations of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) in Lagos State, nullifying the state government’s appointment of a caretaker committee.
But counsel for the Lagos state government and the Parks and Garages Administrators. say they will study Tuesday’s judgment, and Act accordingly.
RTEAN instituted the suit with ID number: NICN/LA/381/2022, in October 2022 to challenge the Lagos State government for allegedly dissolving the elected executive committee of the union in the state and appointing a caretaker body, known as the Parks and Garages Administrators.
The defendants in the case are the Governor, the Attorney-General of the state, Moyosore Onigbanjo
and Sola Giwa, who is the Special Adviser to the state governor on transportation.
The 4th-37th defendants are the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, and all the members of the caretaker committee.
In January, The union through their counsel, Elisha Kurah SAN had argued that a state cannot interfere in the affairs of a trade union registered under the Trade Unions Act of 2004.
He added that the state cannot dissolve the union, saying such matters are handled by Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
“The government dissolved RTEAN, suspended its operations and took over the garages. The union is challenging Lagos State since union matters are under the federal ministry,” he said.
But, counsel for the state government, Adebayo Haroun had contended that the government did not violate the law nor dissolve the national body’s operations in the state, but had sought to maintain law and order by creating the ad-hoc committee when violence ensued between the unions.
The counsel for the 5th to the 37th defendants, Taiwo Kupolati (SAN), in his arguments, said Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has the power to maintain peace in the land.
“There was a crisis and the governor exercised his authority as the Chief Security Officer of the state and put up a committee to be in charge of garages for peace to reign.
“The government issued a document to ensure public safety and order. And since the ad-hoc committee was set up, there has been peace,”
Both counsel also filed notices of preliminary objections, urging the court to dismiss the suit brought by way of originating summons, in view of the conflicting facts deposed to by the parties.
There was no appearance nor filing of court processes by the NPF, Lagos, who are the fourth defendants.
In her judgment, Justice Maureen Esowe, held that the act of Lagos State government in suspending the national unions operations in the state and setting up a caretaker committee is illegal and unconstitutional. She held that the government and the Police should have intervened by arresting and prosecuting those behind the fracas and not to inquire into the dispute.
The court also restrained the state government from further interfering with the operations of the union’s exco. The court ordered the police to refrain from intimidating the union’ s officers and to remove all barricades it imposed around their secretariat and to grant them unfettered Access to their offices.
Justice Esowe also dismissed the defendants’ preliminary objections to the suit. saying the matter is straight forward, with no serious dispute to warrant an exchange of pleadings.
Reacting to the judgment, Mr Kupolati said he would study the judgement and advice his clients accordingly, while the state counsel, Adekunle Laditan told the court that the state, being a law abiding government, would also study the decision.