The recent vituperations by the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, against the Rivers State Government are not only unfortunate and primitive, but also quite unedifying and diversionary, especially at this critical time in our country.
The government at the centre has decided to make the lives of ordinary Nigerians even more suffocating and unbearable with the recent increase in the pump price of fuel (PMS) and hike in electricity traffifs, in addition to other seemingly anti-Nigerians policies that have gradually but steadily become a heavy yoke on the neck of our long-suffering countrymen and women.
The venomous and incendiary rhetoric with which the NLC president has especially couched his vitriolic outburst against Governor Nyesom Wike is even more worrisome for the simple fact that the language has completely deviated from the lexicon usually associated with laudable labour agitations in the past.
He has veered into the realm of political propaganda, which not only sounds quite similar to the kind of umbrage issued by opposition political parties, but, sadly, exposes the glaring fact that Comrade Ayuba Wabba is obviously being sponsored.
His action and statements are a total betrayal of the lofty ideals and agitations of the NLC Nigerians used to love and flood the streets in solidarity with, once we heard the rousing clarion call “Aluta continua! Victoria accerta!”
Otherwise, how else can one explain the intentions and motivation behind Comrade Wabba’s language against Governor Wike when, during a press conference in Abuja on Thursday, September 3, he said: “This is to alert Nigerians to the birth of new progeny of authoritarianism, industrial tyranny, state-sponsored violence and terrorism against workers and citizens by Rivers State Government. The events of the past few weeks confirm to us and many right-thinking Nigerians that there is a full-fledged bloom of despotic rule in Rivers State under the administration and supervision of Mr. Nyesom Wike”.
Comrade Wabba then went on to add that: “Workers have never had it so bad under a governor as Wike who sees himself as a demi-god with no scruples for the rule of law or decency.”
He uncharacteristically described Governor Wike thus: “He has arrogated and appropriated to himself the powers of the executive, the judiciary, the legislature, and the vicious powers of underground non-state operatives…loyal to Wike.”
Nigerians should analyse this and tell me if this is the language of a labour leader or the language of a seemingly compromised and sponsored comrade-turned-politician, voicing the agenda of some well known paymasters.
Comrade Wabba should kindly answer this poser for Nigerians.
Interestingly, Comrade Wabba, in the above press conference, clearly profiled Governor Nyesom Wike as: “a governor who sees himself as a demi-god with no scruples for the rule of law or decency.” But, quite ironically, the reason for the present acrimonious and confrontational war-mongering posture by the NLC, is a legal matter for which there will be a clear case of contempt by Comrade Wabba, who will be acting like “a demi-god with no scruples for the rule of law or decency” and not Governor Wike that he has so accused, if they proceed, as threatened, with the contravention of a valid court order restraining him and his affliates from carrying out the actions clearly spelt out in that order.
To set the records straight, Nigerians will recall that, around March 16, 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,” which was scheduled to commence midnight of Monday, March 23, 2020.
However, this issuing of notice of seven-day Ultimatum for the ommencement of strike action, failed, refused and/or neglected to fulfil the condition precedent for the declaration of strike 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 Rivers State Government, 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 by the defendants. The Attorney-General, as claimant, also sought declaratory and injunctive reliefs against the defendants.
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 and the application was heard and granted by the honourable court on March 23, 2020. The court then 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, March 23, 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.
By the agreement of the parties, the originating summons in the said suit was heard by the honourable court on its merits, on Thursday, July 23, 2020, and judgment in the suit has been reserved for Tuesday, September 29, 2020, which is in about three weeks time.
So why is Wabba so eager to proceed on national protest in Rivers State with such urgency? Why can’t NLC wait patiently, as an organization set up by law and made up of law-abiding workers and citizens, to hear the judgment of the court? Why are they in a hurry to protest now, when the matter was heard since July 23 and they have had ample time to pursue several legal options, including filing a motion to vacate the order, which by the way is even an interim order?
Is Rivers State the only state in the federation where the issues raised by the NLC, some of which have even been addressed, exist? In fact, Governor Wike is one among very few governors in Nigeria who has continued to pay workers’ salaries promptly and regularly. He had also already budgeted N8 billion to take care of the new minimum wage and N5 billion to cater for new employees in 2020. This fact was even attested to by Comrade Wabba himself when he was hosted by Governor Wike and he had stated clearly: “The trade unions asked me to express their gratitude, particularly on the issue of regular payment of salaries. This certainly, we have to appreciate, because we are aware that, in some states, they have difficulty in that aspect. In some states, they have even contemplated retrenchment.”
So, why this volte-face by someone who sang the praises of the Rivers State governor for regular payment of salaries and hailed him with glowing tributes? The answer will be revealed subsequently.
However, and surprisingly too, 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 the earlier suit and once again, without complying with the mandatory statutory procedure for commencing strike action under the provisions of the Trade Dispute Act.
This is really the crux of the matter. Does the NLC want to embark on protest by defaulting and disobeying it’s own rules and guidelines for embarking on such action? That is what the Rivers State State Government has asked the Court to interpret.
So why is Comrade Wabba so impatient and nonchalant in waiting for the Court ruling which is in three weeks time? Why does he want to resort to this act and show of impunity by disobeying a valid Court order?
In the face of the overt and unmitigated illegality therefore, the Rivers State Government, being one committed to the observance of the Rule of Law, once 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.
This singular action of course put paid to the erroneous, misleading and provocative declaration by Comrade Ayuba Wabba that the Rivers State Government “procured” the ruling.
In addition, the Rivers State Government also applied for an Order of interim injunction, restraining the defendants, including Comrade Wabba in his capacity as NLC President, 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.
It also ordered them 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.
The Honourable Court equally directed 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. This has already been done by the Rivers State Government.
From the foregoing, it so simple and obvious that the matter speaks clearly for itself. So, why is Comrade Wabba hell bent on causing a breach of peace in Rivers State and a deliberate, provocative disruption of the normal peaceful existence of Rivers people in their state, on the same day, the Court is set to reconvene on the matter, if he is not been sponsored by forces who are playing a dangerous game in Rivers State and against Governor Wike?
The answer is very simple. The Edo State Governorship election is slated to hold on September 19th, 2020 and Governor Wike is the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Governorship Campaign Council. The opposition APC Governorship Campaign Council is headed by Kano State Governor Abdulahi Ganduje.
But since the campaigns started, the man who has been at the forefront of all the rallies, as if he was the candidate of APC, contesting the election, is former NLC President and sacked national chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. Now do you see why Comrade Ayuba Wabba is reckless in his attack on Governor Wike and why he is so frantic and is even ready to break the law and breach the peace in Rivers State, in order to embarrass Governor Wike and presumably try to diminish his authority as the Edo PDP Campaign Council Chairman?
Recall that since Governor Wike was named as the Edo State PDP Campaign Council Chairman, a deliberate and direct campaign has been set in motion to cause all kinds of distractions and raise all manner of slanderous and libelous allegations against him in the media, all with the dubious intent to whittle down his influence and authority as a phenomenal political force whose presence alone, is enough to give the people of Edo State confidence and courage to vote and defend their votes.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba has ostensibly moved the campaign to a more confrontational political turf and quite understandably gone rogue in an attempt to try and protect his former boss and chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, from the disgrace of a resounding defeat which is looming in the Edo state elections.
He is trying to salvage some modicum of respect for the bruised and battered image and reputation of his mentor in NLC after he was ignominiously sacked as APC Chairman, by doing everything possible in his own constituency, to rattle Governor Wike, who, they all know, is well loved by the people.
The judgement day for the case between Rivers State and NLC is slated for Tuesday, September 29th and this will be long after the Edo state elections, but they can’t afford to wait that long. Sadly, the NLC in Rivers, made up of Rivers people, is quite comfortable to collude with the National leadership of NLC to betray Rivers State. This is indeed quite sad.
Governor Nyesom Wike himself in 2017, clearly captured the sorry state that the Nigerian Labour Congress has fallen into with the emergence of two factions, following the highly controversial and hotly disputed election that produced Ayuba Wabba as national President.
“Nigerians are not happy with the NLC. With due respect, you people are now politicians. You are no longer as strong as you used to be. I remember when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was President, you wanted to pull heaven down just for the slight removal of petroleum subsidy. Now, they have removed everything and nothing has happened,” Governor Wike had told Ayuba Wabba at a meeting in Port Harcourt.
Today, not only has fuel pump price gone up, electricity tariff has also been increased and Nigerians are bombarded on all sides with all manner of increases from taxes to bank charges and subscriptions payments for cable television, yet our Nigeria Labour Congress is so scared to confront the Government of the day and instead wants to come and disrupt the peace in Rivers State. This is totally unacceptable.
Incidentally, Comrade Wabba has tried to hoodwink discerning Nigerians with the semantic claim that the organized labour is not embarking on a strike action but rather a “national peaceful protest in Rivers State”. However, feelers coming out from the camp of the organizers of this illegality, clearly confirm the directive to all critical affiliates of the NLC to shut down operations from 12 midnight on Monday, September 7th and assemble at their designated take off point by 7am on Tuesday 8th, for onward procession of their “Peaceful Protest”. So, the question to ask now is, how peaceful is a protest which has already been preceded by directivies of hostile and wicked actions against the good people of Rivers State?
For purposes of definition, the word “protest” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd Edition, 2010) page 601 to mean inter alia: “an organized public demonstration objecting to an official policy”. The adjective “national” which qualifies the protest being threatened by the organized labour in Rivers State, underscores the fact that protesters will be drawn from across the Federation of Nigeria.
Clearly, a national protest, will invariably occasion or involve the stoppage, disruption and/or interference with the provision of service and other works by members of the organized labour in the Civil and Public Service of the Government of Rivers State contrary to the terms of the subsisting Order of Interim Injunction granted against the defendants including Comrade Wabba. Nothing could be more contemptuous of the honourable Court!
Again, Comrade Wabba has quite expectedly and deviously inverted the logic by declaring that in the event that any harm comes to any worker on September 8, 2020, Nigerian workers and the international labour community would hold Governor Wike personally to account, after all, he remains the Chief Security Officer of Rivers State. This also gives Governor Wike the constitutional authority to ensure that peace and order is maintained, irrespective of who may have been deemed culpable in instigating the breach of the peace in the state.
But the question to ask is, who is sponsoring the NLC President to bring workers from all over the country to protest in Rivers State in an illegal action that is tantamount to disrupt the peace in the State?
Several uncharitable aspersions and snide innuendos were spewed by Comrade Wabba in his Press Statement, which ordinarily would have attracted some very caustic reprimand in response, but the option to refrain from joining issues with him is predicated squarely on the recognition that the Rivers State Government is properly aware that the Comrade and his collaborators in this illegality, are in direct conflict and confrontation with the Court of Law and not the state government.
Having said that, it is important to advise Comrade Wabba that he neither has the right nor the authority to issue any kind of ultimatum, threat or warning to the Rivers State Government, which is headed by an Executive Governor, duly elected by the people of Rivers State. Any threat, ultimatum or warning suggesting the breach of peace in the state, to the Governor of Rivers State, is a direct affront on sensibilities and existence of Rivers people and Governor Wike has constantly made it clear that Rivers lives matter and he will protect and secure the interest of Rivers State and the lives of Rivers people, against any threats whatsoever.
The Honourable Rivers Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor, MCIArb, ksc, has stated quite unequivocally and for the avoidance of doubt, that the organized labour is not a State within a State and that on the contrary, it is a body created by law and is bound by the same law that gives its existence legal validity.
The Attorney General has further set down clearly, in two widely reported Press Statements, the following incontrovertible facts viz:
1. The case of the Government of Rivers State before the National Industrial Court is that the organized labour cannot declare a strike action in Rivers State without strict compliance with the conditions precedent prescribed in the Trade Disputes Act, Cap, T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and the Trade Unions Act, Cap. T14 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
2. That it 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.
3. That 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
Without a scintilla of doubt it becomes pertinent at this juncture to inform and assure both the NLC and fellow Nigerians that the commitment of the Rivers State Government to the enthronement of the rule of law in our State, rather than rule by force, has informed our decision to seek judicial redress against the organized labour.
The Government of Rivers State will not therefore engage in any act of illegality in confronting the monster of lawlessness which the organized labour now appears to epitomize, when there are more grievous national matters that concern and involve the welfare and existence of Nigerians and Nigerian workers that should occupy the attention and action of Comrade Wabba and his NLC, instead of coming to disturb the peace and harmony in Rivers State.
Comrade Wabba has quoted copiously from all manner of authorities to justify his obsession to protest in Rivers State at this time, but it is important to also remind him of the practical admonition by the great American Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: “The right to swing your fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
Simply put, the quote asserts that your rights are protected up to the point where you infringe on someone else’s rights.
We will therefore conclude by offering the same advise to Comrade Wabba, which he so threateningly and audaciously delivered in his unethical press statement: “A stitch in time may still save nine. A word is enough for the wise”.
• Nsirim is the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State