From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal has urged striking University lecturers and the Federal government to resolve the deadlock on the shutdown of universities in the interest of the nation.
Justice Abraham Georgewill gave the charge shortly after lawyers to parties in the suit announced appearances.
The federal government had dragged the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to court over the protracted industrial action of the lecturers.
In a ruling delivered on September 21, Justice Polycarp Hamman of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Abuja Division, had restrained ASUU from continuing with the strike embarked upon since February 14, in protest against poor funding of universities including welfare conditions.
The judge had predicated his action on Section 18 of the Trade Dispute Act, that empowers him to make such decisions in the interest of the nation.
Dissatisfied, the university lecturers on September 23, filed a proposed Notice of Appeal to challenge the order of the industrial court.
When the matter came up on Wednesday, proceedings were stalled following claims by the federal government’s lawyer, Mr James Igwe (SAN), that he was yet to be served with the latest processes of the appellant.
At the resumed hearing, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), counsel to ASUU, had applied to withdraw the processes dated September 23 and replace it with that of September 28.
However, following the service of the suit on the defendant, presiding Justice Barka Akawuu adjourned to the next day (Thursday) for hearing of the application for leave to appeal and motion for stay of execution of the orders of Justice Hamman.
Before the court could adjourn Justice Georgewill, who is one of the three members of the panel, interjected and urged the counsel to use their legal skills to find a way of resolving the issue because of the suffering students.
“There is time for everything, time for war and time for peace. As ministers in the temple of justice, we want to see the two of you as senior lawyers to encourage and explore amicable settlement of this dispute.
“In fact, we expect to return to this court on Thursday with good news that the dispute has been thrashed out and all the appreciation of Nigerians will go to you.
“So, talk to your clients to take the interest of the nation into consideration for the sake of our children. As you leave here, go and sit down and talk and resolve the matter.”
Responding, both Falana and Igwe agreed to do as the court advised.
The striking members of ASUU had on September 23, approached the Court of Appeal, Abuja for an order staying the execution of the court judgment ordering it to end its ongoing nationwide strike.
ASUU through its lawyer, Falana had, in a motion marked: CA/ABJ/PRE/POA/CR/99SMI/, sought the leave of the court “to appeal against the interlocutory ruling of the industrial court”.
The appellant also prayed the court for another order, “staying execution of the order of Justice Hamman pending the hearing and determination of the interlocutory appeal”.
ASUU is claiming that the ruling of Justice Hamman affects its fundamental rights to fair hearing, adding that it would be in the interest of justice to stay the execution of same pending the hearing and determination of the appeal arising thereto.
In the 14 grounds of proposed notice of appeal, ASUU is claiming that the trial Judge “erred in law and thereby occasioned a miscarriage of justice when he decided to hear and determine the respondents’ motion for interlocutory injunction when he knew or ought to have known that the substantive suit filed by the claimant was not initiated by due process of law”.
ASUU, in ground two of the appeal, also claimed that Justice Hamman misdirected himself in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice when he decided to hear other motions before the motion challenging court’s jurisdiction on the matter.
The appellant further submitted that the learned trial judge erred in law when he held that “pursuant to Section 17 of the Trade Dispute Act, Section 18(1) E mandates the members of the defendants/respondents not to take part in any strike pending the determination of the suit”.
ASUU has been on strike since February 14 to protest poor funding of education by the federal government, as well as demand improved welfare conditions amongst others.