Law and Leadership, (N.U.E.E and Ors V. BPE) Vis-À-Vis the Current Jurisprudential Status of NICN and It’s Effect on Our Developing Economy; An Appraisal

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The mission of National Industrial Court of Nigeria is to be a specialized superior court of record dispensing social justice, setting standards for the management and labour jurisprudence, promoting industrial harmony, peace and also contributing to the overall development of Nigeria. Our focus mainly is to look at the brief history of the court and in accordance with her mission statement, examine the present day and realities of national industrial court of Nigeria and her achievements to the development of our national economy under the able leadership of His Lordship as the President Hon. Justice B.A. Adejumo, OFR, FCIArb, FNIM, FNIL, GFISMN, MCIArb (UK), CFIAR.

HIGH LIGHT OF NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT OF NIGERIA’S HISTORY 

Mentioned must be made to the Trade Disputes/Arbitration and Inquiry (Lagos) Ordinance of 1941 and was applicable in Lagos only until 1957 when the Trade Disputes/Arbitration & Inquiry) Federal Application) Ordinance of 1957 was passed.

This was later replaced with the promulgation of the Trade Dispute (Emergency Provision) Decree No. 21 of 1968 and the Trade Disputes (Emergency Provision) (Amendment No. 2) Decree No. 53 of 1969. Subsequently, in 1976 the Trade Disputes Act of 1976was enacted and it created legal framework for the settlement of trade disputes in Nigeria.  This Act started the comprehensive mechanism for the settlement of trade disputes. All the Laws enumerated introduced one dimension or the other towards the development of settlement of industrial action. But the major reformation of the court started with the passage of the National Industrial Court Act of 2006. The aforementioned Act also created the National Industrial Court as a superior court of record and conferred exclusive jurisdiction in the court with respect to labour and industrial relations matters.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t an easy ride, as there was a constitutional issue pulling the court down from the class of superior court in Nigeria. But at last, there was a relief with the passage of third alteration of the constitution that recognized National Industrial Court of Nigeria as a superior court under Section 6(5) (a) and 254A of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP THAT TRIGGERED JUDICIAL JURISPRUDENCE IN NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT.

Before the assumption of office by his lordship, Hon. Justice B.A Adejumo OFR as the president of the court, the court which started in 1976, only has it presence mainly in a dilapidated building in Lagos, and was subsequently extend to Abuja in 1990s.  Before he took, the mantle of leadership, his lordship had cautiously or un-cautiously prepared himself for this assiduous task ahead by having a good experience in some spheres of life that have contributed to his leadership success which includes but not limited to him being former deputy chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, a former legislator of the old Ondo State House of Assembly etc.

The erudite jurist is also a passionate leader and represent a typical saying “that the degree of hope you manifest by persevering through obstacles becomes a measure of your passion, the moment, he became the president of the National Industrial Court in 2003 it became obvious to him that in order to achieve both his long and short term in which has drawn already, the enabling laws need to be reviewed, especially the principal laws. His lordship mobilized his team and moved into action and eventually on 31st day of May, 2006, the National Assembly passed the National Industrial Court Act, 2006 which also braced up the status of the court into superior court of records. There was a celebration in the court, which never lasted because of the constitutional albatross contesting the court’s superiority within the gamut of laws then. The climax of this constitutional brouhaha became a daunting reality with the pronouncement of the Supreme Court decision in the caseN.U.E.E. v. B.P.E (2010) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1194) pg. 570 para. C-F & pg. 571-572 para. F-E; where the Supreme Court per Eneh J.S.C stated inter alia;

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It means therefore that by Decree No. 47 of 1992 arrogating to the National Industrial Court at superior court of record as has been contended by the appellants does not by that token make the said National Industrial Court a superior court of record without any amendment of the provisions of Section 6(3) and (5) of the 1999 constitution which has listed the only superior courts of record recognized and known to the 1999 Constitution and the list does not include the National Industrial Court; until the Constitution is amended it remains a subordinate court to the High Court and I cite with approval the Court of Appeal decision in Attorney-General of Oyo State v. Nigeria Labour Congress (2003) 8 NWLR (Pt. 821) at 3 indeed a case on all fours with the instant case to the same effect.”

Ordinarily, the Supreme Court decision in the N.U.E.E. v. B.P.E (supra) would have demoralized even an average leader, especially on labour related matters were not only government at all tiers but also the multi-national corporations (MNCs) are joining forces as bourgeoisie in manipulating or suppressing the rights of the proletariats. Rather his lordship rejigged his determination and resolve of his effective leadership and made a strong point that in achieving of your goals, it is not what others believe you can do; it is what you believe you can do, that failure is a willing teacher, a master tutor. Anyone willing to sit at the feet of failure and soak up everything that is there to learn, will graduate quickly to the school of peak performances.

His lordship took the hint of the Supreme Court in the aforementioned N.U.E.E’s case in page 572 paragraph B, where the apex court advised….”until the constitution is amended it remains a subordinate court to the High Court…”

The court recapitulated and moved back to National Assembly and for any person who understand, the rigorous political contour and its mechanism in Nigeria especially that of the National Assembly and the rest of thirty six (36) states Houses of Assembly can imagine the stressful energy dissipated by his lordship and his team in enabling the legislature to understand their predicament. Fortunately to his lordship and his team, the legislature like now parades then good number of experienced lawyers, who quickly discovered the plight of the court. One of who I must mention here is distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremadu who is a constitutional lawyer and chairman of the constitutional amendment committee then, he galvanized his colleagues and eventually the constitution was altered successfully for the third time by the National Assembly and Thirty Six (36) States Houses of Assembly after all the legislative process were observed.

The bill was subsequently assented to by his Excellency the then sitting president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR on the 4th day of March, 2011 and this assent lifted the constitutional burden over the courts neck. This Constitutional recognition under section 6(5) (c c) and 254(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)unleashed more of his lordship skills and judicial wizardry. Saying that the positive activities of the court based on their wild jurisdiction on labour matters and industrial related issues took the entire judiciary unaware is an understatement because the political economy of Nigeria, had since felt and have been feeling the positive impact of the court’s contribution as the incessant industrial or labour union strikes that usually shut down our country’s economy and paralyses the multinational corporations activities had long become a thing of the past. The Constitutional superiority of the court, invoked the spirit and intendment ofSection 24 of the National Industrial Court Act, 2006which mandates other trial court that now lacks jurisdiction not to strike out or dismiss the suit but to transfer same to the National Industrial Court, it prompted the transfer of all the pending labour related matters to the court as a matter of fact most of these transfers were done suo motu by the trial judges, because it took so much time for so many lawyers to be aware of the constitutional overhaul as regards to National Industrial Court.

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It is now a trite principle of law in judicial system that the National Industrial Court is a court of superior records but flowing from the reconstruction of the architecture of the hierarchy of superior courts by the third alteration emerged a divergent views from different divisions of Court of Appeal, the worrisome dissonance is in the approaches of three division of the Court of Appeal to the interpretation ofSections 240; 241; 242; 243 (2)-(4); 254c (5) and 254(6) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). In particulars, are the Court of Appeal Ekiti division in the cases of Local Government Service Commission , Ekiti State & Anor v. Jegede (2013) LPELR- 21131 (CA); Local Government Service Commission, Bamisanye (2013) LPELR- 20407 (CA); Local Government Service Commission, Ekiti State & Anor v. Olamiju (2013) LPELR 20409 (CA) & Local Government Service Commission & Anor v. Asubiojo (2013) LPELR 20403 (CA) simply referred to as the “Ekiti LGA Cases”, opined that appeal lies to the Court of Appeal from National Industrial Court and not limited to fundamental Rights and Criminal Matters on the other hand are the decisions of the Court of Appeal (Lagos Division) in the cases of Coca-Cola Nig. V. Akinsanya (2013) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1386) 225; Lagos Sheraton Hotels & Towers v. HPSSA (2014) 114 NWLR (Pt. 1426) 45 and the most recent in the case of ADEBAYO V.RUGYPOLY (2017)4 NWLR (PT.1555) PG 286 B-G (Akure division) reasoned contra, holding that the trial court’s decision, other than decisions on fundamental right and criminal matters are final. It further held that unless the National Assembly enacts an Act to that effect, it is bereft of the appellate jurisdiction over decision of the National Industrial Court. Akure division went further to state that even when a leave of Court of Appeal is sought and obtained, the prospective appellant cannot appeal because there is no Act of National Assembly to that effect.

These decisions in the Ekiti LGA cases on the one hand and that of the Lagos Sheraton Hotel & Towers; Akinsanya and Rugipoly on the other hand, did not only divide the benchers. I have established above but also the bar and academic, as there became plethora of views from legal luminaries across the country in support of one decision or the other. Recently, the Supreme Court in the case of Skye Bank Plc v. Iwu (2017) 16 NWLR (PT.1590) per Nwaeze JSC gave a stamp of finality that all appeals lie to the Court of Appeal from National Industrial Court with the leave of court of appeal being sought and obtained, save that appeals that borders on fundamental rights and criminal matters that lie as of right to the Court of Appeal. In the Skye Bank Plc’s case which was stated or referred to Supreme Court, the following among others were held by the court in page 103 paragraph E;

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I find and hold, that on a harmonious construction of section 240; 242(1) (a) and 243(4), a litigant who is aggrieved by a decision of the trial court, in other civil matters can exercise a right of appeal with the leave of the lower court…”

The euphoria continued as the apex court delivered another stated matter, Coca-Cola (Nig) Ltd v. Akinsanya (2017) 17 NLWR (Pt. 1593) at pg. 125 paragraph B-ESupreme Court stated the following among other things;

“Section 243(4) of the Constitution is explicit and unambiguous. It states in clear terms that “the decision of the Court of Appeal arising from any civil jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court shall be final” Period.  There is therefore no jurisdiction vested in this court to entertain further appeals from the decision of the Court of Appeal in respect of any decision of the National Industrial Court arising from any civil jurisdiction of that court. As no court, including this court, exercises jurisdiction unless it is statutorily prescribed and since jurisdiction cannot be inferred or implied, nor can the parties by agreement confer jurisdiction on this court or any other court for that matter; I am inclined to agreeing with the respondent that this court, by dint of section 243(4) of the Constitution, lacks jurisdiction to entertain this appeal. This point was expressly stated in Gafar v. Govt. of Kwara State (2007) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1024) 375 by this court. This court cannot arrogate to itself, in the guise of advocating the role of Supreme Court to superintend the Nigerian Constitution, a jurisdiction which it does not have or which has been clearly and effectively divested from it. See Ansa v. R.T.P.C.N. (supra) at 1710.”

Presently, the division of the court has virtually covered the entire states of the Federation. All these successes reveal on major things, which is the effective leadership skills of his lordship Hon. Justice B.A Adejumo OFR.  His lordship, displayed the power and the ability to influence or change the values, beliefs, behavior and attitudes of his team towards achieving their institutional goals and objectives.

This research intends to explain and indeed explained the effective leadership and how it can bring positive change that helps the organizational institutions to improve and be innovative in the current challenging environment. In accordance with Patrice Emery Lumumba “No one is perfect in this imperfect world”.  I submit pungently and poignantly to the admirers and the critics of the Court alike, that in so far as his lordship is not perfect as a being, it is unarguable that National Industrial Court of Nigeria under the leadership of Hon. Justice B.A Adejumo OFR has performed like an ideal Industrial Court internationally, that whenever history of National Industrial Court of Nigeria is made without the name of his lordship Hon. Justice B.A Adejumo OFR, the history is incomplete.

Okey Gideon Agbo Esq.

Okey Gideon Esq is Principal Partner Snoc Legal Consult, Suite 301/302 Banex Plaza, 750 Aminu Kano Crescent, Wuse II, Abuja.

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