THE National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) has appointed a Public Trustee to run the affairs of Nigeria’s oldest industrial union, Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU) following the nullification of its January 2018 National Delegates Conference in which the Comrade Lawrence Amaechi-led executive was elected.
The Public Trustee, Mr Monday O. Ubani, Esq., of Ubani & Co., No. 12 Adegbola Street, Ikeja, Lagos, National Record gathered from reliable sources at the union’s Wuse Zone 6 headquarters, is billed to resume on Thursday, 21st January, 2021.
The Honourable Justice B.B. Kanyip, President of NICN, who signed the appointment letter, dated 29th December, 2020, stated that Mr Ubani’s appointment is sequel to the Order contained in the judgment delivered on 25th October 2019 by His lordship, the Honourable Justice Sanusi Kado of the Abuja Judicial Division of the NIC in the suit between Comrade Benson Ekasa and 1 other v. Comrade Kiri Mohammed (the then National President of NCSU).
In the appointment letter, exclusively obtained by National Record, entitled; “Re: Suit No: NICN/ABJ/31/2016: Comrade Benson Ekasa & 1 Other v. Comrade Kiri Mohammed (National President Of Nigeria Civil Service Union & 2 Others): Appointment as Public Trustee for Nigeria Civil Service Union,” Justice Kanyip states:
“Pursuant to Section 19 (c) of the National Industrial Court Act, 2006; Order 59 of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (Civil Procedure) Rule, 2017 and the Order Contained in the Judgment delivered on 25th October, 2019, by His Lordship, Hon. Justice Sanusi Kado, in the above subject matter suit, I hereby appoint you, Monday o. Ubani, Esq. as the Public Trustee for the Nigeria Civil Service Union [herein after referred to as the “Union”] for an initial period of three (3) months, effective from the date of your acceptance of the appointment, on the following terms:
“1. To oversee and superintend the running of the administration and finances of the union.
“2. To convene National Delegates Conference of the National Civil Service Union and organize election to elect new executive members in line with the constitution of the Union.
“3. To render account of your activities within the above specified period in a report to be forwarded to the Court immediately after the expiration of the tenure.
“4. To forward a copy of the report to the Honourable Minister of Labour.
“5. In the event that you are not able to conclude your assignment within the three months period stated above, you may apply for re-appointment for another three months. In this event, you shall be requested to provide satisfactory reasons why you may be so re-appointed.
“Please note that you are only eligible for re-appointment for another term of three months, and not more.
“6. Your remuneration with respect to the appointment shall be the same amount as payable to the General Secretary of the Union.”
Mr Ubani was mandated to respond via an acceptance letter to the Office of the Honourable President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Abuja to confirm his acceptance of the above terms.
Confusion at NCSU
Less than 48 hours to the takeover of the union by the Public Trustee, there seems to be some degree of confusion at the union. While General Secretary of the union, Comrade Idris Ndako, believes that there is a mix-up somewhere as all the cases are before the Court of Appeal, the litigants, Comrade Benson Ekasa and Comrade Menele Nzidee, are of the opinion that the appointment of the trustee was long overdue.
Comrade Ndako admitted to National Record in a telephone interview that he is aware of the appointment when he said: “We also heard about the appointment of the Public Trustee but we feel it is not supposed to be because the issue at stake is in the court of law; it is in the Appeal Court, so it baffles our imagination that the President of the NIC appointed a Public Trustee to come and run the affairs of the union for the next three months while the judgment to that effect has been appealed to the Appeal Court.
When reminded that the ruling which nullified the delegates’ conference is said not to be on appeal but rather the judgment on the main suit, Comrade Ndako replied:
“All the cases we have in NIC, from cases one to the last case, are before Appeal Court. We have gone back to the NIC to ask them their reason for the appointment of a Public Trustee while we are in Appeal Court. The NIC is aware of the appeal. There was a time one of us wrote a petition to the President of NIC and he replied to say no, there was nothing they could do; that their hands were tied since the cases are on appeal.
“Like I said, the cases are all in the Appeal Court and so we are surprised that the same President has appointed a trustee for our union when the cases are still on appeal. All the cases are on appeal and I think that is why the President replied the person who wrote the petition that “my hands are tied” and cannot appoint a public trustee since the cases are on appeal, I have the [NIC] President’s letter in my office. It is not that we are denying any public trustee but let the right thing be done…”
For Comrade Ekasa, the appointment of the Trustee is the right step to take. He said: “For me, it has been delayed for so long and I think it is the right step in the right direction; at least, illegality will not be reigning over the union. As far as I’m concerned, the Presidency of Comrade Amaechi is illegal and is against the constitution of the union. If the court decides to do that at this period, though it is justice delayed, but it is no longer justice denied; I think we can take it from that angle.
“We will give our support to the Public Trustee to carry out his mandate. Firstly, I was the one that took the matter and I didn’t go to court because I needed to be the president of the union but so that the right thing is done. So if the right thing is in the process of being done, I don’t see why I shouldn’t give my support. For me, it is victory for the union, victory for everybody, every member of the union!
On his part, co-litigant, Comrade Nzidee, said the union can now forge ahead as it has been under a legal lockdown since 2016. “We have been in this legal lockdown since 2016. It is most unfortunate that civil servants that were supposed to be the custodians of the customs and tradition, and in keeping to the rule of law and the protection of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are the people breaching these laws for very obvious reasons – corruptive tendencies.”
He said corruption in the country is not only rife amongst the political elite but even more so in the civil service at local, state and federal levels, noting that politicians will not be able to steal one naira from the treasury of government without the backing of the civil servant.
He noted further: “We in the labour movement that are supposed to be transparent are more corrupt than the politicians. Among the 22 countries that practice industrial court; it is only in Nigeria that you see cases in court either about amending the constitution of a union, elongation of tenure of office of officers or deliberately truncating the procedure of rule of law in the union.
“In the case of Nigeria Civil Service Union, a supposed president of the union who honestly is supposed to have retired from the civil service, decided to elongate his tenure. Members of the union approached the court and asked the court for interpretation of the extant laws of the Trade Union Act that stipulates that you must be a worker before you can be elected into office in the trade union movement. That took us for a very long time…for over four years, till 29th of October, 2019 before final judgment.
“This is the first time since democratic governance that a public trustee is appointed to run a union and it is a signal to the fact that people should learn to abide by the rules of the game. The appointment of the Public Trustee entails that that should not have happened in the Civil Service Union. The judiciary felt that the tenure of the leadership that was in court had expired and that they cannot on their own elongate the tenure of anybody.
“So to operate the union by more neutral hand, it has to appoint a Public Trustee to take over the affairs of the union as stipulated in the act and the constitution. The Trustee is to take over and redeem the situation, possibly go back, put the house together by calling all the stakeholders and ensure a transition to a democratically elected executive of the union from the state to the federal levels.
“I don’t know who has been appointed as the trustee but all we want is a level playing ground and the protection of the constitution of the union and that of Nigeria. We gathered that the Trustee is a man of high honour, a man of integrity and we hope that the press will be able to do the needful.”
NLC keeps mum
Efforts to reach the Nigeria Labour Congress for comments on the emerging situation failed as calls, SMS and WhatsApp messages to both Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC President, and Comrade Emma Ugboaja, NLC General Secretary, were not responded to.
Efforts to also speak to Comrade Lawrence Amaechi, the NCSU President who is also a Vice President of NLC, failed as calls to his mobile number did not go through as at the time of going to press.
It will be recalled that the Honourable Justice Sanusi Kado on 25th October, 2019 in a judgment amplified a November 1st 2018 ruling in which he nullified the union’s Delegates’ Conference held on 25th and 26th January 2018.
While the Comrade Amaechi leadership, which inherited the case from the Comrade Kiri Mohammed’s Presidency, appealed the final judgment, it however never appealed the November 1st 2018 ruling nullifying the delegates conference.
Although, the Amaechi leadership appealed the judgment and sought for a stay of execution of the nullification, the NIC subsequently, on May 14, 2020, threw out the application for stay of execution of the ruling and judgment for lack of jurisdiction.
National Record had reported last year how the litigation was stressing and denting the credibility of the Amaechi leadership and putting the entire membership of NCSU in a quandary.
The case began on January 27, 2016 when two members of the NCSU, Comrade Benson Ekasa and Comrade Menele Ziadam Nzidee (1st and 2nd claimants respectively) approached the NIC pleading for, among other prayers, a declaration that the “expulsion of Comrade Benson Ekasa” from the NCSU “is unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void and an order of reinstatement back to the union;” a declaration “that it is unconstitutional and a gross violation” of NCSU’s constitution for any of its officials who had retired from service, either at the state or federal level, “to be a member, participate in any electoral process or to still hold any post” in NCSU; and a declaration that the membership of Comrade Kiri Mohammed, the then President of NCSU, and the first defendant in the matter, “in the union has ceased, having been long retired from Jigawa State Civil Service and his continuous stay in the union unconstitutional and illegal.”
Other prayers include a declaration “that the position of the President of the union is vacant” as well as an “order restraining the 1st Defendant [Comrade Kiri Mohammed] and any retired official of the union from parading themselves as the president or official of the union;” an order of the court “directing the Registrar of Trade Unions not to recognize nor register any amendment of the union’s constitution that allows for retired officials to continue to act for the union” and a further order of the court “mandating the 2nd Claimant [Comrade Menele Ziadam Nzidee] as the most senior Deputy President of the union to steer [the union’s] leadership until an election is conducted.”
Nullification of Conference
But in the course of the litigation, the claimants brought a motion praying for an interlocutory injunction seeking to restrain the union from conducting its National Delegates’ Conference. However, before the determination of the motion, the NCSU went ahead to hold the said conference.
In its ruling on the motion delivered on the 1st November, 2018, the NIC ordered the nullification of NCSU’s National Delegates’ Conference “purportedly held on the 25th and 26th day of January 2018, in defiance of a pending ruling on interlocutory injunction seeking to restrain the defendants from conducting such conference which was slated to be delivered on 6/2/18.”
Justice Sanusi Kado, while delivering the judgment on the main matter on 25th October, 2019 re-echoed the interlocutory injunction of 1st November, 2018, stating that “as at today, there are no legally elected executives” of the NCSU “in the eyes of the law; since the recognized executive members of the union have had their tenures expired.”
Justice Kado further stated: “In order not to allowed [sic] vacuum to exist in the running of the affairs of the 2nd Defendant [NCSU] due to lack of duly elected executives, it is within the power of this Court and in fact its duty and obligation to make consequential orders in the interest of justice and fairness.
“In the circumstance of this case, I hereby pursuant to section 19 of the National Industrial Court Act 2006 and Order 59 of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2017, make order for appointment of a Public Trustee to oversee the administration and finances of the 2nd Defendant for a period of three Months.
“The Public Trustee shall organize and convene National Delegates Conference of the 2nd Defendant to elect new executive members for the purposes of running the affairs of the union in line with its Constitution.
“At the conclusion of his assignment the Public Trustee to be appointed vide this order shall report back to the Court on the assignment entrusted to him.”