DESPITE an interlocutory injunction by the National Industrial Court (NIC) stopping the conduct of an emergency Delegates Conference of the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE, the leadership of the union has purportedly gone ahead to hold the emergency conference in the wee hours of Friday morning.
In a trending video clip purported to have been recorded from the emergency conference, the President of NUFBTE, Comrade Lateef Idowu Oyelekan, and the President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, were seen singing solidarity song along with about a dozen others believed to be members of the union at a venue said to be the Food Union Hotel in Lagos, where the purported emergency conference held.
In an effort to confirm if it was really the emergency conference, National Record’s call to Comrade Oyelekan’s mobile was picked by a lady who said he ‘was not available at the moment’ as he was said to be ‘downstairs.’
The lady said when Comrade Oyelekan ‘comes up, I will tell him you called.’ When told that the purpose of the call was to enquire about an emergency conference of the union said to have been held at the Food Union Hotel between 12 midnight and 3am, and that the enquiries will be sent via text message, the lady said; ‘okay.’ The enquiries were sent but as at the time of going to press, Comrade Oyelekan had not responded.
Similarly, a call to Comrade Wabba’s mobile number to seek clarification on his attendance rang unpicked. Comrade Wabba also did not respond to a text message to his mobile and whatsapp with questions seeking to confirm if he actually was in attendance at the alleged emergency conference at the awkward hours it was purported to have held as shown in the video and in spite of the interlocutory injunction.
Union’s General Secretary, National Signing Trustee React
But the General Secretary of NUFBTE, Comrade Bamidele Busari, however told National Record that though he heard through a late night call from a reliable source that the President, Comrade Oyelekan, along with some elected officials of the union, were said to have been in a meeting they termed delegates conference.
Comrade Busari, who said everything about the purported delegates conference got to him through “hearsay”, disclosed that rather than a conference, he had earlier received the news of a meeting of the National Administrative Council (NAC) of the union from a group Whatsapp platform.
When asked if he got any hint of the purported conference, Busari said: “What actually happened was that there was a notice that there was going to be a NAC meeting yesterday [Thursday, August 20, 2020] morning by 10am at the Food Union Hotel. The notice was sent by Comrade Ilensanmi, HOD Admin and Personnel.
“By the time I saw that notice; a notice that ordinarily was supposed to emanate from me as the General Secretary of the union, who is to call NAC meetings in conjunction with the President, I was a bit surprised. It is in the absence of the General Secretary that any HOD or Deputy General Secretary can raise any such memo or notice. But as it is, I, the General Secretary is not absent.
“It is more ridiculous as the National Secretariat of the union has been locked up since last week’s Friday by the President and since then nobody has been able to access the offices. So I am not absent from office; I was there throughout last week and the President didn’t inform me that there was going to be a NAC meeting, until I saw the notice on our group Whatsapp platform.
“When I saw the notice, I said if that be the case, I will go there, the venue of the NAC meeting at the Food Union Hotel, since there is an injunction stopping our emergency delegates conference so that I can tell all of them. When I got there in the morning yesterday, I learnt that the NAC meeting had been cancelled and I said okay. I saw some people, some members of the union and we exchanged pleasantries and about 30 minutes later, I left the place and went home.
“Then, between 12 midnight and 1.am, somebody called to inform me that they were holding delegates conference. I asked; conference? Conference that the court has stopped? He said yes; and that there was fighting going on, that there were policemen, thugs and area boys everywhere around the Food Union Hotel and that some supposed delegates had already been wounded in the process.
“I also learnt that Comrade Ayuba Wabba was there. I learnt that when the NLC President was giving his remark, he was said to have stated that he was attending on behalf of the Minister of Labour and Employment. I am somehow confused because the NLC was served the court injunction. I was in court myself and the judge specifically told me to serve them as the General Secretary. The judge mandated me that it is an urgent matter and that I should serve them. I sent the injunction to the emails of all those that are supposed to be served, including the NLC and Ministry of Labour, and they saw it.
“Although I have not received any communication from our President [Comrade Oyelekan] but somebody told me this morning that they purportedly made some resolutions that the union held a NAC meeting and that the said NAC meeting suspended me as General Secretary. I have not seen where a NAC meeting was held without a General Secretary and I also know that no NAC meeting was held; I have no query, nothing that I know of, and I am not on leave.
“They were said to have resolved that the purported NAC meeting recommended my suspension to the conference and that the conference is now saying that I should be disengaged from the services of the union. I also learnt that Comrade Peter Onoja, the Signing Trustee, who was not there, was purportedly suspended. Comrades Abiodun Philip, Olawuwo Abiodun, Lawrence Amechi Abadom and a host of others were also purportedly either suspended or expelled. All these things I learnt this morning but we have not seen any official communication at the moment.
When contacted by National Record, Comrade Peter Onoja, the National Signing Trustee of the Food Union, when asked if, as an elected national officer of the union, he was present at the emergency delegates conference, he said: “I was not at the illegal conference, if indeed it held. I went to our hotel, the Food Union Hotel, to greet some people that I know who were lodging there and I was prevented from entering.
“I didn’t go there for the conference because I know that there was no conference because of the court injunction. But when I heard that some of my friends were lodged in the hotel, I went there to say hi to them but surprisingly I was prevented from entering into the hotel premises.
“As a national officer, I was not informed of any organ meeting of the union. Though I was prevented from entering, I noticed there was a sizeable number of people and some degree of activities inside the hotel but I never guessed there was a purported conference going on. I even thought it was some tribal meeting going on; the thinking of a conference never crossed my mind as the court had stopped the conference.”
Asked further if branches of the union were present at the conference, Onoja said members of the union from all branches couldn’t have been there as they were aware of the court injunction and that he gathered that Comrade Oyelekan brought in thugs and area boys and gave them conference tags to wear. “When and where has any union convened a conference that began at midnight in Nigeria? Comrade Onoja asked, adding that he never imagined that Comrade Oye could be so desperate as to go as low as this.
Ministry of Labour Reacts
The Director of Trade Union Services, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mrs Omoabie Udeme Akpan, when contacted via telephone, and asked if she was at the Food Union’s emergency delegates conference which reportedly held in the early hours of today (Friday), said she or any officer from her department couldn’t have been at the conference.
“I couldn’t have been there, and I am sure my officer could not have been there. He is with me right here, the Registrar of Trade Unions, he wasn’t there and I can assure you that as civil servants, we abide by, and are subject to, the rule of law. He [Registrar of Trade Unions] wasn’t there, and he couldn’t have been there, if we had received an interlocutory injunction restraining the people from holding that conference; there is no way we would have been there, that is the truth, we weren’t there,” Mrs Akpan stated.
Asked bluntly if the Ministry of Labour and Employment was served with the injunction; Mrs Akpan said: “Yes; I know that the Registrar of Trade Unions informed me that he has a soft copy of the injunction, so to that extent, we were informed.”
On the 13th of August, His Lordship, Honourable Justice (Dr) I. J. Essien of the Lagos Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court (NIC) gave an order of interlocutory injunction stopping the Food Union from conducting an emergency delegates conference scheduled to hold today (Friday, August 21, 2020) until a substantive suit bothering on the violation of the union’s constitution was resolved.
Granting the prayers for an interim injunction to the applicants, Justice Essien asserted that he is satisfied that the prayers of the applicants are proper and ought to be granted.
He stated: “I have listened to the learned Counsel for the applicant move the court to grant the interim orders. I have also read the affidavit in support of the application in particular paragraph 10 of the main affidavit and also paragraph 10 of the affidavit of urgency.
“I am satisfied that the notice of the meeting dated 6/7/2020 calling for the emergency National Delegates Conference does not comply with Rule 7 (i) of the 18th Defendant Constitution. The Notice was not served at least 3 months preceding the date of the conference.
“Furthermore, Rule 7 (iii) which requires that an agenda for the meeting must be served on the delegates 2 weeks before the conference has not been complied with rather the agenda is dated 6/8/2020 as shown to the Court by the learned applicant counsel and was received vide watsapp [sic] text message on the 12/8/2020 for a meeting which is holding on the 21/8/2020. This is also a violation of Rule 7 (iii) of the 18th defendant constitution tendered as exhibit A.
“I am satisfied that this [is] a proper application in which this court ought to grant the interim orders. Accordingly, the motion expert is granted as prayed in the following terms:
“1. An order of interim injunction is hereby granted restraining the 1st to 18th Defendants/Respondents and all other officers of the 18th Defendants form [sic] conducting of holding the planned Emergency Delegates Conference now scheduled for 21st August, 2020, the agenda being to ratify the illegal and unconstitutional decision by the 1st to 17th Defendants to postpone the period for conduct of election of elections [sic] into all elective offices of the particularly the elective offices presently occupied by the 1st to 11th defendants for two years and to illegally extend the tenure of office of the current elected officers of the 18th Defendant particularly that of the 1st to 11th Defendants contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of the 18th Defendant, pending the hearing and determination of motion on notice.
“2. An order of interim injunction is hereby granted restraining the 1st to 18th Defendants from ratifying or giving effect to the purported resolution passed at the National Executive Council meeting of the 18th Defendant on the 4th day February, 2019, as contained in the document dated 20th February, 2019 with REF NO: NUF/NHS/GS/VOL.1/08. Titled ‘OUTCOME OF 2019 NATIONAL EXECUTIVE CONCIL [sic] (NEC) MEETING OF NUFBTE IN ABUJA’ extending and/or postponing the period for conduct of Elections into various elective positions/all structures of the 18th Defendant and extending and/or elongating the tenure of office of elected officers of the Union by a period of two years beyond the tenure/period constitutionally provided and contrary to Rules 6(iii), 7(i) & (vi), 10(ii) & (v), 11(xi), 12(i), 13(ii), 14(f) & (g) of the Constitution of the Union…”
When the above injunction was granted by the judge, the counsel to the Food Union, A. J. Awonikoko, (SAN) challenged it as well as the jurisdiction of the court from entertaining the suit. As a result, Justice Essien set August 19, 2020, for counsel of both parties to argue the matter of jurisdiction as well as the experte motion asking for the suspension of the conference until the determination of the substantive matter.
On August 19, 2020 after arguments from both counsel, Justice Essien not only affirmed the court’s jurisdiction over the matter, and upheld the earlier interlocutory injunction he granted, he further ordered parties to “respect the orders of this court. Failure to adhere to the orders of this court would be visited with the appropriate sanction.”
Justice Essien, while also affirming “that issues concerning elections and infringement of electoral provision in the constitution of trade union are urgent matters,” equally placed the suit on accelerated hearing, assuring that “the matter shall be called up before the substantive judge after the annual vacation of this court.”