By Bassey Udo
The National Industrial Court of Nigeria on Friday granted an interim injunction vide an application by the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU) to restrain the Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mohammed Nami, and the Board from going ahead with its decision to proscribe the FIRS Chapter of the workers’ body.
The court presided by Justice O. Y. Anuwe also ordered the Union to suspend its planned action to disrupt the operations of the tax service by picketing the offices of the FIRS nationwide, pending the determination of the issues in their application.
On Sunday, the Board of the tax agency announced the immediate dissolution of the FIRS Chapter of the Union, alleging it discovered its ranks were made up of mostly senior staff.
Citing the provisions of Gazette No. 6 Vol 65 of February 8, 1978, and the National Industrial Court Judgement of June 27, 1995, the FIRS Board declared operations of FIRS Chapter of the union illegal as outlined in its official announcement to all staff that there was no longer any junior staff cadre employees in the service.
But the announcement triggered a major industrial crisis in the Service as the Union, backed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), its parent body, threatened to embark on a nationwide strike action that would see members of the union disrupting normal business in FIRS offices across the country.
The Chairman of the FIRS Chapter of the Union, Abdulrahman Idris told MEDIATRACNET in Abuja on Friday that members of the Union would continue to fight for their rights, as FIRS management was driven by fear of members of the Union opposing its policies, most of which, he said, are not in the interest of all the workers.
“The key problem is the issue of management policy that has affected our members career progression in service. A situation where management is bringing back into FIRS several Directors that retired from the service does not allow those in the lower cadre of the service to move up the ladder to the top.
“Because the senior staff belong to the Trade Union Congress (TUC), they are more or less part of management and cannot condemn its policies. So, management is afraid that if the junior workers’ Union, which is an affiliate of the NLC, is not silenced, they may pose a challenge to its agenda.
“We will continue to demand for our rights. Otherwise, most of the staff in the lower cadre in the service will have their career progression stalled,” Idris said.
However, following an exparte application by the Union seeking an order of the court to restrain the FIRS, its Chairman, Mohammed Nami; the FIRS Board Secretary; the Registrar of the Trade Union, and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, Justice Anuwe ordered all parties “to maintain status quo pending the determination of the motion on notice.”
By implication, the court stopped the FIRS Board from going ahead to proscribe the Union, while at the same time restraining the Union from going ahead with its threat to proceed on nationwide strike action.
In its application filed by Chika Eze and Oloruntoba Elisha, the Union asked the court to grant an interim order restraining the FIRS Chairman and the Board from taking further steps in connection with the order proscribing it pending the determination of the interlocutory application.
Also, the Union asked the court to restrain the FIRS Chairman and the Board from taking further steps to stop or withhold the automatic check-off dues/monetary contributions of its members.
In addition, the Union urged the Court to restrain the Chairman of FIRS, the Board and their agents from further threatening, sealing off its office in FIRS and transferring its members out of Abuja or arresting and detaining them on punitive grounds pending the determination of the application.
After listening to the written addresses and the affidavit of urgency by counsel to the Union, the Judge accepted the withdrawal of the first prayers which he described as vague while refusing the second prayers on the ground that it was pre-emptive, as it tended towards determining some major aspects of the substantive suit.
The Court upheld and granted the third prayer pertaining to fears of victimization by the FIRS management against the workers for threatening to embark on the nationwide strike. The Judge described the third prayer as “a clear threat which may require the intervention of the Court, both in the interest of justice and the public interest.”
The matter was adjourned to October 15, 2021, for hearing on the motion on notice and originating summons.