The National Industrial Court in Abuja on Wednesday ordered the members of the National Association of Resident Doctors to immediately end their industrial action which started on September 7, 2020.
Justice Galadima issued the order in a ruling on an ex parte application filed by two civil society groups, the Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights, and Association of Women in Trade and Agriculture.
Joined as respondents in the suit marked, NICN/ABJ/124/2020, are NARD, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, and the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige.
However, being an ex parte hearing which is one-sided proceedings, the respondents were not represented in court on Wednesday.
Moving the ex parte application, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Mr Frank Tietie, urged the court to direct the resident doctors as providers of essential services key to the fundamental right to life of members of the groups and all Nigerians, to immediately cease their strike action and resume duties.
Tietie added that if allowed to continue, the strike action by the doctors would cause irreparable damage to the ongoing negotiation between NARD and the Federal Government.
He added that the strike would render the pending substantive suit challenging the right of the doctors to embark on industrial action an academic exercise.
Ruling on the application, Justice Ibrahim Galadima upheld Tietie’s arguments and ordered NARD members to immediately end the strike action.
Justice Galadima ordered them to immediately resume their duties pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice already fixed for October 8 by another judge of the court, Justice Edith Agbakoba handling the substantive suit.
A copy of the enrolled order issued by Justice Galadima on Wednesday read in part, “Order is hereby granted against the 1st respondent/defendant (NARD) being an essential service provider of health in the country, to immediately cease its strike/industrial action and to resume their duties forthwith until the hearing and determination of the pending motion on notice which had already been fixed on October 8, 2020 by the substantive judge in this suit, the Hon. Justice Agbakoba”.
The resident doctors had on September 7, 2020 embarked on a strike action to press home their demand for the government to meet their requests earlier made in June.
The doctors had in June embarked on a one-week warning strike over, among others, unpaid salaries, non-payment of hazard allowance, and a dearth of Personal Protective Equipment in hospitals.
In response, the plaintiffs had sued NARD and the other respondents in the suit to challenge the doctors’ right to embark on strike.
On September 8, 2020, barely 24 hours after NARD declared its latest strike action, the plaintiffs had filed their ex parte application which fell within the time the judges of the court were observing their annual vacation.
The application was assigned to Justice Galadima sitting as a vacation judge.
The plaintiffs argued among others in their ex parte application that “there is a pending suit between all the parties herein, presently before the Hon. Justice E. M Agbakoba of the National Industrial Court, Abuja, in suit number NICN/ABJ/124/2020 wherein the right and legality of the 1st respondent/defendant (NARD) to embark on strike actions as providers of the essential services of health is being challenged”.
They added, “The 1st respondent/defendant is a provider of essential services of health necessary to the enjoyment of the fundamental right to life by members of the claimants associations and indeed all Nigerians.
“That the services provided by the 1st respondent/defendant are so crucial to the well being and health of all Nigerians at this critical time and moment of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the Federal Government is in the process of meeting their demands.
“That the damage that will be occasioned by the strike action of the 1st respondent/defendant during the pendency of the suit and negotiations with the Federal Government of Nigeria, will not only be irreparable but will foist a situation of fait accompli on the pending suit and render its final judgment nugatory.”