The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, has informed the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice that there is no order, whether interim, interlocutory, or permanent, from the National Industrial Court or any other court preventing Nigerian workers from participating in peaceful rallies organized by the NLC.
It also reminded the Federal Government, via the Solicitor-General, that there is an existing ruling that the right to demonstrate and protest on matters of public concern is in the public interest and that individuals must possess and exercise this right without hindrance so long as no unlawful act has been committed.
This was stated by the Labour Centre in a letter from Falana chambers to the Permanent Secretary/Solicitor-General titled “Re-NLC in contempt of court” and signed by Sam Ogala Esq.
The letter follows a planned protest by organized labor on Wednesday, August 2, in response to the removal of petrol subsidy, the resulting hardship on Nigerians, and the government’s incapacity to implement measures to soften the blow of the cessation of subsidy payments.
The letter stated, "In response to the decision of Nigerian workers to participate in peaceful rallies to protest the worsening economic crisis in the country, it was reported that you accused the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress of disregarding the order of the National Industrial Court.
"Contrary to your unfounded allegation, the Nigeria Labour Congress has no intention of disobeying the ex parte order of the National Industrial Court, which states: ‘The defendants/respondents are hereby restrained from embarking on the planned industrial action/or strike of any nature, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice, dated June 5, 2023.’
"You will concur with us that neither the National Industrial Court nor any other court has issued a temporary, interlocutory, or permanent injunction prohibiting Nigerian workers from attending peaceful rallies organized by the Nigeria Labour Congress.
"Since the constitutional right of Nigerian employees to protest peacefully cannot be considered an industrial action or strike of any kind, you should not have threatened our client with contempt of court.
"It is pertinent to call your attention to Inspector-General of Police v. All Nigeria Peoples Party (2008) 12 WRN 65, in which the court upheld the fundamental right of Nigerians to demonstrate without a police permit. In the leading court opinion, Justice Adekeye stated the following:
"The right to demonstrate and the right to protest on matters of public concern are rights in the public interest that individuals must possess and should exercise unimpeded so long as no unlawful act is committed.
"If, as predicted by law enforcement officials, there is a breach of the peace, our criminal code has adequate provisions for sanctions against breakdown of law and order, so that the requirement of a permit as a condition for holding meetings and rallies can no longer be justified in a democratic society.
"Finally, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are democratic rights of every citizen of the republic; our legislature must guard these rights jealously because they are the foundation upon which the government rests.
"Having advised the Nigeria Labour Congress and its allies to conduct the rallies peacefully, you may wish to advise the Nigeria Police Force to comply with section 83(4) of the Police Establishment Act 2020, which states that 'where a person or organization notifies the police of his or her intention to hold a public meeting, rally, or procession on a public highway or such meetings in a place where the public has access, the police officer responsible for the area who receives the notification shall ensure that the meeting is held peaceful.