Court Orders Striking Doctors Back to Work Immediately

Justice Bashar Alkali of the National Industrial Court, Abuja Division, came down hard on striking doctors yesterday, ordering them to halt their seven weeks old industrial action and return to work immediately.

The doctors, under the platform of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), have been on strike since August 1, 2021, in protest against alleged poor condition of work and “some unfair government policies.”

They had vowed never to return to work until the federal government met their demands. Plea by President Muhammadu Buhari for them to return to work was also turned down.

However, Justice Alkali, while ruling on an interlocutory injunction brought against the striking doctors by the federal government yesterday, held that their action, at this time of COVID-19 pandemic, was not in the interest of the country and Nigerians.

He accordingly ordered NARD to suspend its strike with immediate effect and that its members should resume at their duty post immediately.

The order is coming barely few days after the striking workers and the federal government appeared to have been working towards an amicable resolution of the issues surrounding the industrial action.

After it failed to pacify the striking workers not to embark on the industrial action, the federal government through the Federal Ministry of Health had instituted a court action against NARD and in the process urged the court to compel the doctors to return to work pending the hearing and determination of the main suit.

Delivering ruling in the interlocutory injunction last month, the court had restrained parties to cease hostilities pending the hearing of the federal government’s suit against the doctors.

At Wednesday’s proceedings, lawyer to the federal government, Mr. Tochukwu Maduka, had informed the court that he had filed a case of contempt against NARD.

He said, “Despite the order of this court that all hostilities be suspended, the defendants who render essential services have refused to call off the strike.”

Responding, lawyer to the striking doctors, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, had told the court that he has filed a further affidavit in support of notice for stay of execution.

Falana further stated that he was challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter.

He, however, stated that parties should go back to the negotiation table, adding that it was in line with the order to suspend hostility.

“We can resume today or even tomorrow if a decision is reached,” he said then.

With this understanding, Justice Alkali consequently adjourned to yesterday for parties to report to the court whatever understanding or agreement reached towards resolution of the crisis.

But it appeared this was not the case yesterday, as Mr. Maduka urged the court for an order directing the defendant to suspend the strike pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.

This request was however opposed by lawyer representing NARD, Mr. Robinson Ariyo, who claimed that granting such an order, would infringe upon the right to life of members of his client, especially under the conditions of the pandemic.

Ariyo further claimed that members of the NARD were persons entitled to emergency rights under the Corona Virus Disease COVID-19 Protection Regulations and other related best practices in connection with the mental and physical health of its members.

But in its ruling, the court agreed with the federal government that continuation of the strike would cost the country and accordingly ordered NARD to suspend the strike and call back its members to work.

According to him, the applicants were “able to show that unless this application is granted, so many Nigerians will lose their lives, most especially, as the country is experiencing an upsurge in this third wave of COVID-19 with increasing fatality arising from the absence of the defendants from hospitals.”

The judge further expressed strong belief that “If the court does not intervene at this stage, there is no amount of money that can compensate the lives of Nigerians who would lose their lives if the members of the defendants continue with their strike.”

While he observed that parties ought to have suspended all hostilities since the matter was brought to court, he said he found merit in the application of the federal government and accordingly resolved the lone issue for determination in its favour.

“I grant all the prayers as contained in the face of the motion paper and in effect, I hereby grant an order of interlocutory injunction that members of the defendant/respondent in all the states of the federation are hereby restrained from continuing with the industrial action embarked on since on the second day of August 2021 pending the determination of the substantive suit.

“Also, I hereby order all members of the defendants/respondents in all the states of the federation to suspend the said industrial action commenced on the second day of August 2021 with immediate effect and to resume work immediately pending the determination of the substantive suit,” Justice Alkali held.

Doctors Appeal Ruling

The leadership of NARD yesterday said it had asked their lawyers to appeal the ruling of the Industrial Court ordering them back to work, and to also file application for stay of execution.

In a statement signed by its President, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, NARD said they were not satisfied with the ruling of the industrial court.

“As we are all aware, especially those that were present in court today, the NIC has given a ruling on the application for interlocutory injunction filed by the federal government. We are not satisfied with the ruling.

“After consultations with our lawyers, we have instructed them to appeal the ruling and file application for stay of execution,” NARD said.

It said its lawyers had argued at the last hearing that the court ought to hear and determine its notice of preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court before taking the application for interlocutory injunction or any other application.

“Today, (Friday), the court ruled that it would take government’s Application for interlocutory injunction first and our Notice of Preliminary Objection would be taken and determined along with the substantive suit.

“Also, our lawyers drew the attention of the court to our application for stay of execution of the exparte order and that the court should take that application first. The court insisted that the government application would be taken first.

“By the refusal of the court to hear and determine our Notice of Preliminary Objection before taking government’s application for interlocutory injunction, we believe we have been denied fair hearing, which is a fundamental right. In the circumstances, we have instructed our lawyers to file necessary processes.

“We urge all members to remain calm and resolute. Everything depends on our firm resolve. We are committed to protecting your rights within the confines of the law. We believe Justice shall be ours ultimately,” NARD said.

– Culled from ThisDay

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