In what seems to be a U-turn from Wednesday’s proceedings, Justice Bashar Alkali of the National Industrial Court, Abuja Division, came down hard on striking doctors, ordering them to halt their six 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 to protest poor condition of work as well as some unfair government policies.
They have vowed never to return to work until the federal government meets their demands.
However, Justice Alkali, while ruling on an interlocutory injunction brought against the striking doctors by the federal government held that their action at this time of increase of the 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 to their duty post immediately.
The order is coming barely few days after the striking workers and the federal appeared to have been working towards an amicable resolution of the issues surrounding the industrial action.
It should be recalled that the court had last month ordered 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 had 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 is in line with the order to suspend hostility.
“We can resume today or even tomorrow if a decision is reached,” he had said.
With this understanding Justice Alkali consequently adjourned to Friday 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 on Friday, 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 her 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.