Written by furtuneNews Jun 25, 2009
National Industrial Court: Our journey from obscurity –Justice Adejumo, President By FEMI ADEOTI
For 25 years, the National Industrial Court (NIC), remained practically moribund. The court sat only in Lagos for those years. It was clearly unknown and its decisions and pronouncements hardly respected.
Its president, Justice Babatunde Adejumo testified: “On my assumption of office, I realized that there was nothing on record to show how superior the court is. Nothing to even make it the court that can meet the yearnings and aspirations of the founding fathers.
“When I came, we were in Lagos in a duplex that was allocated to the court since 1976. Whenever it rained we would not be able to sit because the place was always water-logged.”
That was in 2003. All that have changed now. the court is fast wearing new look with the establishment of eight divisions across the country.
“Today, we have our Lagos office in Ikoyi: We have the Abuja office and the headquarters will be built soon. We have our court in Enugu. Ibadan and Kano offices will be commissioned soon. We also have on-going projects in Jos, Maiduguri and Calabar which we hope that before the end of the year will be ready for commission.”
Daily Sun visited the NIC offices under construction in Ibadan and Enugu, and spoke with Justice Adejumo in his Abuja office.
In the beginning
The Nigerian Industrial Court (NIC) was established in 1976 to take care of trade disputes between employers and employees, workers and workers, trade unions and workers and trade unions and trade unions.
I was a judge in Ondo State between 1998 and 2003. I was appointed to head the NIC as the president on April 14, 2003 and I was sworn in on May 5, 2003. So I took over from that date. On my assumption of office I realized that there was nothing on record to show how superior the court is, and nothing to even make it the court that can meet the yearnings and aspiration of the founding fathers. I was a parliamentarian in the Ondo State House of Assembly between 1992 and 1993. I was the deputy chief registrar of the Supreme Court for three years until I was appointed a High Court judge in Ondo State.
With my background, I felt things were not going the way they should go. So, I made a representation to the then President of the Federation, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. He was impressed with it and said whatever would make the court what it is will be given to the court. That was how we started the journey in 2003.
But I realized then that the safety is to have an enabling law for the court. The president said I should work in corporation with the then Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Akin Olujimi. We did which led to a bill being sent to the National Assembly.
There were public hearings and all stakeholders were invited by the National Assembly. At the end of the day, the NIC Bill 2006 became an act of the National Assembly. The rules of court were made and on August 1, 2007, the NIC Rules became enforceable and that was how we started.
When I came I met three judges on ground who were members then under the old law. They called them members, they were no judges. Now we are 10, all together, I as the president and nine others, only one is not a lawyer. Three are P.hd holders, one was an attorney general of Ondo State, five were former chief registrars, one is a senior lawyer. So today, in terms of structure, manpower, legislation, we have tried.
When I came, we were in Lagos in a duplex that was allocated to the court since 1976. Whenever it rained we could not sit because the place was always water-logged. Today, we have our Lagos office in Ikoyi. We have the Abuja office and the headquarters will be built soon. We have our court in Enugu. Ibadan and Kano offices will also be commissioned soon. We have on-going projects in Jos, Maiduguri and Calabar which we hope that before the end of the year they will be ready for commission. So when you talk of how it has been, you have to look at how it was before I took over and how it has been since I took over. When I took over, there were few graduates in the court. Today, we have sufficient number of them, who are capable to man their various professions and disciplines. Trainingand re-training are done by the National Judicial Institute (NJI) through seminars, workshops and courses. We have dozens of our staff who have travelled abroad for various courses. We believe in capacity building and we have been getting the support from various countries, and it has been wonderful. Before now the court could not make enforceable orders because there were no powers like that of the high court. But under the act the court has all the powers of the high court.
I was so happy but not too happy. I was a judge of about five and a half years old before the appointment. About 19 of us applied for the post. The then Chief Justice, I was then told later, sent the 19 names to the then president, telling him he had liberty to appoint any of us. The president later appoint me.
I never knew how and why he appointed me. But I got to learn about this later when I paid a courtesy call on him (Obasanjo). The president said when the list came to him he sent it to the appropriate security agencies who later came up with my name. I became happier when I heard from the president himself that he appointed me based on merit. I told him that since he said he had confidence in me, that I was going to do my best. I thank God that within six years we were able to go this far. That was why on December 22, 2008, when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua conferred a national honour on me as an Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR) for offering service to Nigeria, I became happier. It means that within a shortest period the nation has recognized my little contribution.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Here you do adjudicative, administrative and sometimes quasi-administrative jobs. Now you have so many things to do. You are answerable also to higher authorities. It’s a good thing, tough but interesting. Cases
When I came I met a back-log of cases because when the former president die, for like two years, no president was appointed. Under the old law, the court could not sit without the president and people were filing cases. At the end of the day, I met about 300-400 cases pending. Out of those we met, we have been able to dispose 250-280. But the more you dispose these cases, the more they file in new ones. So right now, I think we have 200-250 cases throughout the country. Before I came in we had about cases of 15 to 20 years pending. Now I don’t think we have any case that is above one year old. You cannot compare the pace of work at the NIC to those at the High Court. In the High Court, a single judge sits to determine the cases according to his knowledge and understanding. In our case, we sit in a panel of three. We go round the country attending to cases from one place to the other.
Now things have changed, panels can now sit simultaneously. Before people did not have faith in it, because they say it was an arbitration and it lacked all the powers of a proper court. After the act, it is now given the powers to act as a real court. People are more confident now. We now have to sensitize the people and the business community about the changes. It is not the volume of cases that determines if a court is good but the way justice is given that is what matters. Is the court able to achieve the aims and aspirations of the founding fathers, that is to mellow down the industrial disputes? There is no way that there would be no industrial disputes. Once there is employer, employee relationship, there will be industrial disputes. When we say industrial court, it is a court for industry, a court for workplace disputes.
Section 10 of the National Industrial Court Act 2006 says the court can have power and jurisdiction to enforce any judgment throughout the federation. That the court can punish for contempt of court if the judgment of the court is disobeyed. So, the court has all the powers of the high court to enforce judgment and the judgment of the court is different from that of the high court. It is just like that of the Federal High Court because is enforceable throughout the whole federation. In the high court, if you obtain a judgment in stage one and you want to enforce it in stage two, you must register that judgment before that high court of that state before it can be enforced. But in the NIC, our court is one throughout the federation and judgment can be enforced throughout the federation. We don’t have the problem of enforcement of judgment. We have the power to force you to obey the judgment of the court. These rules have been made. I didn’t just sit down to make these rules. I called on eminent Nigerians, late Justice Olajide Olateru, former Justice of the Supreme Court, was the chairman. After about three to six months deliberations, they submitted a paper to me what the rules should look like. I sent it to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi, he went through and wrote back to me that the rules were okay. I then forwarded these rules to the Federal Government and on August 1, 2007, they became the rules of the court.
When you say landmark cases, to any judge, any case you have handled is a landmark case otherwise you send out a wrong signal that some cases are more important than others. We have handled a lot of cases that are landmark cases but it is not the best to say one is important than the other.
If you are talking about NIC, I see it as my baby. I see it as an institution I should devote all my passion into. I see NIC as one of those things that can be my contribution to my fatherland, because one day we must die. I want to be remembered as somebody who has served this country. I met a Nigerian state that I was not happy with and by the grace of God today we are where we are.On the issue of funding, well, there is no magic, all the Federal Courts are being funded from the same source. Section 81, Sub-section 3 of the Constitution says monies due to the Federal Judiciary shall be paid to the National Judicial Council who shall pay to the heads of court, to all the seven Federal Courts. That is the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, the High Court of Abuja, NIC, the Customary Court of Appeal (FCT), Sharia Court of Appeal, (FCT). We all share from the monies from the same source. The money is given to you according to your needs. You make your budget, recommend it to the National Assembly, which you will be called to defend after scrutiny, then the executive starts releasing money to NJC for further release. What I would say that has led to where we are today is our togetherness, we work as a team, and personal commitment. I don’t award contracts, mine is to supervise and make sure the job is properly carried out. I know the length and breadth of this country. I can go to anywhere to make sure that things are done according to specifications. If approval has been given and I am not satisfied with the job you have done, you don’t get your cheque. So, since the contractors know that their client will not accept poor job, they have learnt to do better work. When we came in, I wanted people to know that the NIC can still be taken to a greater height and today, we have moved higher. Today, this court can stand side by side with any court in the world. What we are doing now is that we are building our courts with the latest design of how the modern day court should look like. The latest equipment, the latest sitting arrangement, poised to make the job easy. As I tell you, we are not owing any contractor a kobo. We make sure that at the end of the financial year, all contractors get their money.
In all human endeavours, you have frustration. For example, if you expect a particular project to be completed within a certain period and it is not done, due to the fault from another, you are frustrated. It is not everything we take to the NJC that is approved. You don’t expect to get 100 per cent. But so far, 90 per cent, I think we are okay. Relationship with other courts
We have hierarchy of courts in Nigeria, and there is a jurisprudence that courts stand in hierarchy. It is not debatable that the Supreme Court is the apex court in Nigeria and whatever decision handled down by the Supreme Court is final as far as the territorial boundary of Nigeria is concern on any matter. It is followed by the Court of Appeal, whose decision is binding on any court below the Court of Appeal. There is the Federal High Court which has jurisdiction throughout the federation based on Section 251 of 1999 Constitution. There is the high court of the FCT, which has jurisdiction within the FCT. There is the Court of Appeal of the FCT, and there is the Customary Court of Appeal of the FCT and we have the National Industrial Court which is not at par with the Supreme Court, it is not at par with the Court of Appeal. With the Federal High Court and the FCT high court we have coordinate status, but different jurisdiction. I mean, our decisions are not subject of review by any high court. No high court can supervise the decisions of the NIC. Section 3 of the NIC Act stipulates the procedure of appointing judges to this court. Section 4 deals with the rankings. The president of the court shall rank at par, using the word equal with the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court or the Chief Judge of the High Court of the FCT. So, on those areas we don’t have any controversy. On issue of salaries, we earn the same salary and allowances, the Chief Judge of the High Court, the Chief Judge of the FCT, the President of the NIC, the Grand Ghadi of the Sharia Court of the FCT and the President of the Customary Court of the FCT. Let me say one thing, labour matters are economic matters. For instance, if a case should start from the high court today and gets to the Court of Appeal, once it gets to the appeal court, it must get to the Supreme Court by law, by Section 240, 243, 246 of the Constitution. If labour matters are allowed to be so over-prolonged, the economy will collapse. That is in the thinking of the lawmakers. They believe they should not allow the running of the country to be grounded and they now said there are some cases that there shall be no appeal. Whereas there are some, based on fundamental rights, you can go to appeal. And coming with the relationship with other courts, particularly the Federal High Court, in our law, there are some cases where you think you don’t have jurisdiction, you can send it to these courts, and if those courts also feel they don’t have jurisdiction on a particular matter, they can also send it to you. If both say they don’t have jurisdiction over a matter, they send it to Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal will now direct which of the two courts have jurisdiction. So, we work together because the judiciary is the third arm of government. So, either at the state or federal level, we are the same family.
Definitely. There are cases in our law report, where we might have decided and even the Court of Appeal will say no you are wrong. That is why we have hierarchy of courts. If there are no such things there will be no development in the law, there will be no jurisprudence. And we want to develop the labour jurisprudence in the country, so that those who are ready for real business can come.
So far, I believe I don’t have problem with my Chief Registrar, and my Chief Registrar has no problem with the other heads. But you are at liberty to interview my chief registrar so that I don’t pre-empt what he has to say. You see, a court cannot be boldly run without reciprocal respect between the head of court and the chief registrar. Reciprocal respect between all the heads and their subordinates. Nobody is indispensable and nobody is useless.
Here when I came the situation was quite different because of the nomenclature on ground. But since I came, I have done my best. Before I came we had about five graduates in this court, now we have more than 100 graduates. Before I came, the highest officer was on level 15, level 16. So, if we don’t believe that they must rise, we wouldn’t have gotten to that place. One thing I will not take indiscipline, laziness, idleness. If an officer is indiscipline, he will not be able to enforce discipline on the lower ones. My Chief Registrar enjoys maximum freedom any chief registrar can enjoy. He briefs me regularly on what he intends to do and how he intends to do it, and I advise him. Don’t forget Section 1 of the law says there shall be National Industrial Court. The court shall comprise a president who shall have overall control of the court and not less than 10 other judges.
So, I have the overall control of the court by law. I have the supervisory duty on the administration of the court, but this does not mean I should go and administer the court. The chief registrar is responsible to the needs of court. I owe the court the duty to know what is going on. No one can do it alone that is why it is a family affair.
The two are almost the same but with some differences. One, as a judge, I can only do what is assigned to me. If a case is not assigned to me I can’t have any case to myself. As the president of the NIC, I am the head of that court. I assign cases to people. I sit along side judges to hear cases. I am responsible for whatever happens in the court. And the time for appointments come, I have a role to play by forwarding names to the NJC. As the head of this court, I attend meetings at times at the NJC, heads of court meetings, I am directly responsible to the Chief Justice of Nigeria. But as a high court judge, I am only responsible to my chief judge.
As the president of the NIC, the whole country is my jurisdiction. In terms of status, I think it is a little bit elevated than when I was a high court judge. Now the responsibilities, pressures are higher, the integrity and degree of performance expected of you are also higher.
There can be no today without yesterday. There can be no tomorrow without today. We have seen the yesterday of the NIC, we are now seeing today of the NIC. The sky is the limit for the NIC. But you ask me what is the immediate expectation I have for the court? I will tell you, for now, it has a good enabling law I would support, but there is still the issue concerning the non-inclusion of the court in the 1999 Constitution.
Though both 1997 and 2006 amendments have given the court the status. Sections 315, 316 gave the situation but it is still a controversial issue. There are two schools of thought. Some say it has not been expressly included in Section 6. Some say going by the totality of the constitution, everything is okay.So, we believe that the court should be expressly included in the list of courts in Nigeria as contained in the Constitution. Towards this, during the last attempt at amending the constitution, that was the only clause that was not controverted by anybody. Everybody agreed that the NIC should be expressly included in the Section 6 of the Constitution. So the future for this country stands on when this amendment l will come to be and the NIC will now be placed in the constitution expressly as the court of superior record. We now have eight divisions, Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Ibadan, Kano, Jos, Maiduguri and Calabar. In future when the workload is much, more divisions will be opened, because Nigeria is a big country.
I am quite fulfilled. If I met a court that was almost non-existent, after 25 years of its existence and within six years when I came on board, I have my presence in eight locations, huge number of competent staff and judges, I think I am highly fulfilled. We have been able to resolve cases that the parties involved are satisfied. I think we have done well.
News and Events
TAKE FURTHER NOTICE that there shall be no court sitting during the period of the Annual Court Vacation EXCEPT for urgent matters such as cases requiring court injuction and Ex-parte motion where the rest of the matter may be destroyed, if not heard urgently by a vacation judge.
Normal Court sitting shall resume on Monday, 11th day of september 2017.Click here to view more...
- Abuja, Nigeria
I Honourable justice Babatunde Adeniran Adejumo, OFR, MCIArb(UK), CFSMN, CFIAR, FCIArb, FNILS, president, National Industrial Court of Nigeria, do hereby declares that the court shall proceed on Annual Court Vacation beginning from Momday, 17th day of july to Friday, 8th september 2017.
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- Abuja, Nigeria
Consequently, the swearing-in ceremony which shall be conducted by the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, GCON, has been fixed for Friday the 14 th of July, 2017 at the ceremonial Court of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The swearing-in ceremony is at 3: pm.
2017-07-11: PRESS RELEASE
- Abuja, Nigeria
On the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has approved that the under listed persons be appointed as Judges of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.
They are as follows:
1. Targema, John Iorngee
2. Namtari, Mahmood Abba ...
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- Abuja, Nigeria