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Amidst the consistent tussle between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government over the years, especially with the widespread criticism of the former’s approach in furthering its grievances during trade dispute, the Congress of University Academics, CONUA is offering itself up as a messiah, and a worthy competitor in place of the former.


On August 22, 2022, a statement credited to Dr. Niyi Sunmonu, the National coordinator of the body, published on Vanguard news page, advocated the need for competition in Academic Unionism, indicating that the presence of competition with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would reduce the incessant strike actions in the University academic system. He further argued that the monopoly of decision making enjoyed by ASUU in trade dispute negotiations would also be reduced drastically. The sweetener in the new body’s proposal is the mouth watering promises to students and the academic populace never to go on strike as much as the Academic Staff Union of Universities-ASUU. For every student this is a no brainer! A possible end to the stop-start academic woes!.

In the midst of this ensuing rivalry, the Minister of State for Labour, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, has also endorsed the Congress of University Academics, CONUA, asserting that the body had met all the requirements of a trade union and due for registration. Nevertheless, as of the time of writing this work, CONUA remains an unregistered competitor, and a prospect to fancy in the nearest future.

Whether CONUA stand the chance of being registered or not, also remains something to consider in the light of the Trade Union Act which is the sui generis statute in this instance.

Pending the registration of CONUA, this work therefore looks to discuss the prospect of CONUA’s registration as an Academic Union vis-a-vis a trade union, respect to the provisions of the Trade Union Act 1973, CAP. T14, Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004. Discussions on the de-registeration of ASUU by the Federal Government in the current trade dispute will also be anchored in the latter part of this write up.

The Trade Union Act 1973 is the sui generis statute in relations to the administration of Trade Unions within the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Its provisions are salient to the discourse in this work as they lay down principles and procedures governing both the registration of a trade union as well as the dissolution of a trade Union. In determining the eligibility of CONUA as a trade Union in Nigeria, it is sacrosanct that all the criteria in this Act are complied with in details. In fact, a union which fails to meet up with these criteria but gets registered in default, will have such registration cancelled once such defect is established by the Registrar of Trade Unions in S.7(1)(c) Trade Union Act 1973. More importantly, a body not registered as a trade Union, but nevertheless, operates as such would be guilty of an offence against the Act as provided by S. 2(3)(b).

To start with, in examining the provision of the Trade Union Act on Trade Union registration, a Trade Union is defined for short, in s.1(1) of the Act, as “any combination of workers or employers, whether temporary or permanent, the purpose of which is to regulate the terms and condition of the employment”. Aside for the purpose of regulating employment conditions, a body of employee or employers formed for the purpose of restraint of trade, or without definite benefit or entitlements to its members will still suffice as a Trade Union within the provision of this act, and can not for such reasons alone be deemed unlawful.

Furthermore, employers and employees in both private and public workplaces can form or be a member of a trade union. Just as there are employee’s trade Union, the Trade Union Act also recognizes the existence of an employers’ trade Union.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that the right to be a member of a trade Union are alienable. They are are not hard, fast or absolute. Notwithstanding the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (amended 2011) on Freedom of Association, S. 40, this right can be waived by contractual agreement in an employment contract or by the operation of law. In relation to contractual restriction, workers in a particular firm may by contractual agreement, be restrained from forming, or becoming a member of a Trade Union for the duration of such employment. More also, the specific provisions of Section 11, Trade Union Act 1973, prohibits members of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Nigerian Police force, Custom service, Immigration, Prison Service, Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian Telecommunication Limited, members of any Federal or State parastatals bearing arms, and other bodies as deemed fit from time to time by the Minister of Labour, by operation of law, from joining in the formation of a trade Union. Nevertheless, members of these bodies are permitted to form Joint Consultative Committees in subsection 2 of the afore cited provision to represent their interest.

In the registration of a Trade Union, the first procedure provided for by the Trade Union Act is an application to the Registrar of Trade Unions in S.3 of the Act. The application in this instance, must be filed via the prescribed means in the Act, and must be supported by at least fifty (50) members for worker’s trade Union, and at least two (2) members for an employer Trade Union. Also, such application must be accompanied by the proposed name of the union, two copies of the Union rules, Office address of the Union, as well as the personal information of all members who signed the application. For the application to be correctly filed, it is important that members of the union, whose name are on the assent list, are not less than the age of 16 which is the allowable age for a trade union membership as in section 20 of the Act, or an ex-convict yet to elapse the five years probation period as in Section 13 of the Act.

After the application of a trade Union has been successfully filed, and received by the Registrar of the Trade Union, the Registrar shall proceed to publish a notice of such application in the Federal Gazette. On publication of such notice, a period of objection from members of the public concerning the registration of the proposed trade Union, shall be opened for a duration of three months, including the date in which the Gazette was published. During this period of objection, if it is brought to the attention of the Minister, or the Registrar, that another Trade Union is in existence, and sufficiently represents the interest of the class of people seeking the formation of the proposed trade Union, such that there is no need for a duplicity of Union for such class of persons, it will serve as a valid ground to deny the registration of the proposed trade Union. This is backed by S.5(4) of the Act, which expressly provides that “The Registrar shall not register a trade Union, if it appears to him, that any existing trade Union, is sufficiently representative of the interest of the class of persons whose interest the union (proposed union) intend to represents”. Similarly, S.3(2) of the Act also provides that, “…no trade Union shall be registered to represent workers or employers in a place where there already exist a trade Union”.

In the situation under review, CONUA is an employee’s trade Union, intended to represent the interest of Academic Staffs in the Nigerian Universities. ASUU, the other end of the coin, and the registered Trade Union in this instance, also represents the interest of Academic Staff of Universities as a trade Union in Nigerian Universities. Following the provision of the law espoused in the previous paragraph therefore, CONUA is a trade union seeking registration to represent the interest of a class of persons already represented by ASUU, and regardless of their glittering intentions, can not be registered as a Trade Union in coexistence with the latter. It is pertinent to note that, the provisions of the Trade Union Act on this subject is non-negotiable. It is absolute, and can not be varied. In the case of ACHINEKU V ISHAGBA 1988 4 NWLR Pt. 89 411, the court held that where the word “Shall” is used in a legislation, it is a word of command, which must be given a compulsory meaning. Therefore, the writer submits that not even the assertion or media comment credited to the Learned silk, and the Minister of State for Labour can waive this condition. If CONUA is to be registered successfully, ASUU must either be de-registered or merged with CONUA. Also, provided the former option is been explored by the Federal Government to successfully register CONUA, the Trade Dispute Act must also be followed.

The existence and continuity of a trade Union is not without limitations. A Trade Union may be de-registered by the Registrar, if it appears to him as provided in S.7 of the Act, that such Trade Union’s registration ab initio was induced by fraud, that such union furthers unlawful objectives, that such union has contravened any provision of the Act, that without prejudice to s.1 of the Act, such Union does not regulate terms and conditions of employment, or that such Union has ceased to function or exist.

Where the Registrar proposes to cancel the registration of a Trade Union, he shall send a notice to the office of such Union, stating the reasons, or grounds for such cancellation. Thereafter, he shall specify a date not less than two months after the date of notice, as a grace period for the Union to satisfy him otherwise on such cancellation. Where the grounds for the cancellation of the Union still exist without any change after the grace period, the Registrar may proceed to cancel the registration of the Union within thirty (30) days after the expiration of the grace period. The thirty days period shall also be the limitation period for the filing of an appeal by the Trade Union at the National Industrial Court.

In relation to the situation under review, the dissolution of ASUU, it is left to be seen if any of the union’s action in the recent tussle, makes its registration susceptible to cancellation under this Act. In an article published on NigeriaLawyer, dated August 28, 2022, the learned silk, and renowned human right advocate, Femi Falana SAN, rightly condemned and criticized the notion of banning ASUU for the prolonged industrial action, citing the fundamental human right of individuals who constitute the Union in Chapter IV of the CFRN 1999 as sacred. However, this writer believes the contravention of S.18(1)(a) of the Trade Dispute Act 1976 in the furtherance of the Union’s industrial action, could bring it in cross-default of S.31(6)(d) of the Trade Union Act, 1973 and by implication s.7(c) Trade Union Act 1973 which is a valid ground for the cancellation of a Trade union. Nevertheless, this line of argument could be one to flourish in a moot court, since the implication asserted is seemingly still out of court, or could be an intellectual argument to look forward to if the cancellation of ASUU becomes a subject of litigation at the National Industrial Court.

In summation, the writer submits that if the cancellation of ASUU is to be considered by the Federal Government, strict adherence must be given to the guidelines in the Trade Union Act 1973, since the fundamental human right of the individuals are also in question. In the words of Ayo Irikefe CJN, Olaniyan v University of Lagos (1986) 4 NWLR (Pt 34) 162 at 173. (as he then was), “…constitutionally entrenched provisions, particularly those safeguarding individual rights should not, save in a fascist system, be lightly trampled upon.”

Considering the provisions of the Trade Union Act 1973, especially its guidelines on the registration of a Trade Union in Nigeria, espoused in the preceding part of this work, the writer on the point of law submits that, CONUA can not be registered as a trade Union in Nigeria at the moment. ASUU by law have covered the field on the object of Unionism for Academic staff in Universities which can not be varied by CONUA. Therefore, the writer recommends, provided CONUA is reluctant on being registered as a Trade Union, that they merge with ASUU, or await the cancellation of ASUU’s registration in accordance with the Trade Union Act, 1973. In the meantime, students might have to endure whatever menace attached with ASUU, while hoping CONUA get the chance to be the saviour it portrays itself to be someday.

About the Writer:

Olatunde Olayinka Damilola is a student of Law at Adekunle Ajasin University and a researcher/content writer at SAN RESEARCH INSTITUTE. E-mail: Phone number: +2349060557789 (WhatsApp number)

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